My husband John and I have now been married so long that every anniversary is “a big one.” So we pondered where we should go to celebrate this year. We wanted someplace within driving distance; it had to be quiet, romantic, and totally stress free.
Hampton Terrace turned out to be ideal for us. This bed and breakfast in Lenox, Massachusetts, is in the heart of the Berkshires. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to stay in the home of a wealthy friend during The Gilded Age, this is the place. Not surprisingly, Edith Wharton’s house is only a few blocks away. Herman Melville and Henry James also had homes in the area. (Hampton Terrace has a special offer for Woman Around Town readers. Click on the Hot Deal tag at the end of this story).
I immediately appreciated the way Hampton Terrace has been kept up; the James River blue-gray parlor is just the right color, and the decorative molding and personal touches are perfect. Big overstuffed chairs and couches are almost too comfortable to leave; a huge, roaring fireplace completes the picture. Fortunately, the period charm comes with totally modern plumbing.
There’s no doubt that the main asset of the inn is owner Stan Rosen. Far from the stereotype of a gregarious, backslapping proprietor, Stan is a quiet, thoughtful man, with great suggestions about what to do in the area, and a real concern for the happiness of his guests. “If there’s a problem, I want to know about it right away. I will fix whatever’s wrong, and even fill your ice trays if you like. People who are familiar with B&Bs know that these old houses aren’t perfect. You may see some paint that’s a bit chipped. This house is always going to be a work in progress.”
Lots of celebrities have sat around the ample dining room table. Ken Jennings, Lauren Ambrose, Olympia Dukakis, Ray Abruzzo; all are treated to this native Georgian’s own special brand of southern hospitality. “We treat everyone just the same. We do recognize famous people, of course. But they’re here to rest and unwind just like everyone else. I’m available to every guest at any hour of the day, and my door is never locked.”
In fact, a week at Christmas is the only time that Hampton Terrace is closed. The owner is keyed into the Tanglewood calendar, which means that any time but July, August, and October are considered off-season. So the gorgeous months of May, June, and September are a bargain here? Absolutely; in addition to reduced rates, if guests stay two or more nights, they receive a $30 gift certificate to a local liquor store.
“There’s a reason over two million people come to this region each year. The Berkshires were ranked the number seven vacation destination in the world by National Geographic Traveler. Vacationers have been coming here for centuries. Creative people are drawn here; James Taylor is a full time resident. We want people to realize that this is a great place to visit during the winter months. There are no crowds, lower prices.” Stan is passionate about the area, and very knowledgeable, too.
We take his suggestions on what’s best to see and do, and eat dinner at a little restaurant named Nudel. I’m surprised and delighted that the food is New York quality. Simple dishes made from local products are delicious and served promptly. There are stools at a counter facing the kitchen, for those who enjoy watching the chef work.
The next morning, we pepper Stan with questions; the answers are enlightening. Hampton Terrace was named after the son of a previous owner. It’s been an inn since 1937; the Rosens took over in 1997, and completely renovated. Everyone is welcome; many come from New York and Boston, to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life for a little while. The obviously cherished Steinway in the parlor was a gift from Stan’s great-grandfather to his new daughter-in-law. The gentle sound of hourly chimes comes from a church across the street. The outdoor pool is a favorite guest hangout in the summer.
There are fourteen rooms in all. John and I think ours is the best. We crave privacy as well as charm; our King Suite is in the new section behind the main house. The enormous bed is extremely comfortable. We enjoy the little gas fireplace in the corner, and take advantage of the small fridge. My spouse luxuriates in the Jacuzzi.
We take every opportunity to experience Stan’s amazing breakfasts, for which he is justifiably famous. The menu changes, but the French toast (regular, cinnamon, and chocolate) and the Southern breakfast (including grits) are both to die for. The table settings are elegant, the dining room chandelier is eye catching and quirky, and the side table heaped with yogurt and cold cereal beckons even the most finicky eater. I loved the little touch of marmalade and jams served with spoons sticking out of jars, the better to heap on the “make it your way” toast.
We probably ate more and lingered longer than we should have, but we finally made it to Stockbridge. I was dying to see the Norman Rockwell Museum, and I wasn’t disappointed. The building itself is modern and minimalist, and the artwork is displayed to perfection. Rockwell always claimed that he was not an artist, just an illustrator; but I came away with a greater appreciation of his work. John and I sat mesmerized on a bench in front of “Main Street at Christmas.” There’s no way you can appreciate the 3-D effect unless you actually see it live. I couldn’t help but think that in the summer months, we probably wouldn’t be able to have this up close and personal experience. Our tour guide was superb; she sprinkled her talk with insights about the models who were used, and spoke with us privately for quite a while. An added bonus was an exhibition all about Jerry Pinkney, one of the top illustrators of today.
In spite of the cold, we walked around Stockbridge, pinpointing many of the locations used by Rockwell. Everyone in town was extremely helpful; when it came time to eat dinner, a resident pointed us to a little café with good food and great hot cider. I was sorry we didn’t have time to check out all the interesting little shops, but we did find the former site of Alice’s Restaurant.
When you go to the Berkshires, the pride and the enthusiasm of the people you meet will encourage you to return and find out more about this unique region. If you get the opportunity, don’t fail to notice the distinctive Victorian and Georgian architecture. Do ask Stan Rosen to tell you, in his quiet Southern style, stories about his adventures in the music business. Be open to joining in the spirit of this slower paced, culture rich area.
Photo credit for breakfast table: John Warner
Other photos, Jumping Rocks Photography, Philadelphia. To see more of the studio’s work, go to its website.
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively about travel, food, and art, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary.