One of the best ways to understand the ethos of the Berkshires is to look around the crowd gathered on the lawn at Tanglewood, the celebrated outdoor music venue and summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. You’ll see gentlemen in pressed khakis arranging folding tables for an elaborate picnic — complete with candelabra. But you’ll also see couples wearing T-shirts and sitting on beach chairs. Both types of attire are both completely acceptable in this low-key but luxurious area.
The Berkshires, a mountainous region in western Massachusetts, offers a unique blend of culture, nature and excellent food, all roughly two and a half hours from both Boston and New York City. This area, like Newport, was once the summer playground for wealthy tycoons like Andrew Carnegie, the industrialist responsible for building some of the area’s Gilded Age mansions. Although the Berkshires offer plenty of winter sports, summer is one of the best times to visit, when Tanglewood is in session and the weather is warm enough to hike or canoe. For the perfect Berkshires day, base yourself in Lenox, hire a rental car and get ready to eat, hike and enjoy art.
The Harper-recommended Blantyre (16 Blantyre Rd.) is one of 12 remaining Gilded Age mansions in the Berkshires. The Tudor Revival estate recently underwent a multimillion renovation to its public spaces and guest rooms, including a collaboration with lifestyle décor brand Serena & Lily. Head to the hotel’s brasserie-style Bistro for a traditional English breakfast or brioche French toast. If you’d rather eat in downtown Lenox, which is just minutes away by car, settle into a seat at local favorite Haven Café and Bakery (8 Franklin St.) for freshly brewed coffee and huevos rancheros, topped with a thick dollop of sour cream. Pick up a bag of the homemade granola for an edible souvenir.
With a full stomach, head north beyond the town center and up a winding gravel road to reach the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary (472 West Mountain Rd.), owned by the Mass Audubon Society. Register at the visitors center and choose a hike that winds through 1,000 acres of forest, meadows and wetlands. If you have time, sign up for a guided canoe trip.
Next, head south of the town center to The Mount (2 Plunkett St.), the 42-room mansion designed by the writer Edith Wharton. Join a group tour or just wander the vast rooms to learn about the writer’s prolific career, her passion for beauty and her humanitarian work. Make time to explore the landscaped gardens, where a contemporary sculpture exhibit runs through October. If you need a caffeine break, order a coffee on the terrace café overlooking the formal gardens.
Drive back to the town center and get an outdoor table at Alta Restaurant and Wine Bar (34 Church St.), which features a Mediterranean-inspired menu. The lunch options focus on lighter fare, such as a quinoa salad with arugula, hazelnuts and feta. If you need something heartier, order the Alta Burger, which is served with caramelized onions and Vermont goat cheese.
After lunch, explore the boutiques and art galleries of Lenox, which are all within walking distance of one another. MacKimmie Co. (67 Church St.) sells a mix of woolens and textiles from global brands such as Johnstons of Elgin and Moismont. Small accessories such as felt clutches from Graf Lantz make an ideal gift. Casablanca (21 Housatonic St.) is a stylish boutique selling mens- and womenswear from designers like Issey Miyake and Angela Caputi. Lenox’s independent streak shines in The Bookstore (11 Housatonic St.), a cozy shop with wooden floors and exposed brick that also has an adjacent wine bar called Get Lit. Order a glass of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and buy a copy of “The Tanglewood Picnic,” which includes vintage photos as well as picnic recipes. Pop into 4 For Art (53 Church St.) to view a mix of contemporary and folk art, as well as fine textiles.
From the bookstore, it’s a quick drive to the Frelinghuysen Morris House and Studio (92 Hawthorne St.), the former dwelling of American abstract artists George L.K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen. The couple spent time in Paris in the 1920s and ’30s and built a Bauhaus-inspired home and studio in Lenox upon their return. It features original furniture from Donald Deskey and Alvar Aalto, but the real highlight is the art. The walls are adorned with the couple’s own works, as well as pieces from Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee and Henri Matisse.
Drive back into downtown Lenox to pick up a premade picnic as well as a bottle of wine for Tanglewood at Nejaime’s Wine Cellar (60 Main St.). The French Country Basket is packed with a mix of sweet and savory treats, such as double crème brie, smoked chicken breast and dessert. With your picnic and wine ready, it’s time to head to Tanglewood (297 West St.). Get there early, while the sun is still up, to stake out a place on the lawn and arrange your blanket and chairs.
This summer, Tanglewood is celebrating the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein with a spotlight on some of his best-known works (“On the Town,” “Trouble in Tahiti”), but the summer program also includes a mix of classical music and contemporary artists such as James Taylor. One of its most popular events is John Williams Night, which features the conductor’s film scores. Don’t forget your flashlight — or your candelabra.