Cornell Inn of Lenox a trip back in time in the Berkshires

The Cornell Inn's MacDonald house dates to 1777, one of the oldest buildings in Lenox, Mass. (Craig Davis/
The Cornell Inn's MacDonald house dates to 1777, one of the oldest buildings in Lenox, Mass. (Craig Davis/
The Cornell Inn is one of the historic bed and breakfast accommodations in Lenox, Mass. (Craig Davis/
The Cornell Inn is one of the historic bed and breakfast accommodations in Lenox, Mass. (Craig Davis/

By Craig Davis,

LENOX, MASS. – James Taylor sang about the dream-like aura of the Berkshires and he lives it in a country home in Lenox.

The town of 5,000 is at the heart of the western Massachusetts highlands region that has long been a haven for artists, musicians, writers and performers as well as vacationers drawn to its natural beauty and vibrant culture.

We found a comfortable base for a fall sightseeing tour at the Cornell Inn, one of many historic bed and breakfast accommodations in and around Lenox.

Although fall foliage didn’t measure up to its usual colorful standards in October 2018, there are plenty of reasons to return to the Berkshires any time of the year with its abundance of museums, theatre, music venues, restaurants and natural beauty.

Berkshires provide colorful alternatives in art, nature when fall foliage disappoints

The Cornell Inn, run by Nell and Tim McCaffery, is about a mile from the Tanglewood Music Center, summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. James Taylor met his current wife, Kim, there – she was in marketing for the orchestra.

Lenox a center of cultural options

The entrance to the Kennedy Park nature trails is just a shout away. If you want theatre, there’s Shakespeare and Company nearby in the walkable downtown.

Everywhere there is history with deeper roots than you can find in most of the country. We stayed in MacDonald House, the oldest of the three buildings that make up the Cornell Inn. The chimney displays the date 1777.

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Tim McCaffery said it has been challenging to verify the history of such a vintage property, piecing it together from old records. One document bears the 1777 date. Another showing 1845 appears to indicate construction of an addition.

A stay in a room as old as the country is worthwhile, to sense the history. Whatever the date, this is one of the oldest homes in the area, long-time residence of Edward MacDonald, a Civil War veteran, state representative and prominent banker and official in Lenox.

It is easy to imagine arriving on horseback and warming by the fireplace with a stiff drink. Of course, we’re not exactly adhering to bygone accommodations with WiFi at our fingertips and an array of cable channels among the amenities in the Lucy room.

But the experience has a slightly back-in-time feel with oldies tunes playing every morning at breakfast in the dining room of the main building next door. That is a short stroll away along the stone walkway past the waterfall and fish pond.

I recommend starting the day with blueberry pancakes, though the McCafferys offer several choices for breakfast. After a day of touring, there are fresh muffins and cookies along with hot cider waiting in the dining room.

Creative history in the Berkshires

The Berkshires is a magnet for nature lovers and artists. The Appalachian Trail runs through the heart of the region winding parallel a few miles east of the north-south corridor of Williamstown, Lanesborough, Pittsfield, Lenox, Stockbridge and Great Barrington. There are a couple of access points for day hikes on the trail northeast of Pittsfield near Lee, Mass., at Cobble Hill and Warner Hill.

Something in the surroundings seems to inspire creativity. Herman Melville wrote “Moby Dick” while living in Pittsfield.

Arlo Guthrie wrote “Alice’s Restaurant” about an incident that occurred on Thanksgiving 1965 in Stockbridge, which is where Norman Rockwell had his studio and is now the site of the Rockwell Museum.

Gwyneth Paltrow got her start at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Like Taylor, Meryl Streep has a home near Lenox.

But a visit to the Berkshires isn’t about tracking the rich and famous. It’s about getting lost in the surroundings that Taylor wrote about in “Sweet Baby James:”

Now the first of December was covered with snow

So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston

The Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting

With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go

Where to eat in Lenox

Frankie’s Restorante Italiano is a favorite of locals and visitors, and with good reason. It’s one of those classic red-checkered table cloth places with fresh food and friendly service. The grilled artichokes are a standout appetizer.

Looking for a light bite, we found it at the Firefly Gastropub with a Berkshire Mountain Bakery flatbread and (sauteed mushrooms, bourbon caramelized onions, roasted butternut squash, roasted garlic puree, kale, Parmesan) and a side of fried Brussels sprouts, which had a nice tang from the tamari ginger.

French ambiance in the Berkshires

The young woman seeking guidance for lunch in Great Barrington expressed disappointment when I said I wasn’t from around there. But at that moment I felt qualified to give a recommendation.

“You can’t beat this place,” I said, pointing to the charming Patisserie Lenox where we had just finished lunch. From the bread and pastries to the French background music, the feeling was genuine Paris café on Main Street in a quintessential New England setting.

Great Barrington was named No. 1 in Smithsonian magazine’s 20 Best Small Towns in America of 2012. It is loaded with farm-to-fork eateries. But on a return visit I wouldn’t hesitate for a redux at Patisserie Lenox.

Executive pastry chef Jean Yve learned the trade at a top Paris pastry school and ran a four-star restaurant in New York City and bakeries on Long Island before moving his operation to the Berkshires.

Oh la la, the Brioche sandwich (turkey, cheddar, lettuce, mayo, mustard on a toasted brioche roll) was magnifique.

More fall trips to take

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Your ultimate fall bucket list

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The best fall festivals in Pennsylvania

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Tracking our Travel Alien

Bebop visited Norman Rockwell’s creative studio at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. See where else our travel alien has been.

Bebop, the CraigslegzTravels alien, outside Norman Rockwell's studio at the Rockwell museum in Stockbridge, Mass. (Craig Davis/
Bebop, the CraigslegzTravels alien, outside Norman Rockwell’s studio at the Rockwell museum in Stockbridge, Mass. (Craig Davis/
About craigslegz 112 Articles
Travel is about discovery, and I learn most about a place when I explore it on foot. Craigslegz Travels is about favorite places and people, and advice to aid fellow travelers. My emphasis is on venturing off well-worn paths. - Craig Davis

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