The Berkshires
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Norman Rockwell's now-classic illustrations of robust Americana often drew their inspiration from a cultural palette nurtured by the creatively fertile hills of Massachusetts' famed Berkshires.

These expressionistic hills of Berkshire County soon developed eyes. And today "the hills have eyes" that bear witness to the region's growing cultural legacy and an accompanying increase in the number of people who vacation here.

"The Berkshires" -- often referred to as "America's premier cultural resort" -- is so named for the 33 townships that comprise Berkshire County.

Folks from points near and far make the pilgrimage to Northwestern Massachusetts to soak in a culture rich in performing arts, galleries, and museums. They also come to enjoy the Berkshires' incomparable natural beauty -- a scenic grace that has historically lured many artists looking to unleash their creative genius.

Rockwell, for example, chose to hang his hat in Stockbridge. "I just love Stockbridge," Rockwell said during his hey-day as an artist with The Saturday Evening Post. "I mean, Stockbridge is the best of America," he continued, "the best of New England."

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Rockwell's friends and neighbors became the subject of his work, as did the quintessential New England clapboards of Stockbridge's historic village square. One of Rockwell's most enduring masterpieces, "Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas," provides a panoramic glimpse of the lush Berkshire hills. The painting also includes the world-renowned and still-standing Revolutionary-era antique known as the Red Lion Inn. Built in 1773, the inn proved particularly popular to America's Jet Set before, during, and after Prohibition.

In contrast to the tinkling of glasses at the Red Lion, you have the clash of cymbals in nearby Lenox, where the world-renowned Boston Symphony Orchestra returns each year for a summer residency at the pastoral Tanglewood estate.

Tanglewood features two performance venues - the impressive new Seiji Ojawa Hall and the outdoor amphitheater setting of the Koussevitzky Music Shed. The symphony's summer music series always features some of the most accomplished classical musicians worldwide, and for at least part of the summer, the symphony gives way to the Boston Pops.

Although it's tough to top the Pops, the international fame quotient drops not a bit when you head east to the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. This culturally diverse summertime celebration brings together artists from the United States, France, Japan, Ireland, Africa, Sweden, Brazil, Spain, Canada, and The Netherlands. Pillow performances showcase everything from ballet to Flamenco to contemporary gyrations set to hip-hop. The dancers haven even been known to throw in a few good interpretations of Shakespeare for good measure.

As for those who like their Shakespeare unadulterated, there's Shakespeare and Co., a theater troupe that performs each summer at The Mount, novelist Edith Wharton's summer home in Lenox.

The Berkshire Theater Festival, another summertime tradition that attracts elite-level talent, also calls the Mount home, and the Williamstown Theater Festival, which takes place at Williams College, unites thespian stars from both traditional theater and the silver screen. The Barrington Stage Company continues to draw rave reviews for its performances in Great Barrington, and the prestigious Berkshire Opera Company satisfies theater-goers who crave some music as well.

The performing arts of the summer season, however, are but only one entrée on the Berkshires' rich cultural menu. And as Rockwell's paintings reveal, the hills of Berkshire County are never more beautiful than they are during the fall and winter.

The Berkshires' year-round cultural offerings include a vast collection of art and history at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield and some you-won't-believe-it-till-you-see-it exhibits in North Adams at the MASS MoCA, the world's largest contemporary art museum.

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown houses a broad range of French impressionists, old Masters, and American paintings. The Williams College Museum of Art sheds new light on traditional works with its spectacularly illuminated exhibit halls.

Sculpture is on display at Stockbridge's Chesterwood, the home of Daniel Chester French, the artist who sculpted the Lincoln Memorial Statue. And the literary arts are well-represented within the open doors of Arrowhead, the home of Pittsfield's Herman Melville, whose timeless works include his classic, Moby Dick.

It doesn't get any more timeless, though, than Pittsfield's Hancock Shaker Village. This truly is a place where time has always stood still. The Shakers' religious convictions precluded outside influence, which meant that this self-sufficient sect did without electricity and plumbing. Their now well-preserved village offers a rare glimpse into a lifestyle that, in most places, time has long forgotten.

If you're looking for some action on your Berkshire vacation, look no further then the great outdoors. Butternut, Catamount, Brodie, and Jiminy Peak, among other ski resorts, offer downhill runs and snowboarding for all skill levels, and cross-country skiing areas provide a chance to view the awesome scenery. If you're visiting in the warmer months, a multitude of state forests, wildlife trails, and parks feature hikes that offer stunning views of Mount Monadnock, Monument Mountain, and Mount Greylock, as well as the more-distant Green Mountains and Catskills.

With all this available activity, the problem won't be what to do do, but how to fit it all in. Whether the purpose of your visit is an outdoor-oriented family trip or cultural enrichment, the Berkshires of Massachusetts won't disappoint.

Great Barrington
Mount Washington
New Marlborough
North Adams
West Stockbridge
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