There is something distinctly American about a road trip, yet too often these words conjure up images of bad hotels and road food. With a little advance planning, it is possible to hit the highway for a thoroughly grown-up version of a road trip. This was my goal last fall, during the peak of the autumn foliage, when I packed the car for a trip from New York City up to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. Instead of crowded roads and weak coffee, I found scenery lit up with the colors of fall, and at the end of my journey, a country house hotel that offered the charm of the Gilded Ages with all the pleasures of today’s best kitchens.
The Planning Stages
The kind of road trip I envisioned was one that was manageable for a weekend, yet far enough away from New York City to feel really removed. A road trip long enough where I could settle in to driving, absorbing all the scenery and arrive at my destination already relaxed. After a little research, I was intrigued by the Berkshires, located only 3 hours from New York City by car. While the Berkshires are famous for summer performances of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Tanglewood, I was looking forward to less crowds and more color with the vibrant fall foliage. The hotel that completed this image of an escape to the countryside was Blantyre, a manor from the Gilded Ages that has been transformed into a luxurious Relais and Chateaux property.
Hitting the Road
When the day arrived to depart for Blantyre, I was almost as excited for the drive as for the pleasures that waited for me in the Berkshires. Without a moment of traffic, we glided onto the New York Thruway, winding through mountainsides alive with all hues of yellow, red, and orange. Almost too quickly it was time to turn east on Interstate 90 East. As we crossed the Hudson River on a scenic bridge I wished I was the one in the passenger seat, and not in charge of the wheel. Soon the exit for Lee, Massachusetts arrived. After weaving through the village, I took one more turn and was at the gate of Blantyre. Passing through the pillars, I wound up the driveway and parked right under the portico. We had arrived.
Welcome to Blantyre
Just as I put the car in park, the front door opened and we got our first taste of the excellent Blantyre staff as they welcomed us and grabbed our bags from the car. We passed into the entryway, stocked with wood for Blantyre’s many fireplaces. This aroma was the perfect welcome to the country. Immediately we were brought upstairs to the Paterson Suite, and within moments of arrival were listening to classical music and nibbling on cheese and crackers while watching the sun fade outside the bay windows. There was just enough time before our 8 pm dinner to take a stroll down to the Potting Shed Spa.
Separate from the main house is the Potting Shed Spa, which on the night we arrived we had completely to ourselves. A soak in the hot tub followed by a couple hours reading the weekend newspapers in front of a roaring fire was an ideal start to a relaxing weekend in the country. For guests who want to take this relaxation a step further, the Potting Shed Spa offers a range of treatments including pedicures, facials, and one amazing hot stone massage.
Back in the suite, I couldn’t help but fall for Blantyre’s decor. Every last detail has been curated by the hotel’s owner, Ann Fitzpatrick Brown, who restored the Gilded Age manor to its former glory. Each room contains a lovely selection of books, all chosen by Ann. I agree with Ann who says that books “warm a room”. All the rooms at Blantyre are studies in comfort. The Paterson Suite has its own wood-burning fireplace, that was ready for the simple strike of a match after we returned from dinner.
The Evening Meal
Blantyre has a distinct European feel to it, a certain elegance with influences from abroad. This is no mistake, as the first owner of Blantyre was Robert Paterson who named the estate after his mother’s ancestral home in Scotland. Traditions have not only survived at Blantyre, but on a nightly basis, show guests the pleasures of a bygone era. The night begins with a drink and canapes in the music room. The pianist was taking requests as we looked over the menu and sipped on a glass of champagne. As much as Blantyre is known for its country location and its spa, it is also known for its kitchen, run by Executive Chef Christopher Brooks.
After our canapes, we took a seat in the elegant dining room. We placed our meal in the hands of the chef, and opted for the surprise tasting menu. Chef Brooks is known for his use of local ingredients, and with each course, I was impressed by his country house cuisine. It was the perfect complement to the surroundings – food that is refined yet comforting and hearty. Blantyre is also home to an impressive wine cellar for those travelers that want to incorporate some wine tasting into their trip to the Berkshires.
After dessert, all we had to do was climb the stairs to the massive king-sized bed that was waiting in the Paterson Suite. Before retiring, we lit the fireplace, and enjoyed the cozy warmth and glow of the logs. The pleasures continued the next morning at breakfast, when we stepped into the orchid-filled conservatory for a long, lingering breakfast. Be sure not to miss the chef’s blueberry muffins – they are brought to the table to nibble while looking over the breakfast menu.
After breakfast, we took a stroll around the grounds for a glimpse of the fall foliage. If there was one consolation for driving back to New York City, it would be the opportunity to see all those colors once again when we hit the road.
- Blantyre, 16 Blantyre Road, Lenox, Massachusetts.
- Open year-round, with guest rooms in the main house or separate cottages. Each room is individually decorated.
- Daily rate includes full breakfast. Rooms range from $600 – $2000 per night.
- Dinner five course tasting menu: $165 per person. Add wine pairings with each course for $300 per person.
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Jessica Colley is a freelance travel and food writer based in New York City. She proudly called Dublin home from 2008 – 2010 and writes frequently about the city and Ireland. Three of Jessica’s favorite travel destinations are Ireland, Italy, and Berlin. Find her online at www.thegreatamericantraveldream.com and on Twitter @jessicacolley.