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Say Om!

Relaxing in the Berkshires

Novelist Edith Wharton claimed her retreat in the Berkshires was the ultimate tonic. Ensconced in her country estate among the gently rolling hills of western Massachusetts, she felt instantly renewed. Since the turn of the century, both the lofty, literary set and the hiking-boot–clad, tie-dyed T-shirt crowd have been making pilgrimages to the Berkshires, drawn by its rich arts and culture and its pristine lakes and woodland. But these days, weekend sojourners are apt to arrive here armed with yoga mats, seeking bliss and a good bagel shop along the way.

Fortunately, the path to enlightenment is easy to find. From Fairfield, Westchester, and Litchfield counties, you need only follow Route 7 north as it wends its way along the Housatonic River to Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts. For sybarites seeking perfection, the high-toned resort has meditation and yoga instruction plus a plethora of wellness and nutrition seminars, fitness classes, and rigorous outdoor pursuits, including an early morning ten-mile jaunt up Mount Everett.

No worries. Here, physical exertion rejuvenates rather than exhausts, owing to Canyon Ranch’s sumptuous environs and cosseting service. The resort, set on 120 acres, features a climate-controlled, glass-enclosed walkway connecting the inn, spa, and the Bellefontaine mansion. A replica of Louis XVI’s Petit Trianon, the mansion was built in 1897 in the baronial style typical of Berkshires “cottages” during the Gilded Age.

Since you can get anywhere you need to be without ever leaving the building, it’s common to find Ranch guests padding around the place wearing oversized, puffy white bathrobes. The spa, it seems, is the ultimate destination, where guests spend an inordinate amount of time migrating between whirlpool, steam room, and indoor pool, pausing only for a body-exfoliation treatment. Ah, bliss.

The Ranch offers both traditional medical and wellness services as well as lessons in the metaphysical: numerology, tarot reading, and astrology. Afternoon tea is served in the restored library, with its glorious marble fireplace, arched ceiling, and comfy leather sofas. Granted, the Ranch is not a modest path to Nirvana—a few nights stay can run to several thousand dollars—but the experience is nothing short of heaven.

Somewhat rare among fine resorts, Canyon Ranch is a non-alcohol facility, so evenings tend to be quiet and contemplative. Options include wellness lectures and parlor games.

Another option for those seeking relaxation is Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge. Housed in the imposing brick edifice that was once a Jesuit monastery, the retreat draws about 30,000 yoga devotees a year. Despite the revolving-door influx of bliss-seekers, Kripalu manages to exude an inner calm. (The mandatory silence during breakfast and a no–cell-phone policy helps set the tone.)

A $100 day pass at Kripalu allows access to workshops, yoga classes, endless cups of herbal tea, and three meals in the buffet-style dining hall. The food is worth the price alone: kudos to anyone who can make potato, tempeh, and soy sausages taste yummy. And the café, after years with a no-coffee rule, will now serve you a cup of Joe—but a good bagel means sneaking out to Berkshire Bagels in nearby Lenox.

Well-designed, private rooms in Kripalu’s adjacent new, eco-friendly annex are a recent alternative to its dormitory-style accommodations.

And the center’s course selection is daunting, with hundreds of catalog listings to choose from, including New Age, touchy-feely yoga dancing to no-nonsense Big Guy Yoga—presumably for men who can’t touch their toes.

But the common objective here is to de-stress. Evenings allow time to perfect your lotus position under the stars, meditating to the chant of crickets and a spectacular view of the Berkshire foothills. Better yet, sprawl on the lawn and listen to the outdoor concerts at Tanglewood, located just across the road.

For the adventurous, it’s prime time to venture outside the womb of the resorts for some gallery hopping and serious dining—even a spot of wine or two—try Lenox or Great Barrington. At Allium restaurant in Great Barrington, indulge in their Black Angus–farm pork chop, served with acorn bread puree, cabbage, and bacon. Afterward, redeem yourself across the street at the Crystal Essence, which sells “tools for transformations,” i.e., crystals, oils, meditation music, miniature Buddhas, etc. Pop upstairs for a tarot reading and be back at the ranch before turndown.

Alas, by the time you are fully de-stressed and spiritually recharged, it’s time to head home. A must-stop is Asia Barong Antiques on Route 7 in Great Barrington, which has the largest inventory of Asian art and antiques this side of the Ganges. For as little as $5, you can pick up your own pocketsize god or goddess, carved out of stone or wood. Om! There, I said it.

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