Driving up the tree-lined lane to Wheatleigh's entry courtyard in the Berkshire Mountains, we felt like we’d landed in Tuscany. We soon learned that the resemblance was by design.
Built in 1893 by real estate and railroad tycoon Henry H. Cook, Wheatleigh was created as a wedding present for his daughter, who had married a European count.
Inspired by the Berkshires’ rolling terrain, the architect designed the “summer cottage” in the style of a 16th century Florentine palazzo, bringing in artisans from Italy to create the intricately carved stone fireplace in the great room, the fountain and other stonework around and inside the mansion.
The estate’s sculpture garden and grounds were laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect responsible for New York City’s Central Park. The grand balconied main hall, which hosted its share of soirees during the Gilded Age, is still furnished with original sculpture and art, including Tiffany glass windows. The ambiance is so authentic that we half expected some Great Gatsby characters to waltz in.
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Guest Rooms at Wheatleigh: The feeling of privilege continued as guest services manager Mark Brown showed us around our Junior Suite. Drawing back the floor-to-ceiling curtains, we were thrilled to see that we had a private terrace and a clear view of the back lawn and just beyond, a mountain-backed lake. The views inside were equally pleasing.
Decorated in subtle neutral tones, the room had a large, now decorative fireplace set up with tall candles. Fresh chocolate cookies, a Wheatleigh signature amenity, were offered. Mark asked if we wanted still or sparkling water and then returned with bottled water and a tray with a choice of deluxe bath amenities including Bvlgari and Aromatherapy. But for us, the most romantic feature was an antique bathtub, big enough for two to comfortably soak in.
Dining at Wheatleigh: “I can’t believe that the Michelin folks haven’t discovered Wheatleigh yet,” says Salvatore Rizzo, owner/director of De Gustibus Cooking School by Miele. We had come to Wheatleigh as part of a special De Gustibus dining/cooking weekend that included a hands-on class with Chef Jeffrey Thompson and multiple tasting menus.
Over the course of the weekend, we sampled dozens of dishes. The first night, my husband and I looked at the menu and began trying to make the hard decision about which dishes we wanted. How silly we were; no decisions were required; we were served tasting portions of each of the six starters, seven main dishes and vegetables and three desserts. And so the weekend went. Since table talk often revolved around the dish at hand, we truly focused on and savored every bite. Amazingly, we always felt satisfied, never stuffed, after our meals, nor did either of us gain an ounce from this gourmet weekend.
And we took home some great recipes and a few new techniques.
Among the many highlights were succulent oxtail appetizers, Dover sole with black truffle and an unforgettable “Vacherin” with coconut parfait, exotic fruit, and guava sorbet. Oh, and the scrumptious wild Scottish langoustine with carrot, fava bean, and scarlet turnip! The inside dining room was spacious and cozy at the same time, but our favorite dining spot was the glass-enclosed portico. And we agreed with Salvatore; Wheatleigh deserves a Michelin Star.
Destination Weddings at Wheatleigh: We were surprised to learn that Wheatleigh only agrees to host about ten to 12 weddings a year, partly because couples are encouraged to take over the entire 19-room hotel for their wedding weekend. “We want to be able to focus fully on each wedding,” says Marc Wilhelm, general manager. The hotel can handle weddings of up to 100 in winter; 150 in summer. “One of the most romantic wedding activities is watching the stars while warming up around our fire table. In winter, we put out an ice bar and there’s sledding down our hill.
In summer, late-night pool parties are very popular,” he says. Ceremonies are often held on the expansive upper terrace overlooking the valley or, for a more intimate feeling, in the sculpture garden.
Activities at Wheatleigh: Most guests come to enjoy the cuisine and explore the area so this isn’t a place that pushes activities. A small fitness room is tucked downstairs, an oval heated pool is hidden in the woods and tall trees shade the hotel’s single tennis court. Guests also have access to the Stockbridge Golf Club, five miles away, where keeping the balls out of the Housatonic River is part of the challenge. There is a small single-table massage room next to the fitness room, but in-room massages—for one or two—are much more popular.
And on the weekend we were there, the hotel had arranged for a hot air balloon to take a couple on a ride over the Berkshires.
Nearby Wheatleigh: You'll find a wealth of cultural and historic attractions in the Berkshires. One morning we went for a before-breakfast walk around Lenox, a few minutes’ drive from the hotel. Lenox is also home to Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Summer also brings top performers to Jacob’s Pillow, the Berkshire Theatre Festival, and Shakespeare & Company theaters. Traditional art lovers will enjoy visiting the Norman Rockwell Museum, and then strolling through Stockbridge, which still looks much as it did when the artist painted it.
Pros/Cons of Wheatleigh: It took us a while to figure out what felt so different here from other manor house style hotels. Then we realized that there were no guests walking through the lobby to get to the spa or racing out to catch an aquacise class. For some, not having an indoor pool, Jacuzzi or a full-service spa and showy fitness center might feel like deprivation, but guests we spoke with said there was plenty to do in the area and they appreciated the tranquility.
“Real luxury isn’t having a telephone next to the toilet or seven jams for breakfast; it’s having one jam, but a truly amazing one; it’s the perfection of simplicity,” says Wilhelm. Nevertheless, the only thing we really missed was having a coffee maker in the room. There’s 24-hour room service, but first thing in the morning, we would have preferred to make our own.
Wheatleigh Vibe: The quiet sophistication of Wheatleigh makes it a natural retreat for serenity-loving couples of all ages. It’s not a place for rambunctious kids—or adults. The few kids we saw during the weekend while we were there were the advance party for a future wedding, and they seemed to understand that this was not a place to play tag on the terrace.
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Lenox, MA 01240
Nearest airports: Hartford/Springfield and Albany; each is about an hour’s drive away.
By Geri Bain.