There are times when New York City life becomes a bit too frantic and an escape to a quieter, more bucolic setting is called for. When these occasions arise, I can think of no better place to unwind than at Wheatleigh, a 19th-century Florentine-style palazzo located in the heart of the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. I was introduced to it over 25 years ago by my stylish grandmother who, like this impressive mansion and its grounds, has something of Edith Wharton about her.
Together she and I would visit this statuesque property – a “summer cottage” given as a wedding present to the daughter of the wealthy industrialist Henry H Cook and now surrounded by 22 pristine acres – to enjoy a delicious meal in either of the boutique inn’s sumptuous restaurants. Summer lunches were enjoyed en plein air – either on the patio or in Adirondack chairs overlooking the Taconic mountains – while wintery visits afforded the chance to sit by roaring fireplaces and catch up.
Fast forward quarter of a century and I’ve recently returned to Wheatleigh, which has seen a thorough overhaul courtesy of the architecture and design team of Calvin Tsao and Zack McKown. Known for their neoclassical, restrained work, the duo has made this already-wonderful spot simply spectacular. The great hall entrance has been transformed with the addition of plush, crushed-velvet sofas in muted hues, and a neutral ambient palette in washes of sage through to cypress. The hotel’s 19 minimalist rooms have also been refurbished; flourishes include Parisian lights from Galerie des Lampes and antique Chinese leather boxes. White fire-clay baths from England, exquisite limestone floors and sumptuous linens are now standard, and the overall effect is calm and blessedly low-tech.
What does remain, thankfully, is the stellar cuisine. Guests are spoilt for choice in both the formal dining room (fourth picture) – with its soaring glass windows and Palladian columns, described as “part Philip Johnson’s Glass House, part Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon at Versailles” – and the convivial library cafe. The former’s food is sophisticated but not at all pretentious, with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients – Jamison Farm’s lamb, the hotel’s own heirloom tomatoes – offered in four-course menus ($125). My favourite spot, however, remains the library – a laid-back setting with lunches of house-made pasta, a perfectly crispy croque monsieur or classic fish and chips.
One of the best parts of Wheatleigh, in my opinion, is that it dazzles throughout the seasons. Its lush, rolling hills glint in summer, the leaves turn brilliant hues of red and orange in autumn and the winter scene is full of untracked, pristine snow fields.