The Berkshires. The very words conjure up images of New England to anyone west of the Hudson River, of Tanglewood to the music lover, of quaint villages and country inns to generations of travelers, of sylvan retreats that have inspired artists and authors who have called the Berkshires home.

The arts are centered in Lenox and Stockbridge, which attracted literati of such name and number in the mid-1800s that the area became known as "America's Lake Country." Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Adams, Edith Wharton and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow all lived here. Today, the Berkshires are unrivaled as America's summer cultural center with the foremost in music, dance and theater festivals.

This section of western Massachusetts stretches along the New York State border from Connecticut to Vermont.

NEW MARLBORO

>> New Marlboro Lodging and Dining Suggestions

The Old Inn on the Green and Gedney Farm, Route 57, New Marlboro. (413) 229-3131 or (800) 286-3139.

ASHLEY FALLS

Colonel John Ashley House, Cooper Hill Road, west off Route 7A, Ashley Falls.
The oldest house in the Berkshires (1735), this restored beauty off by itself in a meadow looks up to Mount Everett. Because Ashley was a wealthy merchant, judge and legislator; his house – a fine example of Colonial architecture – was rather elaborate for the period. Original paneling graces the handsome second-floor meeting room, where the Sheffield Declaration of Independence was signed three years before the country's. Early furnishings, a pottery collection and the Colonial herb gardens are of interest.
(413) 298-3239. Open Memorial Day to Columbus Day. Guided tours, Saturday, Sunday and Monday holidays 1 to 5. Adults $5, children $3.

Bartholomew's Cobble, Weatogue Road, west off Route 7A, Ashley Falls.
A cobble is an old Yankee word for a limestone outcropping above a meadow and this one, a National Natural Landmark, is beside the Housatonic River. The nature preserve offers trails through 277 acres of rock gardens, where more than 500 species of wildflowers, 100 species of trees, shrubs and vines, and 40 species of ferns have been catalogued. The small Bailey Museum of Natural History displays local flora and fauna, plus a few Indian artifacts.
(413) 229-8600. Museum open daily, 9 to 4:30. Grounds open year-round, sunrise to sunset. Adults $4, children $1.

SOUTH EGREMONT

>> South Egremont Dining Suggestions

John Andrew's, Route 23, South Egremont. (413) 528-3469.

The Old Mill, Route 23, South Egremont. (413) 528-1421.

GREAT BARRINGTON

This busy town, less manicured and less visibly historic than its neighbors to the north, is becoming the Southern Berkshires' downtown. Shops, restaurants and theaters have made its hip Main Street and Railroad Street the current hot spots.