It was a pure expression of release: kayaking on a steamy late spring day on the calm waters of the Stockbridge Bowl, also known as Lake Mahkeenac, stretching across Berkshire’s towns of Stockbridge and Lenox. Over the north side of the lake is Tanglewood, the famous cottage for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which opens for performance in July after being closed for a year. (Apparently, BSO also owns a beach near the lake where musicians kick back on their days off.) However, the day’s excursion was part of a program formulated by Canyon Ranch, the longtime Lenox offshoot of the Tucson-based wellness retreat. It is one of the trails reformulated for the April reopening of the retreat called Outdoor Escape, perfect for city dwellers coming from pandemic hibernation.
With last summer’s arrival Miraval Berkshires, the outpost of another wellness-heavyweight headquarters in Tucson, there’s another reason to come to this scenic city in western Massachusetts that has historically drawn tycoons responsible for the age-old mansions that still dot the landscape and literary characters like Edith Wharton. Canyon Ranch established a store here in 1989 using one of these Gilded Age mansions, Bellefontaine built in 1897, as a focal point, but compared to Miraval’s magazine layout worthy design designed by international superstar Clodagh, a more ambitious culinary program plus wine list ( Canyon Ranch allows you to bring your own) and some original programs such as meditation with horses, the former retreat facilities may look a bit dated.
Where Canyon Ranch shines, however, is the quality of its practitioners, who have drawn guests back for repeated visits. Within the Pathways programs, which are divided into 3, 5, and 7 night plans, medical experts can determine the causes of medical conditions and create healing food choices and exercise plans as part of the optimal health examination; another Pathway Reconnect With Joy is designed to help guests find more spirituality or purpose and explore new forms of expression; others help guests deal with trauma or loss and relieve stress through cleansing rituals. Taking advantage of its lush surroundings surrounded by forests, Outdoor Escape options include kayaking such as the Japanese Shin Rin Yoku, communion with nature, especially trees, known as forest bathing; the contemplative circle that forces interior explorations through a guided tour along a circle of rocks, a high rope challenge course and climbing wall. Plus classes, conversations and the simple pleasure of sitting out on the expansive lawn and looking out at the trees.
Nearby, as a counterpoint to the lean, health-centered ethos of the other retreats, is the abundance of Blantyre, a member of Castles Relay. The main house here is yet another return to the gilded age, a Tudor mansion built in 1902 and modeled after the original owner’s mother in Scotland; a wagon house and several cabins are also scattered around the 110-hectare area. Guests returning now after being away for several years do not recognize the interior, which has been brightened and infused with more modern furniture added to the house’s antiques. The overall effect is elegant without being enclosed with great attention to detail such as the delicate, traditional fine porcelain tea cups placed next to the Nespresso machines in the rooms instead of several pedestrian mugs.
Lenox has a rather sophisticated dining room with popular restaurants such as the Mediterranean High in the center of town serving dishes such as. pan trout with mixed olive and basil-lemon butter sauce and a rich raspberry pie. Last year, superstar chef Daniel Boulud came to town and opened a pop-up restaurant on Blantyre; Cafe Boulud was so good that it has become a permanent addition this year. The reasons are clearly visible in dishes like gulfin tuna crudo with fine herbs, capers, chickpea crisps, lemon and tonnato dressing, steamed black sea bass with baby vegetables, wild rice and a carrot ginger emulsion and lamb rack and parsley with artichoke, spinach subric, barley, oven-dried tomatoes and garlic juice. But the star of any dinner is likely to arrive at the dessert in the form of Gateau Marjorlaine, a gilded cylinder of dark chocolate ganache, Bavarian vanilla and hazelnut ice cream that is completely irresistible.
It’s a visitor’s choice: a health-conscious retreat or sheer unpleasant opulence. The best idea may be to do both.