On a Monday night early in the season, when most country hotel dining rooms are quiet as dormice and the ice clinking in your bourbon on the rocks can cut through the stillness like an unwelcome expletive, the bistro at Blantyre is buzzing. There is none of the whispered sepulchral silence of other fancy hotels, no standing on ceremony, no grovelling before a sommelier whose encyclopaedic knowledge of wine can make one feel very, very small. Which is not to say that Blantyre lags in the wine department, by the way, because along with the perky Proseccos and the cheerful Chiantis, you can, if you wish, drink a Grand Cru Romanée-Conti 2010 for $20,000 from the hotel’s 7,000-bottle wine cellar, the excellence of which has been attested to by a Wine Spectator Grand Award.
A vast and imposing Tudor-style manor house built in 1902, Blantyre, a Forbes Five-Star property in Lenox, Massachusetts, is one of only 12 remaining Gilded Age mansions in the Berkshires, a distinguished but — heavens to Betsy, never stuffy — country house hotel, run with style and discernment, for people who know they have “arrived” without having to shout about it. It is the first United States property to be included in the prestigious Relais & Châteaux hotel and restaurant collection. I first visited Blantyre a little over 10 years ago and was bowled over by its sheer loveliness. Standing proudly on 110 acres of lawn and woodland, Blantyre has it all, from sumptuous guest rooms with exquisite furniture in the manor house, to magnificent public rooms with Murano glass chandeliers, to a superb fine dining restaurant and bistro. And if I was anxious that a change of ownership and recent renovation were going to change the look and tenor of the place — and I admit I was — then happily my fears were ungrounded. Blantyre, I can report, is looking absolutely tops — spruce and spry after its recent “refresh,” but never, ever showy.
The grandeur of the house, slightly somber from the outside, with its great baronial fireplaces in the public rooms, along with working fireplaces in eight of the guest rooms, makes a nod — albeit an anachronistic one — to English literature. Mandalay in Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” Thornfield Hall in Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” or Wuthering Heights in Emily Brontë’s eponymous novel all spring to mind. Of course, where Blantyre parts company with the great houses of literature is that it is a very happy house, sunny in every sense. Its great hall and adjoining music room, where you could spend an afternoon, a day or even a week happily immersed in book, from Blantyre’s vast and beguiling collection, are both bathed in light.
Books loom large at Blantyre and so does music. Pianist Karèn Tchougourian plays the grand piano in the music room six nights a week, everything from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” (think “A Room with a View”) through the American songbook to Chopin and Rachmaninoff. And then, of course, there is Tanglewood, virtually on the doorstep, so that Blantyre and the festival have, over the years, become almost intrinsically bound up. It’s a rare night in July or August when a Tanglewood performer is not staying at Blantyre, rubbing shoulders with guests who are up in the Berkshires to hear them perform. And the Norman Rockwell Museum is in adjacent Stockbridge.
Between the art, the music, the literature (The Mount, Edith Wharton’s Home is minutes away) and an all-round sense of intellectual well-being — sitting on one of Blantyre’s terraces, sipping a Gilded Age cocktail in the early evening — watching a civilized game of croquet on the lawn, I catch myself having a Henry James moment. But Blantyre is not only an aesthetic, cultural experience, it can also be a sporty one, with its Olympic-size, heated outdoor swimming pool, open in summer and fall, and beautifully appointed tennis courts. Add to this hiking trails and nature walks, badminton, shuffleboard, kayaking on the nearby lake and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter, you’ll be glad to return to Blantyre’s cosseting comfort at the end of an active day, no matter the season.
The hotel’s spa, with five treatment rooms standing alongside the pool, punches well above its weight. Top of the line Circadia by Dr. Pugliese skincare products are used, while Omorovicza products — the latter, a skincare range from Hungary, coming soon — will be exclusive to Blantyre. And along with the conventional facials and massage therapies, you can enjoy some exceptional treatments from the small band of highly professional therapists. My fave? The Signature Moor Mud and Hot Stone treatment, a detoxifying exfoliation using sea salt and Hungarian moor mud capsicum peptide, which is exceptionally relaxing and invigorating in equal parts.
Back at the manor, as the main house is called, the posh-option, fine dining restaurant, The Conservatory, is open Wednesdays through Sundays and the food is city-standard superb. You might follow an appetizer of Menemsha lobster (from Martha’s Vineyard), prepared with anise, Galia melon and finger lime, with Nantucket scallops and Jonah crab, or breast of Hudson Valley duck with citrus and rhubarb. Desserts are extravagant: chocolate yuzu mélange, for instance, or a heirloom strawberry confection, utterly delicious. Most of the food served is local, celebrating the bounty of New England and everything just sings with freshness. The adjoining, bistro is open all day, for zingy salads, local artisanal cheeses, the lightest spring pea risotto, a hamburger or a great steak.
Other eating and drinking options include the Dom Pérignon salon, which offers specialty Champagne selections from that celebrated maison, served exclusively at Blantyre, either in the speakeasy-like, brick-walled LaCave, or al fresco on the terrace. Less ritzy but equally delightful, in the summer months, you can also eat around the pool from the snacky H2O menu. And staying in the Carriage House a few weeks back, where 11 of Blantyre’s 23 guest rooms and suites are situated, I broke with my usual custom and ordered room service breakfast. It was terrific, arriving punctually, the oatmeal piping hot and served exactly as requested, and a beautiful blush-pink rose adorning the breakfast tray. But it was the tea that really got me — a properly brewed cup of English breakfast tea, with extra hot water, the best “cuppa” I think I have had in all the years I have lived in America. (Well, it is called New England.)
After all, it’s the little things that count because, God, they say, is in the details. In this little slice of heaven in western Massachusetts called Blantyre, all I can say is He must have been working overtime.
For more, visit blantyre.com.