June is a big birthday month in my family as both my mom and my daughter celebrate their days (You can read about where to take your kid on their birthday in Boston here). For me there is no better birthday celebration than spending the day with those I love doing things that I enjoy the most – and that, of course, is travelling. I also love planning trips for my family. So for my mom’s big birthday a couple of years ago, my dad and I organized a DAY WITH THE ARTS day trip to the Berkshires – for 30 friends and family. I am no stranger to planning an extended family group travel, but a trip for 30 was a first for me.
The guests received their invitation with all the details of the 14-hour celebration in advance, but we kept it a surprise from a birthday girl until the morning of the trip (we did tell her that she would not have to worry about a thing!).
The Berkshires is a naturally beautiful mountainous region in Western Massachusetts that is also a home to world class cultural institutions and summer music, dance and theater festivals. It is a 2-3 hour drive west of Boston (depending on the specific destination and traffic).
We hired a bus (and a driver) from Local Motion of Boston and also separately engaged a private tour guide. After quick champagne breakfast at home (bus driver not included), everyone boarded the bus and the journey began. I know, champagne breakfast and quick do not really sound good in one sentence, but we had a big day ahead of us. It was a 3-hour drive from my parents’ house South of Boston to our first destination in Williamstown.
To keep everyone entertained, we played How Well Do You Know a Birthday Girl Trivia and listened to our travel guide’s stories about Berkshires’ history and arts. (Travel mishaps happen, and we missed our planned nature stop of Shelburne Flower Bridge.)
We did stop at the The Clark Art Museum in Williamstown.
The collection of the Clark Art Institute is especially rich in French Impressionist and Academic paintings, British oil sketches, drawings, and silver, and the work of American artists Winslow Homer, George Inness, and John Singer Sargent. (Admission is $20, free for children under $18; Clark hosts various family events through the year, such as Van Gogh and Nature Family Day on July 26th or Free Fun Friday on August 28.)
Clark has not only a world class impressionist collection but also impressive grounds, so everyone set to explore on their own. Birthday girl had lots of company to choose from- a built-in benefit of the birthday trip with friends!
After a picnic of catered sandwiches we brought from home for everyone, we re-boarded the bus to our next Berkshires destination in Stockbridge, 45 minutes away.
You may remember Stockbridge’s Main Street (with historical storefronts and the Red Lion Inn) from famous Norman Rockwell’s painting which is housed in the nearby Norman Rockwell Museum. On this trip we headed to Chesterwood, the country home, studio and gardens of Daniel Chester French, sculptor of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.
Chesterwood is a recognized National and Massachusetts Historic Landmark situated on 122 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens. French (1850-1931) lived and worked on the estate 6 months a year. Many of the plaster sketches (including models of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial), are on view in the Studio.
Since our visit, the house has undergone a renovation and you can now visit a newly rehabilitated studio, as well as tour the nine-bedroom residence, and explore the formal and wooded walks throughout the 122-acre estate. Some of the formal gardens were created by the sculptor himself.
Here is our group exploring the grounds with a tour guide provided by the Museum (another benefit of the group travel!)
We then had dinner at a small French restaurant off Main Street in Stockbridge which became our private dining room for the special evening.
The drive back to Boston was shorter (2 hours) and everyone serenaded the birthday girl, accompanied by a beautiful guitar playing (courtesy of my dear husband, who is also behind all the pictures on the blog).
It was a day trip to remember, and quite possibly the longest continuous birthday party ever!