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Doing less, with relish, in a Lenox landmark

Email|Print| Text size + By Alison Cohen
Globe Correspondent / February 19, 2006

LENOX -- It might have been the fine complimentary sherry on the sideboard, the tasty cookies in the guest cookie jar, or the ''early morning coffee" ready at 7 for guests to take up to their room before breakfast. Certainly the combination of such details had us feeling relaxed and well cared for on our weekend visit to the Garden Gables Inn.

An unexpected snowfall had transformed the town of Lenox, and we found it even more charming than we had anticipated when we were making our reservations a month earlier. Also transformed by the freezing temperatures were plans for a couple of late fall hikes, so instead we hunkered down for some serious relaxing indoors.

One of the oldest B&Bs in Lenox, the Garden Gables Inn sits on five acres in the center of Lenox village, set back from the main road, up a curving driveway. Three steeply pitched green gables in the rooftop, part of the original building constructed in 1780, draw your attention. Although it is only a mile from Tanglewood and busiest in summer, the inn is open year round and has plenty for off-season visitors to enjoy, including warm hospitality, a cozy parlor with a fireplace and stocked with books and board games, and proximity to shops, museums, restaurants, and cafes.

The inn consists of 18 private rooms -- 14 in the main house, four in a separate building. We had requested Room 15, the largest in the main house, with a king canopy four-poster, corner fireplace, and Jacuzzi tub. In warmer weather, the private deck would be ideal for sunbathing, especially after a dip in the 72-foot pool on the property, one of the largest in Berkshire County.

When we arrived Friday afternoon, we were greeted by owner Mario Mekinda, who gave us the perfect house tour: welcoming, informative, and friendly, but brief. He pointed out the lovely antique-filled breakfast room, decorated in shades of blue, with an expansive porch for outdoor dining in season. He also told us about his decision 20 years ago to leave his engineering job in Toronto and move his young family to Lenox. Later, as we sipped a glass of sherry, his wife, Lynn, admitting missing the big city, but said she enjoys welcoming guests to the inn that they have substantially refurbished and that has become their second home.

According to a history compiled by Lynn, Garden Gables was originally known as Butternut Cottage, a private home named for the once plentiful butternut trees on the property (only one remains today, in the garden). In 1905, the home was purchased for $1,905 by Miss Kate Carey, a wealthy New Yorker, who remodeled extensively and renamed the home ''Gusty Gables." It changed hands again in 1951, becoming the Garden Gables Inn, one of the first public guest houses in Lenox.

Our room on the second floor was at the end of a long corridor, providing a sense of privacy, a treat too rare in a B&B. The room was a good size, with a four-drawer antique dresser, two wingback chairs, and a small sofa. Special features included flower and vine wallpaper that matched the coverlet, high windows opposite the bed, a corner fireplace, and antique botanical prints. We were glad not to find a roomful of tchotchkes and other bureau knickknacks. The bathroom, though small, was clean and modern with its own high window, plenty of storage, and good thick towels. The only disappointment was the basket of toiletries: nondescript soap, packets of shampoo, bath salts.

Unpacking works up an appetite for dinner, and down in the parlor we leafed through a binder of local restaurant menus. We cross-checked the restaurants with guest reviews recorded in the inn's dining notebook, and selected Spigalina, just a two-block stroll. We were not disappointed by the Mediterranean cuisine.

The next morning we made a surprising but pleasant discovery: the water pressure in the shower. In fact, the shower is so invigorating that by the time we departed on Sunday, we had enjoyed more than our share of bathing for a weekend stay.

At breakfast, Mario described the two heaping buffet tables as ''healthy" and ''unhealthy." The first included cold cereal, granola, fresh fruit salad, yogurt, dried fruits, and hard-boiled eggs. The second featured two kinds of quiche, French toast, bacon, sausage, bagels, home-baked scones, and muffins. Armed with a newspaper, we settled in at one of several large dining tables.

Returning to our room an hour later, we found another surprise: The housekeeper already had made up the room. We grabbed our jackets and headed to the delightful Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge and later to Chocolate Springs Café on Route 7 in Lenox, where we savored a decadent mug of creamy hot chocolate and live jazz piano.

After a late afternoon nap, dinner was a plate of pasta and a glass of wine at nearby Café Lucia. After a relaxing evening of Scrabble in front of our fireplace, we were ready to crawl under the crisp sheets, hit the feather pillows, and call it a day.

Sunday morning, fortified by another hearty breakfast -- and one more high-pressure hot shower -- we headed back to Boston. We waved goodbye to the Mekindas and the snow-covered green gables, pleased to learn that Lenox in winter is a collection of quiet charms.

Contact Alison Cohen, a freelance writer in Boston, at alisonbcohen@verizon.net.

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