(Budget Travel) -- The fall foliage has always made Massachusetts' Berkshires region one of America's most beautiful driving destinations. But lately, the thriving art scene is drawing its own share of peeps.
Norman Rockwell lived in the Berkshires for 25 years, and one look at the area's quintessentially New England main streets and white picket fences makes it clear where he got his inspiration. The Norman Rockwell Museum, celebrating its 40th anniversary, has 772 paintings and drawings, 323 Saturday Evening Post covers, and his actual home studio, which was reconstructed in an exhibition space (9 Glendale Rd., Stockbridge, 413/298-4100, nrm.org, $15).
The area has been home to a wide range of creative masters. Take the writer Edith Wharton. If your knowledge of her work begins and ends with "The Age of Innocence," visit The Mount Estate & Gardens, her former house and grounds in Lenox (2 Plunkett St., 413/551-5111, edithwharton.org, $16).
The author had a passion for architecture and landscaping, and she designed the house and its three acres of gardens. Wharton was also fascinated with the supernatural -- she wrote ghost stories on the side -- and legend has it that her house is haunted. Fridays from June to October, a 90-minute tour called Friday Night Fright explores the spookiest parts of the estate ($20).
Scenic Route 7 is the main artery that threads the region's towns together. About 12 miles north of Lenox on the route is Pittsfield, where the Shakers settled in 1783. There are 20 barns, workshops, and houses at the Hancock Shaker Village, including a furniture shop, where tools scattered across the workbenches create the sense that the Shakers have just stepped out for lunch (1843 W. Housatonic St., 413/443-0188, hancockshakervillage.org, $16.50).
Budget Travel: See the Berkshires' museums for yourself.
The fine-art scene is as prominent as the historic landmarks. Once you get over the size of MASS MoCA -- the contemporary art museum in North Adams consisting of 26 refurbished 19th-century factory buildings -- you'll notice something else: the absence of explanations on the plaques next to the pieces (1040 MASS MoCA Way, 413/662-2111, massmoca.org, $15).
That's so you can spend your time looking at the art, not reading about it. Exhibitions range from experimental videos to Sol LeWitt's saturated-color wall drawings. On weekends, there are dance and music performances and films -- this month, catch "La Nave de los Monstruos" ("The Monsters' Ship"), a Mexican sci-fi classic, with music by postclassical string quartet Ethel.
The Berkshires' appeal to artists and collectors is hardly new. Sterling and Francine Clark turned down an offer from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1946 when they were looking for a home for their art collection, setting their sights instead on Williamstown.
In addition to Renoirs and Monets, The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute houses an art-history library that's open to the public (225 South St., 413/458-2303, clarkart.edu, $12.50). The Clark is adding to its campus in a big way. Last year, Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando designed the Stone Hill Center, a 32,000-square-foot cement-and-glass space that is the area's first modern architectural icon -- and a seamless addition to the serene grounds.
-- Additional reporting by Grainger David
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