Mohonk: Sumptuous Old-World Flavor Tastefully Wrapped in Casual Elegance
The greatest pleasures at this glorious old resort in New Paltz, NY –- activities to keep you busy all day (but only if desired) and the 140-years connection to the Smiley family.
When the couple, there for their 20th visit, commented that it was the first time they had taken the house tour -– one of the staples of the Mohonk Mountain House experience -- I asked what they had been doing all those years. Liz and Dan Gleason from Haddon Heights, NJ, replied: “There’s just so much to do all the time, you just can’t fit it all in. Every year, there’s a new surprise. This year, it’s the Smiley family parlor.”
And therein lie two of the greatest pleasures at this glorious old resort in New Paltz, NY –- activities to keep you busy all day (but only if desired) and the connection to the Smiley family, who has owned and operated the resort for over 140 years.
That family connection reverberates throughout the property. Dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, it modernizes and spreads out. First bought in 1869 by twins Albert and Alfred Smiley, the 10-room tavern on 300 acres of lake and farm area has been expanded to encompass 259 rooms in connected buildings. The entire structure spans a sixth of a mile. At the same time, the property now extends to 6,500 acres.
The most recent nod to architectural modernity came in 2005. The owners added an ecologically sensitive, geothermally heated spa wing and the first and only –- and long overdue (at least to my way of thinking) –- cocktail lounge. The other, 2016, was when Mohonk unveiled Grove Lodge, the legendary resort’s first new accommodations in more than 100 years. The structural expansion before that? 1910, when they added the rounded window section in the main dining room.
Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, NY, is a Hodge-Podge of Brilliant Architectural Achievements
Which leaves you very unprepared for the exquisite creation greeting you as you drive up. The mammoth building sitting atop a hill resembles a haunted house more than a mountain resort. All jutting angles and balustrades, widows peaks and turrets, circular, angular, and pointed wood, stone, and rock cliffs result in a hodge-podge of architectural styles for which eclectic is an understatement. It’s an imposing mish-mosh of disparate styles, stacked one upon the other, without thought to form or aesthetic. You don’t know whether you’ve arrived at a world-class hotel (which it is), Rapunzel’s castle, or the Addams Family abode; you do know that it’s lovely.
A walk through its many halls presents a similar adventure. A labyrinth of hallways, stairways, cubicles, and cubby halls features a surprise at every turn: an aquarium, library, billiard room, an activity center. The life-size stuffed Basset Hound and Russell Terrier in front of the gift shop were so real I was sure I heard them bark.
A Rogue’s Gallery of famous people and family members who contributed to the long history of Mohonk features pictures of Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Carnegies. They vacationed here along with several presidents and other heads of state. Around every corner, a rocking chair, lounge chair, or settee looks out on yet another beautiful view. Long porches and outdoor alcoves everywhere are lined with more rocking chairs. Many are facing the lake, caressed by canoes, rowboats, kayaks, and paddle boats beckoning for attention. The idea is to get guests to look at, get out in, and enjoy the surrounding nature. Or not. Sitting also is good.
A Vast Array of Rocking Chairs and Gazebos Entice Guests Throughout the Property of Mohonk Mountain House
Some resorts boast multiple restaurants and swimming pools –- at Mohonk, it’s rocking chairs and gazebos. Thus, many guests can be found sitting in any 125 gazebos spread throughout the property -- the Smileys put them in areas they identified as beautiful locations, which accounts for their large number -- either reading a book or just staring out at the lake or mountain before them.
Or you are equally entranced by flower-laden, canopied pathways interconnected by wooden bridges, trellised walkways, green bushes, and rock outcroppings. The connection with nature is all-encompassing. Be prepared: there are so many places -– gazebos, benches, chairs, hidden nooks, alcoves, both indoors and out -- enticing you to sit and read that you should carry a book with you times (or if you’re under 18, your iPod).
Sitting on our balcony –- there, we had to make do with yet another rocking chair. That are the only things that outnumber the gazebos—overlooking the views so peaceful that we had to force ourselves to get up and start undertaking the myriad of activities awaiting us. As an incentive to get moving, the map of the building lists 58 different destinations –- and those are just indoors! We’ll talk about the outdoor options later.
Just as the current structure has been unchanged since 1902, the same goes for the initial mission of the resort, as first espoused by Albert Smiley: it remains dedicated to a renewal of the mind, body, and spirit in a beautiful natural setting. That vision still permeates the property, embodying an old-world ambiance that adds charm and character that no modern-day hotel complex can match.
Do you want to do some hiking, rock climbing, or mountain biking? You’re in the right place. Want to ride a snowmobile, a Jet Ski, or watch TV – you’re not. Mohonk is all about tranquility. And simplicity. This is not the kind of place where they bring you umbrella drinks by the pool. That same Quaker philosophy also limits any raucous nightlife options. Instead of the usual resort band and dancing, there may be a lecture on the Geology and Paleontology of the Hudson Valley. It seems like a fair trade-off.
Okay, there is a TV in one of the meeting rooms, but a guest survey took five years ago in which 97% of respondents said they didn’t want them in the rooms probably assures that there won’t be many more making an appearance. And the 15-20 local Smileys still involved in day-to-day operations likely also guarantee that the same ideal will continue.
But make no mistake: this is no outdated, out-of-touch, old-fashioned resort experience; I predict an exciting, activity-laden, fun-filled time to which, like the Gleasons, you’ll want to return to year after year.
Despite the Simplicity of Mohonk Mountain House Philosophy, A Wide Range of Activities Reigns Supreme
Now, about those other activities? During summertime, there’s swimming, inside and out, a fitness center and spa, boating, fishing, yoga, guided nature tours, croquet, golf, and tennis. In winter, enjoy ice skating, snowshoeing, and tubing.
Over eighty-five miles of carriage roads and trails are available for hiking, running, biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. And most recently -- to especially accommodate social distancing -- they’re offering outdoor concerts on the Boat Dock every night, have transformed one of its parking lots into a drive-in movie theater, and launched a series of live campfire performances.
Strolling the grounds is an activity in itself. Wander past fish ponds, stables, a Barn Museum chock-full of fascinating antiques, a putting green, historical memorabilia, and extensive award-winning gardens.
The grounds are laid out in a well-marked, precisely structured design, an interesting antidote to the resort’s chaotic architectural structure. Less manicured foliage spills out over more trellised walkways. And, yes, more gazebos appear around, through, between, beneath, and beyond an intricate maze of evergreen trees.
Rates start at $840 per night, based on double occupancy. Three meals daily plus afternoon tea and cookies are also included in the room rates, as is a Kids’ Club providing as many hour-by-hour activities for children ages 2-12 as for adults. Although there’s an additional charge for some of the usual suspects (horseback riding, carriage rides, spa treatments), all those other activities are complimentary.
Mohonk is also well-known for its more than 40 theme weekends throughout the year, from Mystery Weekends to Rock ‘n Roll to Culinary to Hiking to Yoga and so much more. If you have an interest, they probably have a weekend.
For more information, call 855-883-3798 or visit www.mohonk.com.
Fyllis Hockman is a multi-award-winning travel journalist who has been traveling and writing for over 30 years — and is still as eager for the next trip as she was for the first. Her articles appear in newspapers across the country and websites across the internet. When not traveling, she is almost as happy watching plays or movies, working out, and sitting on a barstool next to her travel-writing husband.