By Charlene S. Mixa
New York’s Legendary Castle Specializes in Recreation, Relaxation and Renewal
An enchanting seven-story castle sits atop a mountain on a deep-blue lake, all surrounded by thousands of acres of unspoiled forest, creating a fairy tale setting. With 141 years of old world charm, Mohonk Mountain House transports guests back in time in this magnificent wonderland. Achieving the vision of Albert H. Smiley for a “peaceful retreat where people could enjoy the beauty of nature in a truly spectacular setting,” Mohonk guests continue to experience rejuvenation of body, mind, and spirit. Yet, Mohonk successfully maintains its distinct 19th-century character into the 21st century. This amazing, historic hotel is located just 90 miles from New York City in the heart of the Hudson Valley on Shawangunk Ridge.
Driving the winding road to the mountaintop our first view of Mohonk Mountain House is just like entering a fairy tale. Enchanting and magical this “Victorian Castle” stretches nearly an eighth of a mile along sweeping lawns and vivid colorful gardens. The impact is inspiring of nine connecting buildings each with a unique, elegant style all built in the late 1800’s. In the lobby, the beautifully carved woodwork and period furnishings offer a haven of timeless luxury. The hospitable staff sees to our every need and quickly has us settled comfortably in our room.
Selecting the mountain-view room with its beautifully appointed Victorian décor and four poster queen bed the room is comfortable and homey. Our view of the mountains is spectacular, especially from the rockers on our porch. While the room is small it has all we need for our visit including a desk with chair, dresser and roomy bathroom. In keeping with the “peaceful retreat” idea there is no television.
With 85 miles of hiking trails in 2,200 scenic acres of forest, we set out to experience this fascinating resort. Stopping at an information booth, we pick up a trail map and suggestions to hike to Sky Top Tower with its observation deck. The 1.1 mile ascending trail winds through the forest often along a roadbed. We take advantage of narrow shortcuts through the woods. Nearing the peak there are several rustic gazebo “Outlooks” built on the edge of the ridge with each presenting a stunning view of rocky cliffs and lush mountains. At Sky Top the views are beautiful. Climbing the stairs to the top of the lookout tower we thrill at the fantastic panoramic scenery of the Catskill Mountains and Wallkill Valleys. On a clear day six states can be seen. Taking Sky Top Path down to Mohonk, we again have a fairy tale feeling with the awe-inspiring views and the enchanting splendor of Mohonk Mountain House perched on the edge of the deep-blue Mohonk Lake.
Now, we are definitely ready for our lunch, an Outdoor Cookout at the Granary. Being an all-inclusive resort, there are numerous dining options, but a cookout sounds perfect following our hike on this beautiful clear day. Red and white checked table cloths decorate the numerous buffet tables laden with a wide variety of picnic foods. What a spread! So much to choose from including barbeque chicken and spare ribs, hamburgers, hot dogs, sauerkraut, fried potatoes, fresh vegetables, baked beans, fresh baked breads, fresh fruits, and assorted salads and slaws. Deserts are awesome with home made pies, ice cream, brownies, cookies and more. There are plenty of healthy selections, too. At the picnic table under huge shade trees and overlooking Mohonk Lake, we enjoy lunch and visit with other guests. Everything is delicious! Seconds are a must! A favorite is the super “sweet” corn on the cob.
After our terrific lunch, it is a good time to walk off some calories by touring the hotel. Wandering around the property we initially visit the Spa. The newest addition to the hotel, Mohonk Spa has an elegant, heated indoor pool, expanded Fitness Center and a full service spa. All this is set in a spectacular natural landscape. As we walk through the hotel, from building to building, we admire its Victorian décor blending elegance and coziness. Guests are relaxing on the rockers along the verandas and even dozing off in the sitting rooms and library. The hotel has done an incredible job of connecting these nine multi-story buildings with their own architectural style with eight of them built from 1879 to 1910.
In the Gardens we see the French and Italian influences but the landscaping is predominately mid-19th century English. Since 1869, Mohonk has maintained award-winning picturesque gardens. We roam the large masses of flowering annuals, perennials and tropical plants. The colors are spectacular with the lush flowers set against magnificent vistas and views. There are a variety of gardens consisting of ornamental grasses, herb collections, rock gardens, container gardens and a butterfly garden. Even in summer the gardens are in full bloom. All blending in beautifully to further create this unsurpassed and magical setting at Mohonk Mountain House.
Ready to cool off, I slip into my swimsuit and walk over to the beach on shimmering Mohonk Lake. This mountain lake is a half-mile long and sixty-feet deep. Rock formations rise directly above the water, so it is a steep walk down the rock steps to the small sandy beach. Floating docks provide great places to sit and relax or to slip in for a dip. The water is cool and refreshing. Swimming to another floating dock, I delight in this enchanting surrounding. Again, a sense of being in a fairy tale, as I view the scene of Mohonk Mountain House, Sky Top and the pristine natural surroundings from the Lake.
Next is a visit tp the Spa for a few minutes of relaxation in the “mineral pool”. Entering the Spa, I am quickly greeted and shown my locker. With my plush robe and slippers walking to the heated mineral pool, I admire the elegance of the spa’s solarium, stone fireplace and the outdoor mineral spring pools of this welcome retreat. The solarium and mineral pools are busy as guests take advantage of this chance to reflect and luxuriate. As I relax in this natural setting, I seek inner peace.
Goodness, its time to eat again! We select the more casual option for dinner, a Dinnerfest Buffet in the main dining room. The dining room is bustling as guests arrive for their designated dinner time. Now, we get an idea of the number of guests at the hotel as all tables in this huge dining hall are full. Predominantly families there are also several tables of couples. The wait staff is very attentive as they take our drink orders and explain the Dinnerfest Buffet. An eclectic selection of entrees, vegetables, salads and fruit abound. A separate desert area has choices for any “sweet tooth”. Everything was delicious!
After dinner, we stop in the Carriage Lounge for a cocktail and visit with a couple here for their anniversary. The Lounge is quiet as guest are relaxing on the veranda, taking a leisurely stroll through the gardens or participating in one of the numerous activities offered. As darkness approaches, tonight’s entertainment is a film shown on the front lawn. Our room faces the front lawn, so we relax in our rockers as we watch the well-known silent movie “The General” with Buster Keaton. A fun way to spend the evening!
The excellent breakfast is a bountiful buffet. Breakfast offerings include scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, hash browns, hot specialty items, bagels, cream cheese, fresh fruit medley, and assorted cereals. Since we check out today, there are still a few places we want to visit before leaving Mohonk. Strolling the property we walk down to the Barn Museum arriving just as it opens. For a century and a half Mohonk house has been family owned and run. During these years, the family has had a penchant to save all the items from the past. The Barn housed these for years and now is a Museum, where we enjoy walking through history. Amazing the collection of items! Sleighs, tools, buggies, and every kind of item that can be found in a hotel or house were saved. It is a true walk down memory lane of both the hotel and the last 140 years in the States.
Just down the hill is the 110-year-old Scottish golf course fashioned in the old-links tradition of St. Andrews. The Pro lets us take a golf cart for a quick ride on the course to check it out. With lots of hills and rolling terrain, the course offers plenty of challenge.
As we leave this elegant New York castle, we understand why for generations people have come to Mohonk Mountain House to experience its beauty, timelessness, and history. We discovered the countless reasons why friends bring friends to experience the warmth and comfort of this magnificent “fairy tale” hotel on the “lake in the sky.”
If you go:
Mohonk Mountain House, 1000 Mountain Rest Road, New Paltz, NY 1256; 800.772.6646; www.mohonk.com
Ulster County Tourism, 800-342-5826, www.ulstertourism.com