Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz, New York - Hotel Review
The Cultivation of Quiet Pleasures
By Poppy Carew
New York City is one of America’s most popular destinations, but during the exhausting, tourist-laden summer months, it becomes notorious as a place people need to escape from. Big Apple-ites are known for their seasonal flights to cooler climates, dashing off to tony Hamptons’ beach retreats or cheesy Catskill lodges. For those who don’t have a manor in the former or the stomach for the latter, there is Mohonk Mountain House, just a ninety-minute drive from Manhattan.
If you’re expecting someplace small and cozy, you’ll quickly discover that the word “house” is a misnomer. While not quite a castle, this impressive Hudson Valley resort—which is almost an eighth of a mile long—recalls the royal residences of Europe. Adding to the striking appearance is its perch, fitted into massive rock formations on Shawangunk Ridge, overlooking Lake Mohonk. Thousands of acres of preserved land, webbed with 85 miles of hiking trails, surround it, and it’s easy to see how this landscape inspired the hotel’s founders.
Alfred K. Smiley came to this spot for a picnic in 1869, and within a year, along with his twin brother Albert, he owned the land and opened a ten-room inn and tavern. Now comprised of nine buildings, Mohonk Mountain House is a designated National Historic Landmark. It provides a quiet escape and comes by its peaceful ambience honestly. From 1895 to 1916, it hosted world peace conferences, and the Smileys—who were Quaker pacifists—were seminal in Andrew Carnegie’s creation of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The resort preserves its original 19th-century character in details such as carved woodwork, period furnishings and hearty hospitality. Guestrooms have a pleasant B&B feel to them, with their old-fashioned Victorian style. Each is individually furnished—you’ll find everything from wicker to brass to Mission-style oak—and many have balconies or fireplaces. There are also four seasonal guest cottages set 1,200 feet above the Wallkill and Rondout Valleys. One sits off the golf course’s second tee and is exclusive to adults only, while the most secluded cottage, Oakwoods, offers a particularly rustic mood, with a pine paneled living room, stone fireplace and screened-in porch.
Originally intended to draw cultured guests, the resort offered a library instead of dancing, lectures instead of libations. The legacy of this Quaker approach to life can be found in the many programs offered throughout the year, with themes as diverse as Jazz on the Mountain, Will Shortz’s Wonderful World of Words, and Hudson Valley Harvest. The majority of these programs are complimentary (nominal fees are required for tastings, college accredited sessions, etc.), as are delicious meals, afternoon tea and cookies and weekday play on the golf course; over 100 years old, this nine-hole course was modeled after the Old Links tradition of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Catering to 21st-century sensibilities, the resort is now devoted to well-rounded stays. Along with the evening entertainment and golf, recreation also includes canoe rides, tennis, blacksmithing demonstrations, cross-country skiing, fishing and ice skating in the 18,000-square-foot pavilion. A new eco-friendly spa was recently added, which features an outdoor heated mineral pool and an indoor heated swimming pool, as well as a salon and a yoga studio. Among the most popular pastimes—and one of the property’s biggest draws—are explorations of the gardens, which are a prime example of mid-19th-century landscaping. The Smileys’ original French and Italian-influenced designs have been maintained, and today you can peruse the herb collections, butterfly garden and greenhouse with its orchids and fuchsias. If you’re seeking a challenge, try to find your way through the Victorian maze, which was added in 1998.
The resort has a fine dining restaurant, serving American cuisine, as well as substantial event facilities, which cater to conferences, weddings and family reunions. The latter are so popular that there is even a dedicated family reunion and social gathering planner. Given the property’s reverence for the past, it’s no wonder generations gather here to celebrate. When it comes to honoring tradition, you’ll find no more appropriate place to do it than Mohonk Mountain House.