By Roger Cox, Editor
Though once prevalent, the vast majority of grand old mountain houses have succumbed to fire, neglect, or the ravages of time. But a few have been lucky, so lovingly cared for that they now have the character and richness of well-preserved antiques and count among our National Historic Landmarks. Take, for example, the 259-room Mohonk Mountain House on 1,200 acres in New York's Shawangunk Mountains.
This rambling hodgepodge of wooden verandas, crenelated stone towers, gabled roofs, balconied facades, rounded turrets, flagpole-topped spires, and Cubist chimneys seems to owe its fanciful architecture to whimsy rather than any grand plan. The resort was founded in 1869, when Quaker twins Alfred and Albert Smiley purchased a 10-room tavern on Lake Mohonk. Later additions followed from 1870 up until 1910 resulting in the grand Victorian we know today. Almost a century would pass before the addition of a new wing housing a 30,000-square-foot eco-friendly spa.
Still operated by descendants of the original Smiley twins, the resort cleaves to some of its old traditions—like Full American Plan packages that include three meals—but has relaxed the Quaker ban on drinking by serving beer, wine, and liquor with meals and in guest rooms, in the Carriage Lounge, and the seasonal "Spirits on Sunset Porch."Dining options include fresh, locally sourced cuisine from farm-to-table partners including vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free menus options. The resort offers children's programming throughout the year and devotes almost every weekend to a different themed events, such as hiking, ballroom dancing, yoga, culinary, or music.
All of that enhances what remains one of the great natural preserves left over from the last century. Among its 85 miles of hiking trails is one that leads to Sky Top Tower, an observation tower set on the ridge overlooking the Mountain House and valleys below. Climb to the top and you step out onto a deck with a 360-degree panorama that on particularly clear days reaches into six states. Nothing, it seems, could be farther from Manhattan, though the drive takes only an hour and a half. Part of the reason for coming is this sense of complete escape that Mohonk Mountain House abets better than any of the other resorts in the region. But there is another, less well known aspect to Mohonk that makes it unusually appealing to tennis enthusiasts: half a dozen soft courts, two of them red clay, the latter dating to 1910
Pro Shop: 843-256-2781
Those red clay courts date to 1910 and the last additions to the hotel. Stroll down for the morning drill clinic, as I did, and you're likely to find three generations of guests using the courts. Part of that crowd no doubt discovered the courts by chance, after wandering along the neighboring hiking trail. Surrounded by a broad expanse of lawn, the courts spread across a plateau above the beach on Lake Mohonk. A small pro shop adjacent also rents mountain bikes and provides discs for disc golf. Mohonk's tennis pro Richard Allard, who has 30 years of teaching experience, heads up the program. Originally from Grenada, he played for Fairleigh Dickinson University, then went on to teach at various hotels in the Caribbean—he has a USPTR certifications—before eventually starting his own tennis business in Atlanta, Georgia. That allows him to spend summers at Mohonk. He has carpentered together a mixed bag of beginner, intermediate, kids' and teen clinics, doubles mixers, and special events, and a "tennis academy"—the last, as Allard describes it, "a more intensive four-hour, one day program for intermediate and advanced players that includes lunch."
Courts Fees. Court use is complimentary to registered guests.
Beach. A sandy beach borders the lakes, a flight of steps down from one of the rocky cliffs. It borders a roped-off swimming area.
Golf Courses. The resort has an historic. Scottish Links-inspired nine-hole course dating to 1897 and laid-out through rolling hills and lush greenery.
Watersports. The lake has a small dock where you can pickup rowboats, canoes, paddleboards, and kayaks to use in exploring the lake as well as fishing equipment and bait to pursue the trout stocked in the lake.
Horseback Riding. The stables at Mohonk offer pony and guided horseback rides and well as carriage rides.
And ... Other recreation abounds, including archery, tomahawk throwing, disc golf, mountain biking, guided hikes and nature tours, and that vast network of hiking trails. There's also a lengthy daily roster of activities, ranging from historic tours of the hotel to evening movies and live musical entertainment.
Spa & Fitness Center. The award-winning 30,000-square-foot spa has 16 treatment rooms, a solarium with a stone fireplace, relaxation verandas, an outdoor heated mineral pool, an indoor heated pool, a comprehensive fitness center with a broad array of classes, and a yoga/motion studio. The eco-friendly Spa is heated and cooled by a geo-thermal system and features a "green roof." One special offering is its mindfulness sessions, either privately or on weekend programs, that were developed by Nina Smiley, Ph.D., Director of Mindfulness Programming at the resort, as a means of reducing stress and enhancing well being.
Mohonk’s Kids’ Club is a Tykes' and Children's Program for youngsters age 2-12 is available daily mid-June through Labor Day. A modified program is available most weekends and holidays year-round. There is also a Teen Program for those ages 13-17 with a variety of activities and evening entertainment to give teens an opportunity to hang out with others their age. Finally, there is a Junior Naturalist Program to introduce kids to the world around them as they hike.
Rooms range from traditional to luxurious tower rooms. The furnishings tend to be practical pieces in Victorian, Traditional or Edwardian style. All have modern baths though some still have early era tubs.
Meals are included in the package. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in the historic Main Dining Room which has panoramic views of the Catskill Mountains, cathedral ceilings, and walls covered pine wainscoting. Though buffet style, the quality of the dining is enhanced by having individual chef's stations where food is prepared to your order. That can be supplemented by a three-course sit-down dinner that highlights the bounty of the Hudson Valley served in one of the lower dining rooms, an option limited to those ages 13+ and one that requires appropriate resort evening attire.
If you like the sound of Mohonk, also check out:
Mohonk Mountain House
1000 Mountain Rest Rd.
New Paltz, NY 12561
Seasons. Although the resort is open year round, the height of the tennis season runs from mid May into September.
Travel Instructions. By Air: The nearest airport is in Newburgh, 35 miles away. By Land: Mohonk is a 90-minute drive from New York City in the Hudson Valley. Go north on the New York State Thruway (87 North) to Exit 18, New Paltz. It can also be reached by bus (Adirondack Trailways serves New Paltz) or train (Amtrak and Metro North to Poughkeepsie).
General Tourist Information. For information about other attractions in the area, visit the New Paltz Chamber of Commerce website or contact them at 259 Main Street, New Paltz, NY 12561. Phone: 845-255-0243. For information about the Hudson Valley in general, visit the Hudson Valley Network website.