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 oldest section dates to 1869, when Quaker twins Alfred and Albert Smiley replaced a 10-room tavern on Lake Mohonk with a grand Victorian hotel. Later additions followed up until 1910 but then more than a century would pass before the opening 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 huge meals—but has relaxed the Quaker ban on drinking by serving beer, wine, and liquor with meals and in guest rooms and in the Carriage Lounge and the seasonal "Spirits on Sunset Porch." Dining options include classic American cuisine with "Sound Choices" low in cholesterol, fat, salt and calories as well as vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free menus. It also introduced free summer and holiday children's programs and devotes almost every weekend to a different theme, which can be hiking, ballroom dance, arts, 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, the highest point in New York's Wallkill Valley, and an observation tower. 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.
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Those red clay courts date to 1910 and the last additions to the hotel. Wander 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. Richard Allard, who has 30 years of teaching experience, heads up the program. He has carpentered together a mixed bag of beginner, intermediate, kids' and teen clinics, doubles mixers, occasional round robins and special events, and a tennis academy—the last, as Allard describes it, "a more intensive one day program that includes lunch."
Courts Fees. Court use is free to registered guests.
Spa & Fitness
Golf Courses. The resort has a nine-hole course.
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."
And ... The lake has a roped off area for swimming, a beach of sorts, floating docks for sunning, and canoes, paddleboats, and rowboats. There are also stables, where you can arrange guided trail rides.
Mohonk 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.
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. Dinner is served in a cavernous room, rounded at one end, its walls and ceiling covered with pine wainscoting. The menu consists of classic American cuisine supplemented with "Sound Choices", the latter low in cholesterol, fat, salt, and calories.
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Lodging options range from classic rooms and suites to individual cottages. Rates vary seasonally. See the website for details about the times you're planning to visit.
Visit the website for current rates
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.