One can never be so far from idyllic bliss even for a big city like New York. Only 90 miles north - just outside the charming town of New Paltz and near my favorite hiking nirvana in the Shawangunks - is Mohonk Mountain House. Built between 1879 and 1910, this all-inclusive resort is a perfect haven where the woodlands meet old world vibe. But there is much more beyond its creaking wood floors and the astounding beauty surrounding this Victorian mountaintop property.
During the gilded age (from 1870s to early 1900s), weary wealthy New Yorkers found a quick respite from the summer heat by escaping to mountain resorts nestled in New York's Hudson Valley region. Here, other wilderness retreats like the Catskill Mountain House, the Laurel House and the Kaaterskill Hotel were also favored by moneyed vacationers. A lot has changed of course ever since the arrival of cars and airplanes.
While its rivals in the area have all burned down to ashes, Mohonk Mountain House still gracefully stand today on the shores of Lake Mohonk. Its floors still creak and groan, its turrets still pierce the sky, its kitchens still serve afternoon tea, even its gardens feel like part of Downton Abbey. One might just be forgiven for expecting to meet the Earl and Countess of Grantham in the library.
Now considered a National Historic Landmark, this resort is remarkable for being continuously owned and managed by the same Smiley family since the Mohonk Mountain House was built over a hundred years ago. Responsible stewardship of their land from its beginnings in 1869 have already shown "sustainable development" even before the words became the catch phrase of the environmentally-conscious.
The Smiley family's efforts surely paid off. Awards and accolades came from Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure and Luxury Spa Finder among others. The guest list all these years can't be sneered at: four American Presidents (T. Roosevelt, W. Taft, R. Hayes & C. Arthur), industrialists Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, and many of Manhattan's high rollers and socialites. Fading old black and white photos of famous past guests hanging on one hallway - while a bit creepy - is a testament of its solid reputation from a bygone era.
Some of my friends wanted me to join them on a day trip so I merrily tagged along. Staying overnight of course would have been better but midweek summer rates for, say two people staying overnight in one room (which includes 3 meals and afternoon tea) comes up to a whopping $863! We're certainly not up to par with the budgets of its many affluent guests so visiting it for a day was fine enough for us. Price with lunch is $57.75++.
Unlike in the past when guests arrive by horse carriages, we drove from Manhattan all the way into its busy parking lot. With lunch already reserved in the resort's main dining room, we sought activities possible for day guests. Being surrounded with wilderness, there's a lot of outdoorsy stuff to do in the summer: hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, carriage rides, boating, fishing, swimming, golf, tennis, croquet and shuffleboard. Winter has its own menu of activities too.
Having seen some photos of the resort taken from a vantage point, we asked concierge and was given a trail map to the so-called Sky Top, a moderate 1.1-mile slog up the cliff. Up there on the tower, great vistas all around unfurled before us: the Catskills range, the Shawangunks and a visible carpet of greenery among six states. That alone made it worth the day trip. No wonder this resort keeps people coming back all these years - I know because we will.