Travel

By Kim Taylor

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If horseback riding with spectacular views of unfurling hills interests you, followed by a generous gourmet buffet, or scaling rocks in a cliff side labyrinth, relaxing in your own rowboat, or strolling through a garden maze, you’ll fall in love with America’s most elegant castle, the Mohonk Mountain House. Built in 1869 by twins Alfred and Albert Smiley, this seven-story, 251-room Victorian stone castle in New Paltz is an architectural gem that boasts enchanting turrets and stretches along Lake Mohonk. Just an hour and a half by car from Manhattan, Mohonk is perched high atop a mountain, so you slowly wind your way to the top to arrive. The payoff is astounding, as you’ll find jaw-dropping views in every direction. From the moment you pull up to this National Historic Landmark, you’re treated like one of the three presidents who have visited Mohonk since it’s inception in 1869. After your bags are whisked off with a smile and your car is parked, you’re treated to a welcoming gift basket filled to the brim with souvenirs in your room. If you stay in the Tower or Victorian rooms, you’ll enjoy a fireplace, a store of wood, and a magical view of the lake and cliff side, dotted with gazebos that are softly-lit at night.

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Your only dilemma at Mohonk will be deciding what to do first and what to choose from the expansive buffets. A natural instinct will be to gape in awe at everything inside and outside of the castle, but instead visit the library, greenhouse, stables, movie room, game room, tennis courts, basketball courts, workout room, or the gift shop. Mid-afternoon, all guests are treated to tea and cookies (or coffee if you prefer), and many people take their tea out on one of the porches in a rocking chair along the lake. You might want to just wander around, exploring the grounds (chances are you’ll run into a bride and groom at some point), since Mohonk is situated in the heart of 26,000 acres of state park lands?which includes several hiking traills, both easy and rigorous. The inn provides hikers with a map of trails for explorations.

The Victorian touches within Mohonk are brilliant and include carved woodwork, antique furnishings, fireplaces at every turn, and cheery artwork. Mohonk is great for people of all ages, and equally suitable for those with children as well as for those without. Children under age 4 stay free of charge, and parents will love Kids Club, a program for children to play, meet each other, and explore the grounds while parents savor “adult time.” Children will delight in pony rides, the rock and garden labyrinths, carriage rides, and feeding the fish in Lake Mohonk. Pint-size guests can also indulge in miniature golf on the grounds, theater-size movies, and a play room with video games, ping-pong, and pinball. Parents will also be happy to learn that they can do their own laundry, free of charge. There’s also a soda fountain and gift shop filled with the things kids like (and adults too). In the summer, there’s swimming on Mohonk’s stretch of beach, and in winter there’s ice skating in a charming pavilion, as well as cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing. Parents can request board games from the front desk (ideal for rainy days), and there’s a playground and tree house on the premises too, a child’s dream castle come true!

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If you’re not sporty and don’t like riding horses, playing tennis, basketball, or hiking, you can always visit the new spa, yoga/motion room, solarium, outdoor mineral pool, and indoor swimming pool after they open in July. You could also visit the greenhouse and Barn Museum, massage center, art studio, stone summerhouse, granary, or simply read in the library. Rooms are equipped with balconies and comfortable rocking chairs for lounging, taking in fresh air and views, and reading al fresco. Wireless Internet access in all rooms means you can surf the web or work (if you must!).

If your visit is lengthy, and you’ll want it to be, you can drive to nearby New Paltz to check out historic Huguenot Street’s stone houses, some of which date back to 1680. The stables at Mohonk cater to seasoned horseback riders and novices alike. Even children can ride Charlie, the sweetest horse in New York. Guided trail rides are $32 per hour and require reservations. If you’d like to drive up and see Mohonk but return to the city at night, you can get a day pass at the inn’s gatehouse that will cover a meal and activities. You can hike up to the inn by trail if you don’t feel like using the inn’s shuttle from the gatehouse, and you’ll want to bring a camera to see why Mohonk was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

Three meals, gratuities, and afternoon tea are included in the price of rooms at Mohonk. The inn offers a Continental breakfast for those who rise early and eat light before hitting the trails, but the inn also offers a buffet breakfast of fruit, made-to-order omelets at chef stations, cereal, waffles, muffins, eggs, bacon, ham, turkey, sausage, oatmeal, bagels, potatoes, and pancakes. Lunch buffets include everything under the sun, with chef stations offering sliced meats and fish. Dinner is a formal affair that requires a suit jacket for men, and features a menu that rivals Manhattan’s best restaurants. Plates are garnished with juniper berries and other distinctive fare that reflects nature’s bounty on the grounds of Mohonk. Don’t worry if you’re not on the same meal schedule as the inn, because you can always order room service and all throughout the day various rooms in the inn are stocked with fruit and cookies.

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Music Week at Mohonk runs from June 26 – July 1st, and a six-week Festival of the Arts series kicks off on July 8, showcasing drama, music, song and dance until August 19. July 4 weekend offers an incomparable fireworks display. August 28 – September 2nd marks a Garden Holiday, with an annual garden party extravaganza.

The Smiley brothers added landscaping touches that fuse design with the nature. Gazebos dot the hills, and comfortable wooden resting stations are found along hiking trails. The thoughtfulness put into amenities, guest comfort, and creating an organically beautiful environment is evident here, and the combination of nature’s splendor and the castle’s comfort renders the Mohonk Mountain Lodge one of the most memorable places on earth. The castle garnered the 2005 Star of the Industry Award in Guest Relations from the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

Visit www.Mohonk.com or call 1-800-772-6646 for rate information, availability, directions, special packages, and for more information about the property’s rich history.

Originally published June 2005
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