Travel

By Lucianne Lewis

Last Friday I turned 30 and like any other newly married, pre-kids couple, my husband and I put full responsibility on delivering a spectacular surprise event to the other half.

The day started off with a typical Manhattan weekday birthday breakfast which involves him shaking me awake at 7am to tell me he had an early call with London, and me eating pre-chopped fruit out of a plastic pot with one hand while replying to a Whatsapp from my mum which read “Happy Birthday love, you are at the age now when you need to pick an age and stick to it.”

After work my phone buzzed with a text from Him, “Be at the Clock in Grand Central Station at 5.20pm”. Very impressed.

I breezed down 5th Avenue completely wrapped up in the mystery of it all, and swept down the steps at Grand Central with as much anticipation and grandeur as Miss Middleton when she entered the Abbey. When he spotted me through the crowd, his anxious “She is late again” expression melted into a big smile and he marched me off towards our train. “So where are we going?” I ventured. “Poughkeepsie” …”Oh.”

Poughkeepsie:
Now, I don’t have any issue with Poughkeepsie per se. From Ipswich to Manchester via Colchester, British names here in the northeast are 10 a penny but Poughkeepsie, now there is a star spangled sounding town! A day trip to escape the city, yes, but a decade-turning birthday location? Hmmm, we will see!

The train crawled out of the concrete and lurched into motion, hugging the Hudson as the sunset took the sky on a journey through blue, orange, purple and then inky black. After a 30 minute taxi ride from Poughkeepsie station we arrived in the dark at Mohonk Mountain House.

Don’t let the word House fool you into thinking this was an intimate, at-one-with-nature little house – this was a huge sprawling castle and resort. We checked into our Fireplace room (apparently a fireplace is a highly sought after feature, so we only had this room for the one night). We had a 3 course blow out dinner in the vast dining room which was about as intimate as the Intrepid. The hotel was fascinating, I couldn’t quite figure it out; it was traditional but verging on fussy and at times a little creepy. When we were going back to our “Fireplace room” along the long dimly lit corridors past the other coffin dodger guests I expected to hear Jack Nicholson shout “Heeere’s Johnny!” a la The Shining, circa 1980.

So I sat in our “Fireplace” room watching the large dark logs in the fireplace, totally unmoved by my dear husband and the firelighters best efforts to warm my spirits.

The Spa:
On Saturday morning we woke up early at 7:30am for our Couples 60 Minute Swedish Massage. We made our way through the rabbit run of corridors to the Mohonk Spa. We announced ourselves at the front desk in the vaulted ceiling, warm wood reception area. “There’s not time to complete the full new guest form so please just sign the disclaimer here and let your therapist know if you have any allergies, any questions? Yes, I thought, should I tell my therapist about my aversion to spas who demand that their guests arrive 20 minutes early to divulge their family medical history and promise not to join a class action against the spa in the rare event that a deep tissue massage ruptures their spleen or they develop a moderate to severe reaction to aloe vera?

He was already in the treatment room in a matching robe when I arrived with my therapist, who had to come and find me, as I had taken a wrong turn in the woman’s veranda and had some how ended up back in the reception area. As the therapists left the room they whispered, “Please undress and lie face down under the blankets”.

This instruction makes me panic… does that mean I keep my underwear on? If not surely they would have provided paper underwear right? I turned to pose this question and saw fully in the warm candlelight glow, that He had no such concerns.

After an hour of kneading away the tension built up over my second decade, we floated into the relaxation room – a vast lounge area with a gigantic fireplace of Viking, great hall proportions — which should be kept at a safe distance when dressed in a part quilt, part toweling robe. The room was lined with white whicker rocking chairs facing the floor to ceiling windows.

Against a sharp blue sky, the bold red and fiery orange autumn leaves engulfed the acre upon acre of trees indigenous to the Mohonk Mountain region. The scene was a sharp contrast to the alpine white shots on their website, but was no less majestic. We spent hours that afternoon in our standard issue spa uniforms looking into the distance at birds gliding across this autumnal vista, listening to the crackling fire and pouring over exotic destinations in the library of travel magazines. When we had read enough we soaked in the outdoor hot tub. The jets pummeled the last modicum of Manhattan tension away while the Mohonk air refreshed. Relaxed was an understatement!

Dinner:
In our Zen-like state, we changed our dinner plans from the jackets only formal restaurant to the casual all-you-can-eat buffet. The buffet was a resplendent offering of excellent quality, locally sourced fresh produce prepared to perfection.

If, like us, you still approach all you can eat buffets with childlike enthusiasm and your eyes are definitely bigger than your belly, then this is an experience not to be missed. After the first trip up, we were proud of what we had gathered and discussed our strategies for maintaining a consistent pace and filling up on protein to get the best value for money. A life lesson gleaned after a year of salad cart lunches in midtown delis.

The medium rare beef with lashings of gravy and roast potatoes was the highlight of this food-a-thon. We left the dining room a full BMI % higher than when we had entered but we simply didn’t care!

Romance:
We passed the evening in the downstairs lounge listening to the house jazz band play as the guests jigged around at the requisite speed the song demanded. There is always one silver haired devil who glides his partner around the floor with the prowess of an Olympic figure skater and causes women around the room to decide to register for couples dance lessons at their local Y, much to the annoyance of the shuffling husbands who had after all been trying to make an effort to be romantic! Eventually he tired and we all started shuffling again to the Lionel Ritchie Classic “Once, twice, three times a lady…” albeit delivered by a middle aged pot bellied wedding crooner. The romance didn’t end there, we ended the evening sat by the side of the lake, holding hands under the moonlight and telling each other how full we still were.

Outdoors:
That night we slept soundly under the crisp, white Egyptian cotton bedding that Cleopatra would be proud of. After a sumptuous breakfast of fluffy buttermilk pancakes, fresh fruit and Mohonk’s own maple syrup we resolved to try some outdoor activities.

We walked to a tower — a stone monument built in 1019 in honor of the resort’s founder. The view from the top of the stone fortress tower was spectacular, and from this point it was possible to see six states. It’s hard to believe that there is this much open space within a 2-hour train ride of Manhattan where the average square foot for residential property is $1000!

Standing on top of the tower looking down at the beautiful lakeside resort in its autumnal splendor, it was clear to see why millions of tourists from around the world had flocked to Mohonk each year to experience this natural spectacle.

Our vessel of choice for going out on the lake was a good old-fashioned wooden rowing boat. No one had ever written a verse about “life being a dream” aboard a pedalo or a canoe, the other two options.

So we clamber onto the boat. He masterfully takes the oars as I sit up front in the helm. It all seems hopelessly romantic until it becomes abundantly clear that he has no idea what to do as every stroke takes us nearer to the rocks — until I am leaning over the bow trying to push off while the people on the porch shout encouraging, deeply patronizing, advice.

Resolved to master this couple skill, I spend the next hour cooing cockson-esque instructions such as “Well done gorgeous, that’s wonderful. Now try at the same time so we move in the direction we were trying to go in.”

A slated outdoor BBQ had the traditional fair you would expect from a BBQ: ribs smothered in a delicious, smoky sauce, juicy burgers and Bratwurst sausages, with all the condiments and extras you could think of to create a burger or hot dog worthy of a feature in The American Dream. The food was served from long tables covered n red and white-checkered tablecloths.

Guests sat at wooden picnic benches in a wood-chipped clearing overlooking the lake. In between mouthfuls of delicious BBQ food, people chatted animatedly about their morning adventures and tried not to dip their coat sleeves in A1 sauce. This low-key yet delicious al fresco experience was the gastronomic highlight of the trip.

We checked out of the lodge and caught the train back to reality just in time to see the sun set along the Hudson. A perfect birthday weekend once I got over the big 3-0!

Verdict for couples weekend:
Mohonk Mountain House is within easy reach of Manhattan and accessible by train from Grand Central Station – the perfect distance for a weekend or overnight trip.

Everything was excellent quality, from the food to the bed linens, everything was the right combination of simple yet elegant. The staff was extremely helpful and nothing was too much trouble.

Perfect for people who like to eat, a lot! Check the diet at the door.

Lots of romantic activities in beautiful surroundings, but it sometimes felt overcrowded with families and lacked intimacy. Judging by the other guests it would be a great destination for a family trip.

Originally published December 2013
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