By Fyllis Hockman
Liz and Dan Gleason from Haddon Heights, New Jersey, were visiting for the 20th time when they commented that it was the first time they had taken the house tour — one of the staples of the Mohonk Mountain House experience. I asked what they had been doing all those years. Liz replied: "There's just so much to do all the time, you can't fit it all in. Every year there's a new surprise. This year it's the Smiley family parlor."
And therein lie two of the greatest pleasures at this glorious old resort in New Paltz, New York — activities to keep you busy all day (but only if that's what you want) and the connection to the Smiley family, who has owned and operated the resort for more than 150 years.
That connection reverberates throughout the property, which has been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. First bought in 1869 by twins Albert and Alfred Smiley, the 10-room tavern that sat on 300 acres of lake and farm area has been expanded to encompass 266 rooms in connected buildings spanning a sixth of a mile, while the property now extends to 1,200 acres — all now being regularly sanitized in compliance with CDC guidelines.
This all leaves you very unprepared for the grandiose creation greeting you as you drive up. The mammoth building sitting atop a hill more resembles a haunted house than a mountain resort. All jutting angles and balustrades, widow's peaks and turrets, circular, angular and pointed wood, stone and rock cliffs result in a hodgepodge of architectural styles for which "eclectic" is an understatement. It's an imposing mishmash of disparate styles, all tacked one upon the other without thought to form or aesthetic. You don't know whether you've arrived at a world-class hotel (which it is), Rapunzel's castle or the Addams Family abode. You do know that it's wonderful.
A walk through its many halls presents a similar adventure. A labyrinth of hallways, stairways, cubicles and cubbyholes features a surprise at every turn: a library, billiard room, activity center. The life-size stuffed Basset Hound and Russell Terrier in front of the gift shop were so real I was sure I heard them bark.
Around every corner a rocking chair, lounge chair or settee looks out on yet another beautiful view. Long porches and outdoor alcoves everywhere are lined with more rocking chairs, many facing the lake where canoes, rowboats, kayaks and paddle boats beckoning for attention. The whole idea is to get guests to look at, get out in and enjoy the surrounding nature. Or not. Sitting also is good.
Some resorts boast multiple restaurants and swimming pools. At Mohonk it's rocking chairs and gazebos. The connection with nature is all-encompassing. Be prepared: So many places — gazebos, benches, chairs, hidden nooks and alcoves, both indoors and out — entice you to just sit and read that you should carry a book with you at all times.
Sitting on our balcony — on yes, yet another rocking chair — overlooking the views was so peaceful we had to force ourselves to get up and start undertaking the myriad activities awaiting us. As an incentive to get moving, the map of the building lists 59 different destinations — and those are just indoors.
Just as the current structure is essentially unchanged since 1902, the same goes for the initial mission of the resort, as first espoused by Albert Smiley. It remains dedicated to a renewal of the mind, body and spirit in a beautiful natural setting. That vision still permeates the property, embodying an Old World ambience that adds charm and character that no modern-day hotel complex can come close to matching.
Do you want to do some hiking, rock-climbing or mountain-biking? You're in the right place. Want to ride a snowmobile, a Jet Ski or watch TV? Then you're not. Mohonk is all about tranquility and simplicity. This is not the kind of place where they bring you umbrella drinks by the pool.
OK, there actually is a TV set located in one of the meeting rooms, but a guest survey taken several years ago in which 97% of respondents said they didn't want them in the rooms probably ensures that there won't be many more making an appearance. And the 15 to 20 local Smileys still involved in day-to-day operations probably also guarantee that the same ideal will continue. But this is no outdated, out-of-touch, old-fashioned resort experience. It's an exciting, activity-laden, fun-filled place to which I predict you'll want to return year after year — like the Gleasons.
The outdoor activities include swimming, inside and out, fitness center and spa, boating, fishing, yoga, guided nature tours, croquet, golf, disc golf, tennis and — in winter — ice-skating, snowshoeing and tubing. Eighty-five miles of carriage roads and trails are available for hiking, running, biking, horseback-riding and cross-country skiing.
Strolling the grounds is an activity in itself, past fish ponds, a putting green, stables, a Barn Museum chock-full of fascinating antiques and historic memorabilia, and extensive award-winning gardens. Some are laid out in a well-marked precisely structured design, an interesting antidote to the resort's chaotic architectural structure Other less well-manicured foliage spills out over more trellised walkways and more gazebos, leading around, through, between, beneath and beyond an intricate maze — literally — of evergreen trees.
Mohonk mellows, meditates and motivates all at the same time.
WHEN YOU GO
For more information: 800-772-6646 or www.mohonk.com
Fyllis Hockman is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
The summer gardens at Monhonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York, are emblematic of the peaceful getaway. Photo courtesy of the Jim Smith Photography.