Old-World Flavor Meets Casual Elegance at Mohonk Mountain House

October 23, 2020 Updated: October 27, 2020

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.”

Mohonk Mountain House by Ken Hayden Photography
Just like the architecture, the rooms and furnishings take you back in time. (Courtesy of Mohonk Mountain House)

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.

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The boat dock. (Courtesy of Mohonk Mountain House)

This all leaves you very unprepared for the grandiose creation that greets 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.

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Fall hike. (Courtesy of Mohonk Mountain House)

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.

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Boating on Lake Mohonk. (Courtesy of Mohonk Mountain House)

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 paddleboats 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.

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Carriage ride. (Courtesy of Mohonk Mountain House)

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.

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Horseback riding is one of the many activities on offer. (Courtesy of Mohonk Mountain House)

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 ambiance 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 isn’t the kind of place where they bring you umbrella drinks by the pool.

Mohonk Mountain House by Ken Hayden Photography
The main dining room offers panoramic views of the Catskill Mountains. (Courtesy of Mohonk Mountain House)

OK, there actually is a TV set located in one of the meeting rooms. However, a guest survey taken several years ago, in which 97 percent 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.

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Cocktails at sunset. (Courtesy of Mohonk Mountain House)

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.

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Plenty of nooks and crannies entice you to sit down and take in the view. (Courtesy of Mohonk Mountain House)

When You Go

For more information: 800-772-6646 or Mohonk.com

Fyllis Hockman is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Creators.com. Copyright 2020 Creators.com