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About Mohonk Mountain House
New Paltz, NY
From the approach -- and from almost every vantage point -- Mohonk Mountain House cuts a stunning profile. Picture an enormous Victorian castle on a lake, surrounded by lush gardens and situated amid 7,800 acres of nature preserve and nestled on a ridge in the Shawangunk mountains (one of the Nature Conservancy's "Last Great Places" on earth.)
It's a spectacular setting, and quite a story: At more than 140 years old, Mohonk Mountain House is one of the last of the great grand resorts of its ilk. The hotel's bona fides include designations as a National Historic Landmark and a place on the register of Historic Hotels. George Washington didn't sleep here but five presidents have (Roosevelt, Hayes, Taft, Arthur and Clinton).
Mohonk's legacy began in 1869 with the identical twin Smiley brothers, eccentric and frugal Quakers and educators who had a vision and who made some good choices and got lucky. They -- particularly brother Albert -- envisaged Mohonk as a summer retreat where people could reap the benefits of communing with nature and with each other. For many years, Mohonk was a hub of academic and diplomatic conferences and refined entertainment. It faltered in a few periods but has rebounded to its position today as one of America's great historic resorts.
Architecturally, Mohonk is an outlandish amalgamation: nine adjoining buildings of various periods, facades, heights, angles, turrets and towers, more than an eighth of a mile from end-to-end. With all its eclecticism there is a coherence to the place. The 2005 Spa Wing isn't an aesthetic jolt from the 1879 Rock Building it adjoins; the 2001 Skating Pavilion nicely echoes the feel of the main dining room wing that dates to the turn of the last century. Somehow it all hangs together.
Mohonk's interiors are equally historic and eclectic. Fixtures, carpeting, furniture and decor are either original or reproduction period pieces comfortably arranged in vast public spaces and the dozens of cozy nooks throughout the seven-story hotel. Hallways serve as a kind of vertical scrapbook, with photographs, paintings, maps, textiles, news clippings, floor plans and artifacts of the hotel's history and geography, worthy of taking the time to review.
Mohonk occasionally gets comparisons to the haunted Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Perhaps it's the Victorian feel or scale of the place or expansive hallways or its topiary maze. But from there the comparison fall short. The only "ghost" here is likely the spirit of Albert Smiley, who probably would be quite pleased with the way the place has evolved -- and the ways in which it has not. With a 140-year-old resort, the art form is in knowing what to change, and what to keep the same. Mohonk largely gets the balance right.
Mohonk is special as much for what it is not as for what it is. It is decidedly low-tech. You won't be assaulted by flat-screen TVs in every corner, nor will you have one in your room. Daily schedules are still tacked to bulletin boards. The airwaves aren't yet permeated with Wi-Fi.
Four o'clock isn't happy hour at Mohonk; it's tea-and-cookies time. The resort's only bar (a recent concession to modern sensibilities) closes at 11. Alan Alda is about the hottest celebrity sighting reported there. And the only glitz you're likely to see is in a craft bin at the kids club. Mohonk is so un-cool, it's cool.
To love Mohonk is to appreciate the whole experience -- its gorgeous setting and natural beauty and classic take on relaxation and recreation and service. Avoid getting too fussed about particular details -- uneven dinner service, the lack of technology, how long you may have to wait for your car -- or you'll likely begin to have serious problems with the price point (not cheap).
Written by Deborah Bogosian
Mohonk Mountain House Reviews
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