Glorious Getaway

03 Jul 2024

An enchanting weekend at Mohonk Mountain House

By Jenny Peterson

Photos by Mohonk Mountain House

Nestled amidst the picturesque Catskill Mountains, the historic Mohonk Mountain House Resort—just a two-hour direct flight from Charleston on Breeze Airways—blends old-world charm with modern comforts, making it a haven for relaxation and rejuvenation.

The journey begins after a 45-minute drive to New Paltz from the New York Stewart International Airport to a picturesque scenic road that leads up to a stunning mountaintop manor. This 262-room Mountain House overlooks a serene glacial lake, evoking the enchanting atmosphere of a fairy tale castle.

Inside, the ambiance is equally captivating, featuring sunlit wood-paneled libraries, cozy fireplaces and inviting nooks scattered throughout the mountain house and its expansive porches. Depending on the weather, you might find yourself with a breathtaking view, quite literally floating above the clouds that hang in the valley below.

Managed by fifth-generation proprietors the Smiley family, Mohonk Mountain House, founded in 1869, seamlessly integrates nostalgia with modern amenities.

My guest and I checked into our mountain-view room that had charming furnishings, with an antique chest of drawers, wooden mantel and French doors opening onto a balcony with two rocking chairs.

Guests can enjoy a variety of recreational activities—from canoeing in Lake Mohonk and tomahawk throwing to hiking meticulously-maintained hiking trails on over the resort’s more than 40,000 acres of protected lands. A luxurious spa with an extensive menu of services along with a sauna, steam room, outdoor mineral pool and indoor pool with atrium windows are modern luxuries.

The resort's emphasis on wellness is evident through curated programs like Wellness Weekends, which we attended, which featured restorative yoga, starlight nature hikes, forest bathing and meditation.

Nina Smiley, Ph.D., Director of Mindfulness and current steward of Mohonk Mountain House, brings a serene presence to the wellness weekend that she curated with guided meditation and mindful hikes. Her calm demeanor and soothing voice creates an atmosphere where guests can immerse themselves in heightened mindfulness and connect deeply with their surroundings.

During a mindful hike—also known as forest bathing—Nina encouraged participants to awaken their senses and observe the subtle movements of nature, such as the wind rustling through the trees. Nina’s guidance helped us embrace being in the present moment, even transforming a misty springtime rain into a gift, both physically and spiritually.

Nina's guidance not only enhanced the wellness experience but also underscored the holistic approach of Mohonk Mountain House, where guests are encouraged to rejuvenate their minds and bodies amidst the tranquil beauty of the Catskill Mountains. Nina’s stewardship reflects a commitment to preserving the resort's legacy while enriching it with meaningful wellness practices. I was honored to have been her student.

Hiking trails span 85 miles through the scenic Hudson Valley at Mohonk for all levels of hiking ability. As you venture further away from the mountain house, you gain a new perspective of the property, which, depending on the weather, can show the castle-like mansion appearing to be suspended in the clouds.

The Eagle Cliff trail is of particular note, not just for its breathtaking views, but its integration of technology with nature. Along the route, hikers can find QR codes strategically placed at various overlooks. When scanned, these QR codes play personal recordings from Nina, her soothing voice guiding hikers through short meditations, encouraging stillness, mindfulness and a deeper connection with the natural surroundings. It’s an innovative approach to encourage hikers to pause, breathe, observe the landscape and experience lessons drawn from nature.

Another unforgettable hike is to the Sky Top tower, a commanding brick memorial to Albert Smiley, the founder of Mohonk Mountain. After the moderate hike to the tower, you climb 100 stone steps to the top and are rewarded with 360-degree views of six U.S. states. From this view, you feel on top of the world.

At Mohonk, the concept of wellness extends beyond spiritual rejuvenation to include nourishment of the body. Central to this philosophy is the all-inclusive dining experience using the freshest ingredients sourced from nearby farms prepared with care and creativity by talented chefs.

The all-inclusive dining concept—which includes all non-alcoholic beverages—ensures that guests can fully immerse themselves in the Mohonk experience without worrying about additional costs. Tips for the staff are included.

This approach not only simplifies the guest experience but also enhances relaxation and enjoyment, allowing everyone to focus on connecting, unwinding and making memories together. At Mohonk, meals are more than just sustenance; they are a way to connect with one another.

Guests dine in the panoramic window-lined room or outdoors at The Granary overlooking the lake (as weather allows), delighting in buffet breakfasts and lunches and gourmet dinners, all which change daily. In addition, there are special summertime BBQs and outdoor feasts, special wine pairing dinners and other food-focused events throughout the year.

Elaborate breakfasts with buffet stations range from savory to sweet, indulgent to healthful—it’s OK to balance a fresh juice smoothie with a Belgian waffle. Those who want a quicker breakfast option before exploring the grounds can enjoy a smaller buffet in a lakefront wood-paneled room with fresh fruit, pastries and toast-your-own bagels.

Lunch was also served buffet-style with live-action stations, with additional brunch items on weekends.

Nightly dinner was a luxurious, fine-dining experience; every night, my guest and I had reservations that included our choice among three courses each, with options changing each night. One evening there could be filet mignon, another night cacio e pepe potato gnocchi with seared bay scallops. It’s worth saving room for the indulgent desserts.

The activities at Mohonk are not limited to the outdoors. Every night, there’s entertainment, such as two jazz bands from New York City that performed during our stay. The parlor where the bands played featured a stage flanked by old-timey ground floor box seating, adorned with vintage portraits on the walls and a cozy fireplace. Additionally, there is a separate room that shows kid-friendly movies each night as well as various family-friendly nightly events, like campfires with s’mores roasting.

Exploring the actual Mountain House is its own adventure and historical intrigue. My guest and I were thrilled to discover a hallway with sepia-toned photos chronicling Mohonk’s 155-year evolution, including archival photos of notable guests like President Teddy Roosevelt and American business titan John D. Rockefeller. The attentive yet unobtrusive staff—which increases to 700 total staff in the summer months—enhances the experience, providing a seamless blend of hospitality and privacy.

Mohonk Mountain House is not just a resort, but an immersive escape where guests can reconnect with nature, indulge in luxurious comforts and create lasting memories amidst breathtaking surroundings.

After the long weekend—facilitated perfectly by the direct Breeze Airways flight that leaves Charleston on Fridays to the small and easily navigable New York Stewart International Airport and returns Monday—I found myself feeling lighter than when I had arrived.

There was a newfound stillness within me that I had never experienced before, along with valuable lessons that I have carried with me ever since.

In one of Nina’s mini-meditations, she quotes an inspirational passage from philosopher Lao Tzu that embodies the lessons we can learn from the land: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished."

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