Mohonk Mountain House
New Paltz, New York
By Roger Cox, Editor
Though once prevalent, the vast majority of grand old mountain houses have succumbed to fire, neglect, or the ravages of time. But a few have been lucky, so lovingly cared for that they now have the character and richness of well-preserved antiques and count among our National Historic Landmarks. Take, for example, the 259-room Mohonk Mountain House on 1,200 acres in New York's Shawangunk Mountains.
This rambling hodgepodge of wooden verandas, crenelated stone towers, gabled roofs, balconied facades, rounded turrets, flagpole-topped spires, and Cubist chimneys seems to owe its fanciful architecture to whimsy rather than any grand plan. The oldest section dates to 1869, when Quaker twins Alfred and Albert Smiley replaced a 10-room tavern on Lake Mohonk with a grand Victorian hotel. Later additions followed up until 1910 but then more than a century would pass before the opening of a new wing housing a 30,000-square-foot eco-friendly spa.
Still operated by descendants of the original Smiley twins, the resort cleaves to some of its old traditions—like Full American Plan packages that include three huge meals—but has relaxed the Quaker ban on drinking by serving beer, wine, and liquor with meals and in guest rooms and in the Carriage Lounge and the seasonal "Spirits on Sunset Porch." Dining options include classic American cuisine with "Sound Choices" low in cholesterol, fat, salt and calories as well as vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free menus. It also introduced free summer and holiday children's programs and devotes almost every weekend to a different theme, which can be hiking, ballroom dance, arts, or music.
All of that enhances what remains one of the great natural preserves left over from the last century. Among its 85 miles of hiking trails is one that leads to Sky Top, the highest point in New York's Wallkill Valley, and an observation tower. Climb to the top and you step out onto a deck with a 360-degree panorama that on particularly clear days reaches into six states. Nothing, it seems, could be farther from Manhattan, though the drive takes only an hour and a half. Part of the reason for coming is this sense of complete escape that Mohonk Mountain House abets better than any of the other resorts in the region. But there is another, less well known aspect to Mohonk that makes it unusually appealing to tennis enthusiasts: half a dozen soft courts, two of them red clay.
Pro Shop: 845-255-1000
Those red clay courts date to 1910 and the last additions to the hotel. Wander down for the morning Davis Cup drill clinic, as I did, and you're likely to find three generations of guests using the courts. "Up to 35 percent of the guests spend time here," notes director Pernell ("Perk") Larsen, "because the courts get noticed." Surrounded by a broad expanse of lawn, the courts lie just off a major footpath on a plateau above the beach on Lake Mohonk. "Hikers come by and see the red clay courts as ask 'What are these?'" Larsen continues. "We say, 'Here's a racquet, try it out.' We're small and can give a lot of personal attention."
It helps, too, that the resort decided to do away with court fees and provide free loaner racquets. "I want to give people exposure to the fun, fitness, and camaraderie of tennis," Larsen told me. "That's easier when it's free."
Each summer Larsen finds another way to expand the program. He supplements a variety of daily clinics (including parent-child sessions) with several weekly round robins, monthly 3-day weekend tennis camps, and periodic special events. He has also expanded the celebrity pro tennis programs, known as "Celebration Weeks," and added tennis clinics for teens. Both programs are free to house guests. "We have two to three staff for six courts," notes Larsen, "so we can accommodate whatever they want to do."
Tennis Staff. Larsen himself is a USPTR-certified pro with more than 25 years of teaching experience. Each summer he hires an additional one or two pros to help out, always ensuring that they, too, are USPTA or USPTR certified.
Tennis Programs. Programs consist of daily clinics, a three-times-a-week mixer, periodic mini-camps (two days midweek or weekends where participants devote 2½ hours each day to instruction and drills), and an aggressive partner-matching system that draws variously on other hotel guests, off-duty hotel staff, or locals and day visitors. They have also beefed up their junior program, called Kids Club, which provides tennis sessions for kids ages 5-14 three times a week, and added tennis clinics for teens. And check the Calendar below for special events.
Courts Fees. Court use is free to registered guests.
Golf Courses. The resort has a nine-hole course.
Spa & Fitness Center. The award-winning 30,000-square-foot spa has 16 treatment rooms, a solarium with a stone fireplace, relaxation verandas, an outdoor heated mineral pool, an indoor heated pool, a comprehensive fitness center with a broad array of classes, and a yoga/motion studio. The eco-friendly Spa is heated and cooled by a geo-thermal system and features a "green roof."
And ... The lake has a roped off area for swimming, a beach of sorts, floating docks for sunning, and canoes, paddleboats, and rowboats. There are also stables, where you can arrange guided trail rides.
Mohonk Tykes' and Children's Program for youngsters age 2-12 is available daily mid-June through Labor Day. A modified program is available most weekends and holidays year-round.
Rooms range from traditional to luxurious tower rooms. The furnishings tend to be practical pieces in Victorian, Traditional or Edwardian style. All have modern baths though some still have early era tubs.
Meals are included in the package. Dinner is served in a cavernous room, rounded at one end, its walls and ceiling covered with pine wainscoting. The menu consists of classic American cuisine supplemented with "Sound Choices", the latter low in cholesterol, fat, salt, and calories.
If you like the sound of Mohonk, also check out:
Rates and Reservations
Lodging options range from classic rooms and suites to individual cottages. Rates vary seasonally. See the website for details about the times you're planning to visit.
1000 Mountain Rest Rd.
New Paltz, NY 12561
Web Link: Mohonk Mountain House
Seasons. Although the resort is open year round, the height of the tennis season runs from mid May into September.
Travel Instructions. By Air: The nearest airport is in Newburgh, 35 miles away. By Land: Mohonk is a 90-minute drive from New York City in the Hudson Valley. Go north on the New York State Thruway (87 North) to Exit 18, New Paltz. It can also be reached by bus (Adirondack Trailways serves New Paltz) or train (Amtrak and Metro North to Poughkeepsie).
General Tourist Information. For information about other attractions in the area, visit the New Paltz Chamber of Commerce website or contact them at 259 Main Street, New Paltz, NY 12561. Phone: 845-255-0243. For information about the Hudson Valley in general, visit the Hudson Valley Network website.