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Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz, N.Y.: Mohonk If You Love Nature

By Roger Piantadosi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 9, 1999; Page E07

WHAT/WHERE: Beyond the sprawl of New York City's northernmost suburbs--but only 90 minutes from Manhattan--is the hidden-away, lakeside sprawl of Mohonk Mountain House, the distinctly low-key, nature-minded, all-inclusive Catskills landmark. A fantastical Victorian castle with turrets and towers rising amid its 2,000 steep and forested acres--which are in turn enclosed by a private, 6,400-acre wildlife preserve and a 12,000-acre state park--the 261-room Mohonk has been taking in lodgers since 1869, when Albert Smiley opened his first small resort overlooking the farms, orchards and wineries in the Shawangunk Mountains west of New Paltz. While too many century-old hotels decline to notice changing vacationers' needs, and thus decline, the Smiley family (grand-nephew Bert Smiley is now the resort's president) has managed to keep up with all the latest shifts--without losing the place's essential rustic, unruffled charm. Thus in the same vast dining room (one of two; jackets required), the next table might be populated by a retail conference attendees; a family reunion in progress; a whispery, hand-holding honeymoon couple; a lone writer or artist in search of midweek solitude; or a group that came for one of the scores of weekend and week-long nature, recreation and arts programs Mohonk sponsors year-round. (And, though it didn't used to be true, some guests are now even coming to Mohonk for the food.)


There's probably a bit more natural-wonder power in these mountains for active adults (the Shawangunks, or "Gunks," offer thousands of satisfying routes to climbers, hikers and bikers, from beginners to experts), but a midsummer week here has been rewarding lots of families for generations. Between the resort, the private Mohonk Preserve (914-255-0919) and Minnewaska State Park (914-255-0752) next door, there are 200 miles of trails--plus: guarded swimming, boating and fishing (all on crystal-clear Mohonk Lake, which about half the hotel's rooms front), golf, tennis, trail and carriage rides and croquet. There are daily fitness classes and guided walks. And, how nice: Your room doesn't have a TV. (It's down the hall, a big-screened thing, in its own lounge. I did spot one luggage-intense couple checking out with their own portable.)

BEING THERE: The whole of Mohonk--from its substantial outdoors to its rambling, "The Shining"-meets-"Silverado" interior--both invites and rewards exploration. You can start with the endless wide halls and turn-of-the-century Victorian lounges, sitting rooms, galleries, library nooks and stairwells, but inevitably you'll find yourself on the trails, from morning-jog gentle to take-your-breath-away steep, that start just beyond the back porches (which also overlook the lake and are rail-to-rail rocking chair).

One trail leading to Skytop, the 80-year-old stone tower with a six-state view on clear days, takes you through a crevasse (thoughtfully equipped with a rough ladder) nicknamed Lemon Squeezer. Another path leads past the individual lakefront balconies to the Granary, a peerless outdoor cookout open to hotel guests daily for a wonderfully varied, all-you-can-carry-to- your-picnic-table lunch (and, on warm-weather holiday weekends, for evening lobster bakes). Another leads to the lakefront beach and canteen for the many day guests who've paid at the gate to swim, birdwatch, ski (the resort grooms 36 miles of cross-country trails in winter) or wander till dark. On summer nights, they show movies on the lawn. On the unlikely chance boredom strikes, New Paltz is just down the mountain, with its 300-year-old Huguenot Street houses (914-255-1660) open daily for tours and its straightforward-but-left-leaning, second-generation-hippie atmosphere, shops and cafes (two to not miss: Main Course, 914-255-2600, and the Main Street Bistro, 914-255-7766).

LODGING/BUDGET: A six-hour drive from Washington, Mohonk Mountain House (1-800-772-6646, isn't cheap as much as satisfying and trouble-free. Expect a week's all-inclusive stay for a family of four--unless you can grab a room during one of the resort's popular kids-stay-free periods in July, which were nearly sold out as of last week--to cost you a minimum of $3,500 (including the tacked-on 15-percent service charge but not tax).

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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