Alfred Smiley knew a good thing when he saw it. "Thee must come and see what I have found," he telegraphed to his twin brother, Albert, after hiking along the Hudson Valley's Shawangunk Ridge in September of 1869. There the Smiley brothers built a nature-oriented, family-friendly Victorian hotel, the Mohonk Mountain House.
Though Mohonk wasn't born a spa, it has always been a retreat where people could relax, unwind, and shed the trappings of city life (save for the dinner dress code that's still in place). So the recent addition of a facility that traffics in serenity -- the in-house spa -- was a natural. Besides, it shows that the current crop of Smileys still know a good thing -- or at least a trend -- when they see one.
What you'll find now are Victorian-era decompressing ops (swimming in a
sheer-granite-sided lake, hiking the 2200-acre property's trails, winding through a formal maze) that fit hand in evening glove with 21st-century spa offerings. While it might not be the first place you'd go for a weeklong silent retreat or to rethink your diet, Mohonk has its unique pleasures.
The Three Best Things About Mohonk Mountain House
1. The 26,000 acres of surrounding nature With only state and private nature preserves as its neighbors, Mohonk's vast lake-, cliff-, and forest-filled acreage sits in good company. So if you're a hiker, swimmer, boater, snowshoer, or skater -- or all of the above -- less-active travel companions might not see much of you. And as lovely as the in-house activities may be (a favorite is Afternoon Tea, the resident cookie baker's tour de force), the still-governing Smiley family won't be offended if you don't stick around to enjoy them. Given that environmental stewardship was one of the resort's founding principles, you will have access to many on-site trails, helpful advice from staff naturalists, and even a ground-floor display of the various ecosystems that coexist on the Mohonk preserve.
2. Mohonk Red Though its name conjures up whiskey or cigarettes, Mohonk Red is actually a species of witch hazel first noted in 1958 by Daniel Smiley, grandnephew of founders Alfred and Albert. This "good-sized plant with quite pink blossoms" not only created a stir in the botanical world at the time but also lately inspired the spa's signature Elements of Nature treatments. Whether by the power of suggestion or true chemical properties, an extract of the bark lends a certain tingle to these services. Standouts include the Mohonk Red Massage (which combines Swedish and Hawaiian massage techniques with stretching and acupressure) and the Shawangunk Grit Body Treatment (part hydrotherapy session, part body scrub and wrap). As if the treatments themselves weren't relaxing enough, both conclude with a spa innovation the world has been waiting for: a "guided power nap."
3. The rocking chairs They're everywhere. You almost get the sense that some ancestral Smiley purchased a few breeding pairs and set them loose. Be grateful he did -- especially when you get to the clusters of rockers that overlook the lake from various directions. Take a book and some sunscreen and be prepared to sit a while. As therapeutic to view as to swim in or sail on, this glacier-carved, shimmering centerpiece might just inspire some of the most meditative rocking you'll ever do.
Location New Paltz, New York, about 90 miles north of New York City in the Hudson Valley.
Getting there Pickup available (at varying prices) from any New York City airport, smaller regional airports, and the Poughkeepsie train station.
Driving directions and additional info Go to mohonk.com or call (845) 255-1000.
Abbie Kozolchyk is a freelance writer as well as Body+Soul's contributing editor for spa and travel. She lives in New York City.