Hudson Valley’s legendary castle transforms into the region’s crown jewel. Seriously.
By Marco Medrano
You’ll come for the spa and rebook for the fun. For those who may have experienced Mohonk Mountain House in a different era, the newly updated property with its now excellent farm-to-table cuisine and impressive full-bar availability will need a revisit and reassessment of this particularly gorgeous corner of the planet. The scale of the spa, its services, stellar product selection and on-top-of-it management are all Manhattan/world-class worthy. Without. The. Attitude. Period.
Mohonk Mountain House is undeniably one of the most iconic wellness resorts in America. And when you think about the grandeur of this Victorian castle being constructed atop a mountain range in 1869, that level of awe is compounded. The enormous amount of stone and the carved roads that were made to approach this architectural, Swiss Alps-type marvel is utterly mind-boggling. Think Windsor Castle on steroids. Think Julie Andrews after discovering the hills are indeed alive with the sound of music. Think…big.
Arriving at the grand porte-cochère, it’s easy to envision footmen, carriages and steamer trunks full of wardrobes—evoking a time when people travelled with a full staff. You then turn around and realize how majestic this castle and its views are and how privileged you are for finding a few days to revel in its vistas. Stare at the view, as far as the eye can see—is that the next state over?—it’s impossibly breathtaking.
This fundamental, foundational development of excellence is important for longevity, and why Mohonk Mountain House has sustained as a must-go destination resort. And the fact that a singular family has maintained this standard is even more rare. As a family of hospitality operators, the Smileys have evolved Mohonk into an all-inclusive resort that boasts some amazing activities and unique on-site, seasonal excursions. And more recently, the overall property’s design, services and overall vibe has been elevated to reflect a more seasoned traveler. Both country and elegant, this summer camp for the lucky is indeed the perfect getaway.
While it was the coldest day of the year on my February visit (30 below zero windchill), I decided not to cancel on the property’s tour guide. What I discovered were the most exquisite views dynamically showcasing what the Hudson Valley is all about. While terms like hiking, snowshoeing and mountain excursions might sound more outdoors-y than one would visit a spa resort for, know this: The location of Mohonk Mountain House is such that within a ten-minute graded hill hike (gently tiered) you’re positioned very well to see all the eye-popping lookout points, “crow’s nest” destinations and Shawangunk Ridge photo opps (Instagram!) without risking safety. This holds true for all age groups and fitness levels. (Expert-level vertical terrain hikes and rock climbing are available as well.) The mountainous walkways have safety features and bar-code audible description guides along the paths while still respecting the ominous nature vibe of it all. Don’t ignore a Mohonk hike as it’ll rebalance and recenter even the toughest of souls—it’s great for morning sun with your breath exercises and the heavenly views will impact your perspective. Trust me.
While there’s so much to do at Mohonk Mountain House, they’re perfectly set up for you to do absolutely nothing—in the most curative way. In fact, I sat on the porch in a rocking chair and read a book in full winter gear, with a view of the frozen lake. Nirvana.
The resort’s chef’s cuisine is excellent and embraces most culinary tastes. While I really enjoyed their semi-formal buffet style for breakfast and lunch in the main dining room, there’s a separate venue for the quick and casual morning rush of baked goods (Lakeview Breakfast), yogurt, berries, waffles, beverages and more. The dinner’s more of an elegant service menu experience and showcases some fine fare and gorgeous wine list pairings and exquisite desserts. It’s fine dining in the mountains—not a given here, or anywhere near here—for decades. Those days are, thankfully, over.
Mind your time and punctuality. The property is full of “pop-up” wellness events and little indulgences including Campfire with S’mores, Afternoon Tea & Cookies, Drink of the Month (in the lovely Carriage Lounge) where the first round is free, and more. The outdoor ice-skating rink is professional grade and comes with a roaring fireplace and staff, while snow tubing is a must for a few short runs and isn’t just for the kids. Yes, I did that, too.
The Spa at Mohonk Mountain House is, in a word, terrific. The sheer scale of the facility isn’t only spacious, but well equipped, whether you’re working out and enjoying a steam and sauna or going all in with yoga, meditation, Pilates and Tai Chi. I did all of the above and added Singing Bowl Meditation, Qi Gong and Stretch and Relax in the Spa Motion Room. The OM4Men (Organic Male skincare) regimen’s numbered in order and makes for an indulgent finale when leaving the fancy locker rooms.
I also love that the Smiley family and spa management team share a deep-rooted wellness ethos, bringing global treatment trends local. They know what’s what. So, when I read the best-selling book, The Three Minute Meditator, which is co-written by Nina Smiley, PhD, and David Harp, M.A., I knew I was in good hands. Its narrative teaches the reader “to reduce stress, control fear and diminish anger in almost no time at all. Anywhere. Anytime.” Sounds cool to me. While I’m a work in progress, the book reflects much of Mohonk Mountain House’s DNA. It breaks up and helps de-mystify meditation into little bite-sized pops of can-do confidence that help us react (or not) in positive, productive ways via mindfulness, a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress. Get a copy in the gift shop. #gamechanger
High and Tight: My first spa treatment was the “Luxe Lift Facial” which includes gentle, enzymatic double exfoliation followed by lengthy hands-on face sculpting which infuses collagen and botanicals to provide facial contouring for days. I left transformed with plump, lifted and glowing skin which is part of Swiss Line’s branded “Cell Shock Luxe-Lift” protocol. I used their Face Lifting Complex II serum and the Swiss Cure Day/Night Ampoules under the Luxe-Lift Cream. Amazing!
The second day at the resort I decided to show my body and soul some love with a Contrast Hydrotherapy Massage which incorporates a high-yield steam followed immediately by ice-cold rapid shower. This glacial/thermal shock therapy isn’t only a detoxifying immune-stimulating reset, the body is primed to accept therapeutic plant extracts infused with CBD healing during the customized massage process. I chose to focus on legs, calves and joints to relieve stiffness. The room for this service is terrific. Another must-try is the party-sized outdoor mineral hot tub which is adjacent to the glassed-in meditation lounges hosting beautiful teas, chaises and amazing views. The salon is a well-equipped pied-à-terre offering one of the best selections of haircare and skincare rejuvenation retail.
Honestly, if I enjoyed my long four-night stay during the coldest winter week, you’ll love Mohonk Mountain House even more in warmer weather. With tennis, golf, horseback riding, art showings, lake activities, boating and so much more available, I really can’t wait to return to this crown jewel of the Hudson Valley. There’s a reason why New Yorkers find this the best staycation ever. Because it is. Now, back to the views…
Expert Tip: Their impressive online daily activities calendar is downloadable into your phone/digital calendar, synced perfectly with the booked days you’re visiting. I printed mine before leaving home. I highly recommend starting with the inclusive amenities (no charge) and fun events throughout the property before booking spa services and excursions, so you don’t miss out. The main dining room has specific hours not unlike cruise ship seating, as does the spa, lake, mineral hot tub and indoor pool—so you’ll want to have a schedule of events so you’re not running or coordinating on the fly. Review, download and book before your arrival, knowing you must eat and sleep at some point. The website is highly organized to further showcase all the resort’s offerings in extraordinarily helpful detail.