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A trip to a castle — Mohonk Mountain House

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View of the Mohonk Mountain House from the Skytop trail

I love castles. I’ve stayed at a centuries-old castle turned bed and breakfast in Wales and visited castles wherever I go — France, England, Austria and the Czech Republic last summer.

But I never realized there would be such a cool castle less than two hours drive from my house in Connecticut. “So random!” declared my 17-year-old daughter Melanie as we drive up to Mohonk Mountain House (www.mohonk.com) the sprawling Victorian castle hotel perched on top of a hill in New York’s Hudson River Valley. The resort encompasses some 2,200 acres of spectacular country complete with a lake, mountain views, 85 miles of hiking and biking trails, ice skating pavilion and is surrounded by the largest nature preserve in New York State.

Did I mention the huge (30,000 square feet!) spa complete with indoor pool, fitness center and yoga studio?

Despite the spa — built with tons of recycled rock — Mohonk clearly is a throwback to a time when people couldn’t hop on a plane or a cruise ship. The resort has been around since 1869 and is still owned by the same family, the Smileys. Twin brothers Alfred and Albert Smiley first were attracted to the property because of its beauty and that commitment to nature continues today. There are no TVs n the rooms, I’m told, to encourage guests “to get outdoors.” But most rooms have cozy wood-burning fireplaces. In summer, there is rock climbing, golf, tennis, swimming and fishing; in winter, snow shoeing, cross country skiing and ice skating.

“It’s definitely not glitzy. That’s the appeal, said Deborah Kazis, who has been coming here since she was a child and was celebrating her mom’s birthday with her extended family. “You step outside and there is so much natural beauty.”

And that seems the case no matter what season you come. There’s a shabby gentility to the place — as if you are visiting a family’s comfortable country house. In fact the Smiley brothers, farmers and teachers, first envisioned this place as a getaway for friends and family. Today the resort is a National Historic Landmark.

I’m sitting next to a cozy fire in my room as I write this looking out over the Catskills. If it were warmer, I could be writing this sitting on a rocking chair on the balcony.

“It’s great for the kids to be able to run around and be so safe,“ said Pat Fahey, who like her sister has been coming since she was a child. The kids loved all the different Christmas trees — one strung with popcorn and cranberries, another decorated with stuffed owls and birds.

“They are very tolerant of kids and not at all stuffy,” said David Harvey, here for the weekend with his wife and two young children. The kids loved the special kids buffet at dinner, he said, but the waiters were happy to bring the children something else as well.

Most everything is included — meals, kids’ programs, guided hikes, yoga and fitness classes. Activities are listed for every hour- house history tour or bird watching? Geology tour or meditation? This weekend there are special dancing workshops. Tango anyone?
None of this comes cheap of course. Check www.mohonk.com for packages.

There are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore — even a little “nature” room where kids are encouraged to stick their finger in a box and see if they can figure out what they are touching a bone, an antler, a rock that comes from the Mohonk Preserve (www.mohonkpreserve.org). There are plenty of places to curl up with a book too.

We eat a four course dinner in the dining room — this is the kind of place you tend to eat too much I think because everything is included. Just one more bite of chocolate cake….

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