Winter Break

Spring holds its breath in the Shawangunk Mountains. It’s been one of the mildest winters in years–terrible for skiing–great for hiking. Nature looks confused; buds bloom next to anemic patches of snow while a pond layered with both ice and melting puddles sleepily weighs its options. We traveled to Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York, thinking this would be the winter we would introduce Anna to skiing. Sixty degree temperatures quickly scrapped that plan and instead we enjoyed a restful 26 hours at a place we can’t wait to visit again.

The Shawangunks lie at the foot of the Catskills, which lie at the foot of the Adirondacks. Pretty by East Coast standards, these blue mountains roll for miles like a gentle lake; nothing juts into the sky or looms over the land like the mountains out west. I had never even heard of the Shawangunks until this past week despite living only about 80 miles south of them and Mohonk Mountain House. Francisco Goldman and I have never met, but I have him to thank for introducing me to this area; it was mentioned in his 2011 novel “Say Her Name,” a beautiful, sad story about a marriage that ended abruptly because of a rogue wave off the coast of Mexico. Mohonk Mountain House was a place he and his wife had frequented. Now, it can be ours.

We only spent one night there; Mohonk Mountain House is not a budget hotel. Ranked by CondeNast Traveler with a placement on its 2011 Gold List, and praised by Organic Spa magazine, and Travel & Leisure, this Victorian castle on a rock attracts those who seek a certain kind of outdoor tranquility. Rustic without rust. The outdoors as ones with disposable income imagine it to be. The “House” is about five or six cavernous mansions linked together; the Alfred Smiley family recognized they had a good thing and kept adding on. Floors undulate like water as you move from section to section. Yet despite the large maze that is Mohonk, the rooms feel cozy and intimate. Fires crackle in stone hearths everywhere; velvet sofas sit patiently in every corner of every hallway; potted amaryllises on windowsills plead with the sun for more. There are no televisions in the hotel rooms; just fireplaces and balconies overlooking a partially frozen pond. Don’t worry. You won’t miss the remote. There are 2,200 acres of bucolic beauty outside, and inside, if you’re not snuggling up in front of your fireplace reminiscing about your amazing day, you’ve done something wrong.

During our first day, we skated, hiked, then swam. On our second day, we mixed it up more by swimming, skating and then hiking. Access to all the facilities are included in the price, however, we missed out on complimentary snow tubing and cross country skiing because of the lack of snowfall, and the horses were on their winter break, too, so no horse back riding. Next time. The price also includes a robust buffet of breakfasts, lunches and dinners in a large dining room overlooking the Shawangunks. There is also afternoon tea and cookies in the Lake Lounge held promptly at 4 pm. Get there on time or early if you want to enjoy your tea and cookie from the comforts of another velvet couch facing another fireplace. We came back physically tired and emotionally rested. No doubt the changes in the seasons unearth Mohonk’s secrets. We’re looking forward to a summer time jaunt so we can experience the private lakeside beach and watch the fish. The gardens are said to be stunning. During our stay there, everything was brown and the only real color was the way the sky shifted across the Shawangunks. On the ground, bare branches were caught up in knots, as if twisted in thought about what to do next. Kids wore mittens and snowsuits but complained about being too warm. Was it winter? Was it spring? No one seem to know for sure that late February day.

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