At this point in American history, we could all use a little more peace and relaxation, a bit of Zen, and there’s arguably no better place to find this than up in the Catskill Mountains, a quick three-hour hop due north.
Once a schmaltzy resort area popular with the Don Rickles set, the region has lately become a destination for those seeking inner peace, thanks to its easily navigable cluster of spiritual getaways like ashrams and temples. The experiences here are as varied as people’s reasons for visiting. At Ananda Ashram in Monroe, you can stop by for a yoga intensive, or lessons in Sanskrit. Over at Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch in Woodbourne, an hour northwest, 70-plus acres offer seriously serene nature walks and a detoxifying Russian wood-burning sauna. Closer to Woodstock, Zen Mountain Monastery has a popular Sunday morning meditation-for-beginners series as well as Zen for kids.
These centers can be pretty heavy on religion, so if you’re solely in pursuit of yoga, head instead to Catskills Yoga House along idyllic Stony Clove Creek in Chichester, perched on the edge of a rambling forest. While you can stay overnight at these retreats, the accommodations are monastic in their minimalism (most are monasteries, after all) and are frequently dormitory-style (shudder). Fortunately, drop-in and day passes are available, so you can soul-search by day and hunker down in more comfortable surroundings come evening.
The finest lodgings in the area are at Mohonk Mountain House, a magnificent 148-year-old Victorian castle with breathtaking panoramic views of the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River Valley. But the fine linens, posh amenities and handsome rooms with real wood-burning fireplaces don’t mean a complete departure from your spiritual awakening: The luxe lodge just launched a wide range of mindfulness activities, including qigong, guided relaxation, and even meditation for children. And a sustained state of Zen is encouraged: Mohonk charges a $25 nightly fee for television. (Your challenge: Resist paying for this so you actually tune out.)
Meals at Mohonk lean toward the elegant (jackets requested, gents), but if you’re the kind of person who can’t stand eating at the same place every night, the nearby town of New Paltz offers some charming spots, like New Orleans-influenced Parish and Jersey Shore-style seafood shack Gadaleto’s. And if you find yourself in Kingston, you simply must stop at Stockade Tavern, known for exquisite cocktails served without any annoying pretension. Alcohol during a spiritual retreat, you say? Hey, you’re only human.
WHERE TO STAY: Mohonk Mountain House, 1000 Mountain Rest Road, New Paltz, New York; starting at $330 per night.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE: Sometimes nature provides its own Zen, as you’ll see if you take a hike in and around Poet’s Walk Park, a 19th-century series of paths and hills along the Hudson River that were designed to inspire poetry.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Don’t expect to be in touch with the outside world while visiting an ashram. Cell reception can be spotty, and if you show up asking “What’s your wi-fi password?” you’ve probably come to the wrong place.
Published as “The Purpose-Driven Traveler: Stoke Your Spirituality” in the March 2017 issue of Philadelphia magazine.