Run Away From Home
28 GREAT (and nearby) WEEKEND ESCAPES
Where to go and what to do when you want to get away from it all.
By Nancy Claus Giles
Sometimes we just gotta get away—make a quick escape to the woods, the beach, the mountains. Sometimes we just need time to rediscover ourselves, our families or even our inner child. And because summer isn’t the only time a getaway is needed, this guide includes fun places to discover throughout the year—whenever you
Happy Trails To You
Highland, NY  647-2624
Hey dude, you don’t have to go way out west to find a ranch resort. For a fun, no-frills family getaway with guaranteed horseback riding every day, look no further than the Rocking Horse Ranch, near Poughkeepsie (about an hour and a half drive from central Westchester). The ranch has 110 elegant equines and 500 mountain and orchard acres to explore.
The wranglers have the mount and dismount routines down pat, getting guests on their horses and onto trails at the appropriate skill levels in no time. My previous experiences with trail horses led me to consider them the disgruntled civil servants of the animal kingdom—but these steeds changed my mind, perfectly responsive to the slightest nudge or movement of the reins. I hadn’t been on a horse in nearly 20 years; by the second day, I felt like a pro. My kids—with varying levels of experience—felt similarly secure.
The lodge itself has a happily kitschy atmosphere—lots of animal heads, skulls and antlers mounted on walls along with wagon wheels, totem poles, even a giant stuffed bear—to get the Wild West theme across. Comfy couches are located throughout the lounge, with a convenient view of the indoor pool. There’s skiing and horse-drawn sleigh rides in winter, swimming, fishing and water skiing in summer, plus lots of old-fashioned family fun like bonfires, bingo and marshmallow roasts year round.
As luck would have it, it snowed on our first day there in early April. But my daughters barely noticed—not with the indoor pool with volleyball and interactive water fixtures that periodically dumped water on unsuspecting swimmers. Downstairs, an arcade and ping-pong table kept teens happy, while bingo and trivia games were an intergenerational icebreaker. The nursery for tykes, day camp for the older kids, craft activities, archery instruction and a fun laser-rifle game can all be enjoyed despite the weather.
You won’t go hungry here. My 10-year-old’s eyes went wide at the breakfast buffet: eggs, ham, bacon, sausages, sweet rolls, pancakes, French toast, fresh fruit. Gosh, when’s lunch? Lunch is a strictly kiddy affair with PBJs, pizza, hot dogs and the like, along with many, many dessert choices (my daughters sampled several at each meal—the favorite was a toss-up between the apple pie and chocolate cake). Seating is banquet style, so unless you’re in a large group, be prepared to sit with strangers.
Weekend packages for four start at $1,400, including meals and activities. Drinks and adult lunch are extra.
A 3,000-Acre Mountain Playground
Smugglers’ Notch, VT  451-8752
This is the place that practically invented family ski vacations (Ski Magazine has voted it number one for family programs in North America for the past five years). Not only are there three mountains (rising to 3,610-foot elevation), but various camps designed for various age groups. For those not yet skiing, or for that matter even crawling, there’s a new million-dollar childcare center for six-week- to three-year-olds. Teen Alley, geared for the set who’d rather stay home than be seen on the slopes with Mom and Dad—those darling 13- to 15-year-olds—is outfitted with Internet access and XBox. Outer Limits is geared for teens 16 and older. There is even a big-kids (pardon us, young adults) camp for ages 18 and older, with kayaking, hiking and a 30-foot climbing tower. At the end of the day, everyone can join up for a big family dinner at one of the restaurants in the resort village.
Smugglers’ Notch is spectacular in non-snow seasons as well, and with hiking, golf, tennis and eight pools and three water slides (not for the timid—check out the 30-foot-tall, 300-foot-long rapid river ride), who misses snow? This resort is so self-assured that it actually guarantees guests will have fun—if not, Smugglers’ Notch will refund your money. And even though the resort is self-contained, you may want to explore outside. Nearby: The Trapp Family Lodge, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory, Vermont Teddy Bear Factory and the Shelburne Museum of Americana. The resort is about five- to five-and-a-half hours away.
Packages start at $478 for two nights for a family of four.
Go Wild in Our Own Backyard
Ward Pound Ridge Reservation
Cross River, NY  864-7317
Wanna get back to nature without straying too far
from home? Nothing beats Ward Pound Ridge Reservation for natural beauty, breathtaking vistas, and a variety of hiking trails spread over 4,700 acres of meadows, streams and woodlands. Come for a day hike, a weekend or a week (you can camp year-round in open-face lean-tos—all have an outside grill or barbecue pit for cooking). Leashed dogs are welcome too—so bring the whole family. In addition to hiking and camping, there is horseback riding, fishing (catch and release only) and cross-country skiing and sledding in the winter months.
Kids love the Trailside Museum with its creepy skeletons and owl pellets along with the taxidermy exhibit of some former residents of the reservation—yes, even a black bear! Behind the museum, find a tepee, a fenced-in wildflower garden and the Sugar House where maple sap is boiled into syrup in early spring and nature programs are offered year round. Hike up the trail a bit to explore an authentic wigwam and Indian camp. The park is open dawn to dusk every day; the museum from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Prices: Parking permit is $8 or $4 with a parks pass. Shelters are $35 without a park pass, $25 with a pass. Tent site: $25 without a park pass, $15 with. You must be 21 to get a camp permit.
Looking at History from Both Sides
Plymouth, MA  746-1622
Here’s a chance to step back in time four
centuries—to 1627 to be exact—and experience life as it was both for the pilgrims who had settled in Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag Indians, the region’s original residents. Ever wonder what a pottage is or how to cook a duck on a hearth? Find out in the Pilgrim Village, where “colonists” carry on daily life—milking cows and goats, planting gardens, building homes with wattle and daub or even gossiping (in 17th-century dialects, of course). Native-American interpreters explain early Wampanoag history and show how the people lived: making baskets and other crafts, building homes and canoes, planting crops in traditional mounds.
A reproduction of the Mayflower is on a nearby site (it actually sailed from Plymouth, England, in 1957). Visitors can explore three decks, including the lower deck where the passengers stayed (if livestock accompanied passengers, they stayed here too—cozy!). For a truly authentic Thanksgiving, reserve early for Plimoth’s Victorian Thanksgiving dinner or New England buffet (reservations are taken starting August 1 and sell out quickly).
Oh, yes, puzzled over the strange spelling of the place? In the 17th century, spelling had not yet been standardized and Plymouth was spelled both ways. The plantation chose the less common spelling to differentiate itself from the town.
Prices: Adults $22; children $14 ages 6 to 12. Children under 5 are free.
the museum of america and the sea
Here’s an idea. Let Dad take the kids to Mystic Seaport, while Mom enjoys a much-deserved respite at the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa, just one exit away in the Mystic Marriott (866-449-7390). An apothecary herbal facial should do the trick, while the rest of the family explores the “swamp things” and frogs exhibits at the Mystic Aquarium (860-572-5955), visits the working shipyard and the nearby 16th-century Pequot village (these folks were the real pioneers, settling the area 11,000 years ago—don’t miss the life-size giant mastodon).
If that’s not enough living history for you, try staying at Randall’s Ordinary Inn and Restaurant (860-599-4540) in nearby North Stonington. This 17th-century inn gives your family a chance to live the way they did way back then, with authentic colonial cuisine prepared in an open-hearth fireplace, served by staff in period costumes. There are rope-tied trundle beds, livestock out back and (shh, don’t tell) a ghost in room 12. This was a stop on the Underground Railroad—check out the hidden cellar under the hearth room where fugitive slaves hid.
Nearby: Catch a ride on a hot air balloon with Eastern Connecticut Balloon Services in Griswold (4 passengers: $190 per person), hike through a glacial park in Ledyard, climb on a replica of Stonehenge at Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, paint your own masterpiece outdoors along the Lieutenant River at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, visit the Connecticut Bluegrass Association or eat pumpkin pie and ginger-flavored ice cream (other flavors too) at Salem Valley Farms in Salem, and learn how to drive like a NASCAR pro at Waterford Speedbowl.
all-inclusive family resort
Hawley, PA  572-6658
Don’t plan on parking Junior in day care at this resort on the shimmering shore of Lake Teedyuskung just north of the Poconos, about a two-and-a-half hour drive away. The emphasis here is on family fun. And there are plenty of options to appeal to all members of the family. There is swimming (indoors and out), golf (both miniature and an 18-hole, par 72, championship course), hiking, biking and boating. You can fish, ride go-carts or fun little battery-operated kiddie cars, take cooking, karate or exercise classes. Selected by both Better Homes and Gardens and Parents magazines as a top pick for all-inclusive family resorts—all meals (three a day, served family-style) and activities are included in the price. Packages start at $1,100 for a family of four.
Puttin’ On the Ritz
Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park
 241-3333, www.ritzcarlton.com
Now here’s an introduction to the wonders of New York City that no kid can resist. This summer, the downtown Ritz-Carlton is offering Family Fun weekends that include tickets to Disney’s Beauty & The Beast, The Lion King or Elton John and Tim Rice’s AIDA, a personal tour of the famed toy emporium FAO Schwartz (with a 10- percent-off discount coupon), a tour of an NBC-TV studio with a souvenir videotape, and overnight luxury accommodations. To make sure the kids have as much fun as you, the hotel has an FAO Schwartz Toy Library with games and G-rated movies to use during the stay and a round-the-clock room service menu of “kiddie-comfort” foods. Even the dreaded nightly bath can become an adventure by reserving “the bath butler” to draw a bubbly rub-a-dub dub in the tub—then an FAO Schwartz teddy bear is tucked into the plush feather bed to ensure pleasant dreams for kids eight and under, with cookies and milk for all. And yes, the teddy is for keeps.
Theater, teddy bears and TV not enough? This Ritz-Carlton is located on the underutilized waterfront of Lower Manhattan—across the street from the ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, a 15-minute walk from the South Street Seaport, and for budding capitalists, only five minutes from Wall Street (though on weekends, the financial district is eerily quiet). Also nearby is the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Battery Park, Robert Wagner Park and a scenic riverside esplanade.
Offered Friday and Saturday nights from now through September 7, the weekend is priced at $549 per couple with an additional $175 per child (children aged 6 and over, only please) and includes a continental breakfast. (You can upgrade to a harbor view room—with a telescope—for an additional $40). When you factor in the cost of Broadway plays, this is a bargain!
Old World Traditions
Skytop, PA  345-7759
Located just over the JERSEY border near the Delaware Water Gap, this genteel old stone lodge offers families just about all
the activities of a well-
heeled country club: golf,
tennis, swimming, skeet shooting, fly fishing, archery, croquet. There are Saturday picnics year round, and afternoon teas (with homemade cookies, naturally—no Oreos here) from May through September. Yes, this is a place that honors old-time traditions. Long before children’s programs at resorts became de rigueur, Skytop had its “camp-in-the-clouds” emphasizing arts and crafts and interaction with nature. Other holdovers from the ’20s include dressing for the five-course-dinner (yes, kids must too) and a “grand march,” similar to a conga line dance throughout the lodge.
But not all is old fashioned here—there is a day spa for facials and massages (to unwind after all that skeet shooting), yoga and tai chi. The lodge itself is at the base of West Mountain, surrounded by 5,500 acres of wilderness, giving guests spectacular views of mountains, the Delaware Water Gap or the 75-acre Skytop Lake. A member of Historic Hotels of America, Skytop offers 125 rooms or mini-suites, 10 four-bedroom cottages and a 20-room inn right on the golf course. Packages start at $550 per night for a family of four.
Not Your parents’ catskills
The Emerson Inn and Spa
Mt. Tremper, NY  688-7900
Perhaps you grew up spending your
summers in a bungalow colony in the Catskills, where some terrible saxophone band played Saturday nights and shuffle board and knock rummy were the riveting activities of the day.
Forget that Catskills, please! And you will as soon as you enter The Emerson Inn and Spa, an ultra-luxurious small hotel tucked away in the Catskill Mountains’ forest preserve.
Care for some champagne? It’s there waiting for you as you arrive. What about a few tea sandwiches and a scone or two or maybe a few delicious shortbread cookies this afternoon? (Enjoy your tea break in the parlor or the deck.) Or would you rather have your shoulders kneaded, your skin exfoliated and your feet massaged at the spa across the courtyard? Perhaps you’d rather go up to your room and relax first. No problem. Choose between a Persian-style room or a Victorian, a West Indies theme, Asian or African.
Go ahead, relax. Get into that plush Frette robe hanging on the spacious bathroom door, recline on that soft feather bed piled sky high with irresistibly plump feather pillows, and enjoy some fresh strawberries while a Beethoven sonata or a Verdi opera plays on the CD player. Feel the stress melt away?
The pounds however won’t. The Emerson may be a spa, but it’s a spa that believes deeply in pleasure (yeah!). Don’t plan to lose weight here. Do plan to dine well, drink well (you can ask for a wine tasting with your dinner if you’d like) and sleep well.
Speaking of wine tastings, June 20 through 21 the Emerson will present “A Taste of Burgundy,” the fourth in its series of exclusive epicurean weekends, featuring the premium portfolio of wines from the renowned Maison Louis Jadot of France. Master Sommelier Olivier Masmondet will guide participants through tastings of fine Jadot wines, paired with delectable meals created by Emerson Chef Ross Fraser. Cheers!
A two-day package starts at $1,240 (no children under 13 allowed).
Old world charm, new age treatments
Cranwell Resort Spa and Golf Club
Lenox, MA  272-6935
Golf widows, take heart. If you want a spa experience and your significant other prefers golf, here’s the place for both of you—even the most spa-wary spouse. The resort was rated “excellent” by Zagat’s Survey of U.S. Hotels, Resorts and Spas and is listed in the 2003 edition of 100 Best Spas of the World; its golf course is in the Top 100 Courses in the New England Journal of Golf and was voted “Best in the Berkshires” by the Berkshire Eagle newspaper. How can you go wrong? They’ve just completed a $9 million 35,000-square-foot addition: The Spa at Cranwell.
The historic Cranwell mansion houses the restaurants and some guestrooms; three additional guesthouses are connected to the spa with an indoor pool housed in an atrium with 20-foot glass walls offering views of the Berkshire Hills. There are 16 rooms for massages, facials, wraps and other treatments, some geared specifically toward the men folk. Who knows, you might even convert your golfer into a spa aficionado—Cranwell’s signature thermal-clay therapy and seaweed treatment is reputed to improve the game! There are luxurious lounges for men and women pre- and post-treatment.
In addition to golf, outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy whitewater kayaking in the spring and fly-fishing in the summer and fall on the Housatonic River, skiing at Jiminy Peak, hiking on the Appalachian Trail and endless miles of marked bicycle routes through the rolling countryside. Indoors, the gym is well outfitted; the yoga studio light and airy. But be aware: the water, Spinning, stretch and balance, Pilates and yoga classes are extra as are personal training sessions and guided hikes.
Couple weekend: $305 to $495, per night.
If you need a little extra motivation to clean up your act…here’s the place to start. You are expected to leave cigarettes, caffeine and alcohol at the gate; bad karma too, one supposes.
New Age Health Spa in the Catskills, about two hours away, is serious about the no-smoking business: light up at your own risk; if caught, you are summarily dismissed—no excuses, no refunds.
Want to jump start a diet? The spa offers independent juice fasting as an option throughout the year; for those who need moral support, there are group fasts (the next is July 13 to 18).
You call this a vacation? Surprisingly, it is! It feels a bit like summer camp for grown-ups; the least expensive rooms have a ’50s feel, but they are due to be renovated. Who spends time in the room anyway? There’s a wonderful parlor with a fireplace, and the recently expanded dining area is inviting and offers scrumptious, healthy meals.
To get your money’s worth, rise and shine early for the 6:30 a.m. Zen meditation session in the Cayuga spiritual center. (On my first visit, I opened my eyes after a relaxing 30 minutes to see Venus rising in the eastern sky—an unforgettable sight.) Then, it’s time for a brisk hike in the woods, which are eerily reminiscent of those in The Blair Witch Project. Not to fear, the hearty guides will return you in time for the first yoga session of the day. Then, it’s time for breakfast. To work that off, you can engage in a variety of exercise classes, spa treatments and even climb a 50-foot Alpine Tower climbing structure. Native-American inspired programs and workshops are offered throughout the year, and there is even a Native-American sweating lodge to purge your body of all toxins and demons. Or not. Renewal is up to you.
Prices start at $896 for a couple for two nights.
Go ahead—indulge yourself
The Spa at Norwich Inn
Norwich, CT (800)-275-4772
Okay, let’s be honest here. Aren’t you getting just a teeny bit tired of spa cuisine by now? Are you craving a more hedonistic experience with your pampering? Anything goes at the Spa at Norwich: you can chow down on cheeseburgers (only 740 calories and 41 grams of fat—but who’s counting?), drink and even gamble at nearby Mohegan Sun Casino (imagine—feed three vices in one convenient location!). And if you need anymore convincing—You can even wear that oh-so-plush bathrobe just about anywhere, even while dining! Sign me up!
Special weekday packages are designed for golf enthusiasts (including spa treatments and golf for two at the adjacent Norwich Golf Course), and for “Mothers and Daughters” and busy women, among others, who need to “take a personal day off.”
Among the spa’s better known guests: entertainers Mariah Carey, Chris Rock, Gloria Estefan and Barbra Streisand.
Rooms cost $250 to $350 per couple; treatments on average cost $80. Fitness classes: $18.
Slow Down, You Move Too Fast
Lenox, MA  741-7353
Turn off your cellphone. Tune out your e-mails, voicemails, television news and radio ads. Life moves too fast; at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, 130 miles from central Westchester, you can slow it down again. This is a place for meditation, cleansing, thinking, walking and all manner of new-age therapies. Grounded in a 5,000-year-old tradition, Kripalu yoga is more than learning how to stand on your head. As the masters say, it’s about learning to stand on your own two feet.
Some of the most popular programs are the personalized healing retreats, designed to “enhance clarity, inner peace, vitality or serenity.” The idea is to immerse yourself in a variety of healing treatments including yoga, massages, reiki, sharing circles and experimental workshops. There are beginning programs for wannabe yogis to advanced ones. Gravity surfing anyone? There’s a special workshop in inversions and arm balancing asanas. There are weekends for attracting love or living well, fasting or meditating. You can combine yoga with hiking or biking, with cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
The facility is a former Jesuit seminary, and accommodations range from Spartan (dorms with bunk beds and a bath down the hall) to…less Spartan (twin, double or queen bed with nearby hall bath or private bath). Prepare to make your own bed. Vegetarian meals are included in all packages, which begin at $116 per person per night (two
Yoga, yoga and more yoga
Rhinebeck, NY  944-1001
Chanting, meditation, drumming,
emotional healing, spiritual transformation—it’s all here and more at the country’s largest holistic study center. Learn about women and power from Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda, how to “know God” from Deepak Chopra, the essence of songwriting from Rosanne Cash, and celebrate poetry with U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins. More than 14,000 people visit the lakefront campus each year (open from May to October). Newcomers are advised to take an Introduction to Omega Weekend to learn the basics. After that, there is a mind-boggling array of classes and seminars listed in the 120-page catalog—even a class called SkyDancing Tantra and the Art of Sexual Ecstacy (not, I believe, related to the one titled Exploring the Rising Serpent).
Individual introductory weekend: $150.
Travel Back in Time
Mohonk Mountain House
New Paltz, NY  255-1000
Nothing quite prepares you for your first glimpse of the Mohonk Mountain House. Climbing up the steep, narrow and winding road in the middle of the Shawangunk Mountains (known by locals as the Gunks), you finally catch sight of the massive turreted, seven-story Castle, perched atop a cliff and surrounded by a glacial lake. And the sight takes your breath away—in any season. The resort stretches nearly an eighth of a mile along Lake Mohonk and features 251 guest rooms, 150 fireplaces.