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Crystal Springs Resort Hotels, Hamburg and Vernon, New Jersey

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New Jersey and I do not get along. Those jug-handle turns always confuse me, and I can pump my own gas, thank you very much. And — thanks to some pretty uncomfortable rides down the Turnpike — in my mind, “New Jersey” is far from synonymous with “luxury.”

But Crystal Springs Resort put an end to that stereotype. The property opened in the early 2000s and includes three hotels, four restaurants, two spas, a giant wine cellar, and an adventure park. But golf is the resort’s main draw, with seven courses on the premises, six sporting 18 holes and one with nine. One of them, Ballyowen, was rated one of the top 50 U.S. golf courses by Golf World magazine. Other notable courses include Black Bear (so named for the black bears that occasionally stroll the grounds) and Minerals Family Golf, the nine-hole layout that offers special family rates and often hosts parent-child tournaments.

Although we did try our hand at the small putting green, my sisters and I appreciated the hotel more than the links. We stayed in the rustically decorated, but nonetheless majestic, Grand Cascades Lodge; the 250-room space is the newest of the three hotels. Situated between the Kittatinny and Hamburg mountain ranges, each side of the edifice affords an excellent view of a fall vista. Our room also came with a balcony — perfect for reading in the cool autumn air — and a fireplace for when we grew too chilly.

biosphere poolAbove, the biosphere pool enclosed by Vector Foiltec glass; at right, the Grand Cascade Lodge’s main lobby

grand cascade lodge lobby

After we settled in, I worried I would run into difficulty occupying my two teenage sisters — but I needn’t have. In fact, our overnight stay proved not nearly long enough to participate in all the available activities. A short list includes: archery, horseback riding, scavenger hunts, marshmallow roasts, croquet, ziplining, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, biking, tennis, art class, movie nights, dancing, and swimming. Though some of those pastimes are certainly seasonal and weather-dependent, swimming — and sun tanning — happen all year long, thanks to the lodge’s biosphere pool complex. The tropical indoor pool — complete with an underground aquarium, 140-foot water slide, cave-themed sauna, grotto-esque hot tub, and gelato bar — is enclosed by German-designed Vector Foiltec roofing, which allows natural sunlight in and controls humidity so tropical plants can survive year-round.

After hours in the pool, our stomachs demanded a good meal, and we got it at the Crystal Tavern. The restaurant serves an assortment of New American dishes and sources most of its ingredients either from the resort’s own farm or from those in the surrounding area. Being the only sister over 21, I alone appreciated the extraordinarily extensive wine list — 135,000 bottles, all of which are stored in the nine-room wine cellar located on the premises (tours of this space run every Sunday). The oldest bottle is a 1795 Madeira, and although the resort will probably never sell it, they do believe it is still good to drink. How do they know? One of the wine cellar rooms houses an NMRI machine that tests acidity levels without opening the bottle. The Department of Homeland Security shares the patent on this technology; it is used to test for liquid explosives.

Following a long day of adventure and top-notch food, nothing beats a good massage. Both spas offer a full array of services like manicures, myriad skin care options, and haircuts. A number of special packages feature treatments for couples and groups — everyone from expectant couples and mother-daughter pairs to a girls-only weekend of pampering.

Turns out there is plenty of luxury in the Garden State after all.

golf courseThe first hole at Cascades golf course

IF YOU VISIT

Room rates from $149-$299; packages from $354-$954.
Crystal Springs Resort Hotels:
Grand Cascades Lodge, 3 Wild Turkey Way, Hamburg, NJ
Minerals Resort and Spa, 2 Chamonix Dr., Vernon, NJ
Mountain Creek Resort, 200 Rte. 94, Vernon, NJ
973-827-5996; www.crystalgolfresort.com

WHAT TO DO

On September 21-22, the resort hosts Oktoberfest. The weekend kicks off with Bavarian music and dance, which continues throughout the celebration. A multitude of games — like a lumberjack contest, a sack race, and tug-of-war — and traditional carnival rides provide more fun. And of course, German bier flows freely, so pick up a stein and drink up.

Enjoy a four-course meal, a little song and dance, and some CSI. The Murder Mystery Dinner Show takes place on November 9. Professional actors, who are often interspersed throughout the audience, stage a comedic whodunit in which they try to find the culprit — who may even be lurking among the spectators. But beware: He might plant evidence to implicate you!

WHERE TO EAT

Restaurant Latour, the resort’s premier spot for fine dining, has garnered many accolades, including several top awards from Wine Spectator magazine. The kitchen serves top-notch New American fare with ingredients grown on the resort’s own farm; dinner is served on Fridays and Saturdays (reservations are required). To match the elegant interior, guests are asked to dress in evening attire.

Before it gets too cold, dine in one of the resort’s organic gardens at the al fresco restaurant, the Chef’s Garden. The eatery is open seasonally on weekends for lunch and dinner, and the fruits and vegetables used in its dishes are picked directly from the adjoining garden beds.

FALL FOLIAGE REPORT

Since the resort rests between the Hamburg and Kittatinny mountains, a terrific autumn view can be seen from any direction. But if you want to see colors pop while on the go, New Jersey’s Route 23 spans 52 miles and cuts through both ranges, giving many opportunities for leaf-peeping.

» Return to Fall Getaways 2013

 

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