Girlfriend Getaways: Crystal Springs

The state's most ambitious resort seduces with endless delights.

Gold with a view at Crystal Springs.
Gold with a view at Crystal Springs.
Courtesy of Crystal Springs.

Grand Cascades Lodge at Crystal Springs presents its guests with tempting choices, none of them wrong. For golfers, there are six courses to play. For post-golf relaxation, there are two pool complexes (one inside a tropical dome) and a luxury spa. For dining, there are five options. There is only one wine cellar—but it’s regarded as one of America’s best.

The ambitious resort is located in Hamburg, in the northwest corner of the state. It’s easy to reach from Route 23, but pleasantly remote from Jersey’s sprawling suburbs. The atmosphere is rustic, but far from rugged; pampering is a priority. The property sprawls across 2,758 rolling acres, with eye-popping views of the surrounding ridges. Nearby, a sister resort, the Minerals Hotel, offers more options for dining, workouts and spa treatments.

Stay: The five-story Adirondack-style lodge has several types of accommodations, all tastefully furnished and finished with abundant wood and stone. At the high end, the two-bedroom suites include a Jacuzzi tub and a fireplace deck; some fourth-floor and all fifth-floor rooms have vaulted ceilings. For small groups, a premium room can be joined to a one-bedroom suite.

Play: Let’s start with the golf. For players seeking a challenge (whatever their handicap), Ballyowen is a must. Rated by New Jersey Monthly as the premier public course in the state in 2013, Ballyowen is a links-style layout with no trees but plenty of impenetrable rough and other hazards to swallow your errant shots. Accuracy is important, but you can get by with a good sense of humor.

You’ll get your first taste of Ballyowen’s ornery side on the second hole, with its intimidating gorge along the left side of the fairway. The demanding par-three sixth hole requires a 107-yard tee shot (from the red tees) over a water-filled quarry. If you just barely reach the green, there’s a good chance your ball will roll off the front edge into the wet expanse. If the front nine beats you up, you can get your revenge on holes 10 and 17—a pair of short par-fives. As you play the back nine, listen for the bagpipes in the distance. Brian Hahn, the local postmaster, pipes at around six each evening.

Ballyowen is a short drive from the hotel. Wild Turkey, rated number 10 in the state by NJM, is located alongside the lodge and features varied terrain, from treeless expanses to hilly, wooded sections. Almost anywhere, you’ll enjoy fabulous views of the surrounding ridges. Crystal Springs, also adjacent to the lodge, challenges with bumped-up fairways, but rewards with the unforgettable 11th hole, an 85-yard shot (from the red tees) off a cliff onto a tricky green carved out of the quarry below.

Black Bear, a short ride from the resort, is the most forgiving of the 18-hole courses at Crystal Springs. There are also two nine-hole layouts: the Cascade Course, alongside the main lodge; and Minerals, a family-oriented course at the nearby Minerals Hotel. The latter offers four-seat carts, making for an even more sociable round. For a different kind of challenge, skip the clubs altogether and try FootGolf, a new sport that involves kicking a soccer ball into an oversized hole on the Cascade Course.

Be Pampered: On warmer days, you can sun yourself at the Vista 180 infinity pool. If it’s too chilly, stay under the glass dome of the jungle-like Biosphere pool.
For extreme pampering, book a visit to Reflections, the resort’s luxury spa. From the moment you step inside, Reflections bathes you in soothing red light. Hand-strung quartz crystals dangle overhead. Services include facials and skin-care treatments; massages, including a four-hand massage; and unique body treatments. Consider the spicy chai wrap, which involves a mud mask spiced with chai and soy, a warm body wrap and finishing herbal-spice rub. After your treatment, retire to  the Sensorial Lounge for a heated salt-water footbath and complimentary  chocolates and pink champagne. Reflections also offers hair services, manicure and pedicure.

Eat & Drink: Springs Bistro, just off the main lobby, serves Northern Italian cuisine in a Tuscan-style setting. The Crystal Tavern, located in the golf clubhouse, has extensive menus for breakfast (try the Mangalitsa ham omelet), lunch or dinner. In the warm months, the Chef’s Garden is a unique al fresco dining space in the lodge’s lush organic garden. How often do you get to see a chef clip the actual herbs for your dish? There’s also Vista 180, a bar and cafe at the Vista pool.

The ultimate dining option is Restaurant Latour, a perennial on NJM’s Top 25 Restaurants list. Latour is located just one flight above Crystal Tavern, but it’s a world apart from most dining experiences. Executive chef Anthony Bucco offers a choice of five-course Anthology menu ($115) or seven-course Chef’s Tasting ($145); wine pairings are available with each. The menus are seasonal; at press time, the five-course spring menu included such tantalizers as morels with bone marrow, pastured egg and preserved lemon; rainbow trout with English peas, smoked trout roe and sheep’s milk yogurt; and pheasant with asparagus, black sesame and freekeh. The service is impeccable and the experience unforgettable.

Don’t Miss: A tour of New Jersey’s most lauded wine cellar is a must. Public tours take place at 3 pm daily; if you dine at Latour, you can request a private after-dinner tour in advance. Sommelier Susanne Lerescu will walk your party through the winding fieldstone pathways among the nine cave-like wine rooms, pointing out exceptional vintages and describing the philosophy behind the collection.  At any time, the cellar is home to between 75,000 and 100,000 bottles.

But There’s More: Tennis fans can book indoor court time at nearby Minerals Hotel. In the summer, the resort’s adventure center offers guided mountaintop horseback riding, hiking and kayaking, as well as fishing, paddle boarding, water trampoline and archery.

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