When we heard several years ago that Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and part owner of D.C.-area sports teams like the Wizards, Capitals and Mystics, was adding to her already-impressive portfolio of posh resorts — including Innisbrook, A Salamander Resort and Reunion Resort, A Salamander Resort — we expected to see something sleek, chic and decidedly city-centric. We were in for a (pleasant) surprise, as the successful hotelier launched the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Salamander Resort & Spa in late 2013 in the heart of Virginia wine and horse country.
Just an hour outside of Washington, D.C., Salamander presides over 340 acres of gently rolling plains, leading you directly from the quaint main streets of Middleburg down a winding drive lined with meadows and paddocks to what resembles a sweeping manor.
The 168-room equestrian-themed resort seamlessly combines some of our favorite things — horseback riding, gracious hospitality, beautifully appointed facilities and a docket of cooking classes, ziplining and other pursuits — with a Four-Star spa, fine dining and gratis transportation to area wineries. Figuring out how to pack it all in can be the challenge, but we trimmed the list down to five ways to best enjoy your stay.
Take a spa day
This sanctuary isn’t just a place to enjoy a soothing massage or facial — it’s a stay-all-day escape. Arrive with ample time before your service to take advantage of the aroma-infused steam room, experiential showers, heated loungers and whirlpool. There’s also a relaxation lounge and outdoor hot tub. You’ll want to book a deep-tissue treatment to really get into those aches — opt for the Rider’s Relief, which specifically targets muscles used while on horseback. We also love the Cashmere Quench wrap, a hydrating and exfoliating treatment that’s perfect for winter-ravaged skin. While the resort offers a sauna and indoor pool for all guests to splash about in, the spa facilities are only for those with booked appointments on weekends, which keeps the place feeling quiet and serene.
Make yourself at home
Salamander is designed to resemble a traditional Southern residence. You enter into an oversized library and living area perfect for curling up with a good book or playing one of the provided board games. Among the spacious accommodations (starting at 545 square feet), be sure to score one with a fireplace, particularly if you’re coming in the cooler months. Elegant touches include freestanding deep soaking tubs, to-die-for butterscotch scones at turndown and private balconies in each room.
Bring your four-legged friends
The resort is quickly becoming well-known for its equestrian program. Partake in everything from trail rides and indoor or outdoor lessons, to yoga on horseback. Experienced riders can bring their own horses, which makes sense when considering spring events like the annual Piedmont Fox Hounds Point-to-Point or twilight polo matches in nearby Great Meadows. Still, mares and colts aren’t the only ones having fun at Salamander. Dogs are also welcome. Bring your furry friend along and enjoy the weekly “Yappy Hour” on the Grand Lawn from June to October. In town, stop by beloved Virginia pet store Wylie Wagg, which stocks all sorts of toys and treats for your pampered pooch.
Sample the bounty of Virginia
The resort puts a strong focus on local culinary experiences. Todd Gray, the D.C.-based chef behind restaurants such as Obama-favorite Equinox, is the culinary director who assures it. Nosh on Virginia Piedmont recipes at Harrimans, the resort’s fine-dining restaurant. At breakfast there, don’t miss the vegan Benedict composed of housemade hummus, avocado, tomato and lemon over toast; the Iberico pork collar steak, with its decadent cider glaze and roasted Brussels sprout petals, is a can’t-miss dinner call. Also try a cooking class in the in-house studio, or do a private tasting of Salamander’s own bounty in the seasonal culinary garden.
Go ahead, wine a little
More than 50 wineries are within an hour’s drive of the resort. Just ask the hotel to bring around its Audi A8 or Q7 house car and have one of the friendly staffers drive you to any of them within five miles. We suggest a tasting at Greenhill Winery & Vineyards or Boxwood Estate Winery, both of which offer an array of whites and reds worth sipping. Every Sunday afternoon, the resort’s new wine director, Michael Foote, makes sure you savor some of Virginia’s best pours with a complimentary tasting in the Gold Cup Wine Bar.