With a new president shaking things up and senators arguing over Twitter more than taxes, it’s probably putting it mildly saying that these are interesting times in Washington, D.C.
Given the current state of affairs, we understand why people around our nation’s capital (or even those trying to keep up with politics from afar) would need a break. What we’ve found to be ironic is that one of the most serene places in this country, Salamander Resort & Spa, sits only 42 miles from the White House in postcard-perfect Middleburg, Virginia.
Pioneering hotelier Sheila C. Johnson opened Salamander in 2013 as a place that horse lovers would appreciate — and it didn’t matter which side of the aisle you sat on. But because the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star property’s sophisticated accommodations, world-class cuisine and thoughtful activities menu trumped everything else, it has become so much more than that.
The Virginia Piedmont region has always charmed with blue skies and black maple trees. Place a high-end resort smack in the middle of all that natural goodness and you have magic.
You’ll feel a slight tingle the moment you ride down the long private driveway, with scenic lawns on your right and left. Once the path ends, you’re let out at a gorgeous, 168-room estate erected in the spirit of architecture from Virginia’s countryside. This is the same white-columned corner of the world where the Kennedys and Elizabeth Taylor once had residences.
Simple elegance awaits inside — tray ceilings, dark wood flooring and leather couches. Spaces feel somewhat masculine, but this is far from your great-grandfather’s gentlemen’s lounge. Aunts, teens and everyone else have invitations to this exclusive club.
Rooms set a similar tone with cream walls, chocolate chairs and 40-inch flat-panel TVs. If you look carefully, you’ll notice images on the wall signed by Johnson. (Yes, in addition to owning Salamander, she’s also a skilled photographer.)
The Equestrian Program
It doesn’t matter if you can saddle a horse blindfolded or if you’ve never seen the inside of a barn, you’ll be impressed with how well the luxury hotel cares for its ponies. The equestrian center is a 22-stall barn and riding area where most of the horsing around on the property occurs. It’s here where equestrian director Sheryl Jordan’s team teaches riding lessons, leads trail rides and offers horsemanship courses.
The crew also guides you through the Equispective program, a unique, hands-on experience where you learn to listen to horses like Stella and Patrick, understand their actions and, ultimately, attempt to communicate with them. Resort pamphlets describe the two-, four- or six-hour sessions as “self discovery,” but it’s somehow even more than that; you and the horse become one, if for only a few minutes in the pen.
We’re not sure how many Equispective workshops it takes for polo players to get in sync with their thoroughbreds, but watching man and beast harmonize their movements during a match is something to behold.
Catch some of the action for yourself at Great Meadow Polo Club, an area venue where Salamander is a sponsor. Should you schedule your stay from mid-May to September, you’ll have a chance to watch Saturday Twilight Polo from a shaded, snack-filled private box.
When it comes to sports, equine enthusiasts aren’t the only ones attended to at Salamander. Tennis players have two courts to have a ball on. Golfers are permitted the same privileges as club members at nearby The Club at Creighton Farms. And adventure seekers will find all the thrills they could want at neighboring Empower Adventures’ 20-acre zip-line park.
If you had something a bit mellower in mind, the Four-Star Salamander Spa certainly gets our vote as an ideal distraction. Offering 23,000 square feet of tantalization and tranquility, the facility is where to go for any kind of wintertime pampering (Winter Warming Signature Treatment) and spring revitalizing (Spirits & Sprayology, March 16).
Stomachs are also well addressed here. Harrimans is Salamander’s culinary centerpiece. While a refined, round-shaped space, Harrimans isn’t overly stuffy. We will give floor-to-ceiling windows that look out to the lawn some of the credit, but we also have to acknowledge the warm staff and the kitchen’s fall-off-the-bone Yohanan Farm chicken and grilled rockfish for the smiles.
Gold Cup Wine Bar has a more easygoing exterior (see: billiard table, flat-screen TVs, football-themed menu for the Super Bowl on February 5), but it still prides itself on delivering the freshest lump crab cakes, shrimp and grits, and pulled pork sandwiches.
The two-acre culinary garden probably can’t help tremendously with those specific dishes, but there’s no question that chefs rely on it for seasonal produce.
If you care to learn more tasty tricks from Gold Cup and Harrimans, sign up for a culinary class at the onsite Cooking Studio. Part chef’s table and part Le Cordon Bleu satellite school, the interactive studio is where Salamander chefs take the time to guide you all around the kitchen, from preparing chicken roulade to learning which foods pair best with Irish whiskey (March 18).