Driving along a quiet, country road past fields, streams and expansive countryside, the town of Middleburg seems as unassuming as its name would imply.
As the view changes from pastoral, rolling greens to large country homes, it becomes clear there is something more than middle-class about Middleburg.
Located in Loudoun County, North Virginia, the town of Middleburg has a reputation as the “Nation's Horse and Hunt Capital.” Dating back to 1787, the town and the surrounding countryside have been known as the holiday playground of the wealthy and elite. John F. Kennedy had a vacation home here where he spent time with Jackie and the children. F. Scott Fitzgerald was known to visit, as were a number of presidents who passed through the doors of a well-known local inn.
The quaint streets of historic Middleburg remain home to houses and structures from a time gone by, and the charming downtown streets a delight to stroll and shop any time of year.
Just through the main part of Middleburg, and down a meandering drive we find The Salamander Resort & Spa. I had heard nothing but good things before I arrive, but could not help but be impressed by the vista that greets me. Huge expanses of green countryside cut by a long, lingering lane that leads guests to the front door. In the distance, the stables, gardens and the forest edge.
The Salamander Resort rises from the verdant Virginia landscape like any proper country mansion should. Surrounded by 340 acres, the sprawling grounds include horse stables, equestrian centre, culinary garden, pool, tennis courts, miles of walking trails and a view across undulating green.
Inside the hotel finds me no less impressed. This is a resort built in the style of a grand, old hotel. Gleaming floors, soaring ceilings, impressive artwork and opulent furniture. Large common rooms just off the lobby are enjoying the last light of the day; doors flung open to the patio and “Grand Lawn” beyond.
Opened in 2013, Salamander Hotels & Resorts is a privately owned and operated company based in Middleburg, Virginia. Founded by entrepreneur and philanthropist Sheila C. Johnson in 2005, the company owns, manages and develops hotels, resorts and inns that reflect the authenticity and character of their surrounding environment. The Salamander Resort & Spa is the flagship of a group of six resorts: Tryon Resort in North Carolina, Innisbrook Resort, Reunion Resort and Hammock Beach Resort in Florida, and The Henderson in Destin, Florida opening later this year. Each is designed to reflect the area and environment in which it is located. The owner, Sheila C. Johnson, is noteworthy in her own right. Johnson is the entrepreneur who co-founded (and later sold) the BET television network, is part-owner of three sports teams in the NHL, NBA and WNBA and has the distinction of being “the second wealthiest black female in the United States.”
The inspiration for The Salamander is Johnson's own nearby Virginia farm, and the horse country theme is repeated in details throughout the property. There are 168 luxurious rooms and suites, fashioned by renowned designer Thomas Pheasant.
The Salamander's grounds and amenities are nothing short of luxurious. After a day tasting wines, or on a trail ride, the perfect stop is the spa. The 23,000 square foot spa incorporates wellness and fitness bringing together the best of traditional and alternative medicines in a relaxing, personalized resort setting. There are 14 treatment rooms, many with a private outdoor terrace; but the showstopper is the spa courtyard and its infinity edge pool, whirlpool and private cabanas.
The main restaurant, with its unique octagonal-shaped 42-foot-high ceiling, combines extraordinary views with exceptional cuisine from the Virginia Piedmont region. The Resort also features a state-of-the-art Cooking Studio providing a special opportunity for guests to partake in “hands-on” culinary classes with renowned chefs. The Billiard Room and Wine Bar offer an entering gathering place for all. Guests can also visit over 50 nearby vineyards located within 60 minutes of the Resort.
After check-in, with some time before dinner, the “Living Room” is a light and airy, opulent space even more improved by the view outside. As darkness sets in and we wander to the dining room, we see some younger guests taking advantage of fireside s'mores service at the large outdoor firepit.
The Salamander offers one of the most comprehensive resort equestrian programs in the country. The 22-stall barn is a short stroll from the main hotel building. Here riders, experienced and new, can take advantage of a variety of classes and programs. Book a trail ride, take part in a clinic from some of the best riders in the country, learn the secrets of horse whispering, learn to play polo, or join the sunrise yoga class in the stable.
From our luxurious base at The Salamander, we are perfectly situated to explore the up-and-coming wine region that is Loudoun County, Virginia. This is a young wine region ““ but I think we Ontarians know how to approach and support new wineries ““ with the first vines being planted in 1981. The area formerly supported successful orchards, and although the first few who tried may have failed, there are now 40 award-winning wineries, in this county alone, dotted through the pretty landscape. With its proximity to Washington D.C., just 40 kilometres away, it's easy to see why this has become the “nation's” country playground.
The wineries are all within a short drive, approaching from either Middleburg or Dulles, and take you through winding roads and along mountainsides, past horse farms and historic estates. You can rent a car, or take advantage of one of several companied offering winery tours by bus, sedan charter, or limousine.
If you go
The Salamander Resort & Spa is 30 minutes from Dulles International Airport and less than one hour from downtown Washington, D.C.
Porter Airways offers daily flights from Toronto Island Airport to Dullles International Airport. The flight is just under 90 minutes.