Ride: Salamander Resort and Spa

03/19/2014 1:31 PM

03/24/2014 12:35 PM

The historic, one-stoplight-village of Middleburg, Virginia, with its preserved 18th and 19th century buildings and streets honoring famed Federalists: Washington, Madison, Jay and Marshall is considered “the nation’s most famous place to hunt.” Among the 400 equestrian events in this equine-centric community, the most famous is the Middleburg Hunt. Once, it was President John Kennedy and his equestrian wife Jackie’s weekend retreat; since August 2013, the community welcomes guests--and their horses--to the Salamander Resort & Spa.

A winding drive and horseshoe shaped entry indicates Sheila Johnson’s vision to invite guests to feel a private, yet grand, Virginia manor house. The Living Room décor introduces the owner’s private art and antiques collection including the bronze statue of her children—champion equestrian Paige and brother Brett, whose fashionable menswear is sold in the gift shop—and illustrates why Ms. Johnson settled in Middleburg horse country.

Corridor carpets present the cream, blue and tangerine color palette and the equestrian theme which continues into the high-ceilinged Living Room, with its wide-planked oak flooring, twin fireplaces and French doors leading to a terrace and 100,000 square foot Grand Lawn. Equestrian paintings, bronze horse sculptures, ironwork fixtures and leather accents reiterate the theme. Adjacent, there’s a warm, wood-paneled library and brick-floored The Gold Cup Wine Bar and billiard room. The wide, table-studded, window-walled corridor leads beyond the Cooking Studio (where I participated in a hands-on Molecular Cuisine cooking class) to the dramatic Harriman’s Grill where the menu focuses on Piedmont and Chesapeake specialties.

The destination delights outdoorsy folks, especially horse lovers. The 14,000 square foot Equestrian Center with its 22-stalls, nine paddocks and arena offers classes and miles of trail rides on 500 wooded acres. These are currently being blazed for walkers, hikers and riders as part of the preserved Hallowed Ground project. Non-riders enjoy Equestrian Director Sheryl Jordan’s Equi-Spective Experience and the chance to communicate with horses using body language. Outdoor options also feature swimming, tennis, basketball, croquet, bocce and traditional lawn games. Soon, there’ll be a canopy tour through treetops; next year, there’ll be a skating rink.

The resort is located in DC Wine Country (the first AVA in northern Virginia’s Loudoun County) where three Middleburg wineries have won recent awards from the San Francisco Chronicle. Salamander provides picnics and complimentary transportation to wineries within a five-mile radius: Boxwood Estate, Cana Vineyards, Quattro Goomba’s Winery and Greenhill Winery and Vineyards. Indoors, guests enter the vast spa between twin troughs and head to nail, hair and make-up salons or his/her locker rooms with domed whirlpools, sinewy-walled steam room and shower and body-shaped, heated, glass mosaic tiled lounge beds. Some of the 14 treatment rooms have outdoor terraces; the couples’ suite has a see-through fireplace and a terrace with a whirlpool tub and the Moroccan-style Rasul offers a timed steam treatment for two. The Motion Studio offers yoga and Pilates, there’s a Fitness Center, indoor lap pool and dry sauna. (Camp Salamander entertains kids while parents are at the spa.)

Oversized accommodations feature are a fireplace, corner couch and balcony decorated with seasonal photographs by the owner and themed equestrian touches that include stirrup-studded edging on bed coverings and double jointed spoon bit wall hangings above the pedestal tub.

The Salamander Resort & Spa is a very special destination, especially for outdoor lovers.

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