The mention of Washington D.C., our nation’s capital, conjures up visions of traffic, museums, monuments, government and politicians engaged in the usual power play. Don’t get me wrong, Washington D.C. is a dynamic destination. It has incredible history, eclectic dining, unique attractions and the energy that one expects of a world class city. I spent some of the best years of my young adult life exploring, experiencing and embracing all that the area has to offer.

But there is always a need to escape the concrete jungle. Finding a restful retreat to recharge your batteries can often be a challenge.

When a close friend asked me for a top resort recommendation with easy access to Washington D.C., I had to really give the question some serious thought.

A creature of habit, I  have always put Maryland’s Eastern Shore on the top of my list. But resorts with ample amenities sans the crowds were hard to imagine or recommend. Hotel properties in Annapolis, Alexandria and National Harbor also came to mind, but fell short.

Defining and choosing a resort requires research; there are key criteria/personal needs to consider in the selection process:

  • Full Service Property with Amenities
  • Unique Landscape Setting/ Location
  • Access to Cultural and Outdoor Experiences
  • Family Friendly/Pet Friendly

A somewhat hidden resort treasure can be found just over the Maryland and D.C. lines, less than 40 minutes from Dulles International Airport.

Sweet serenity is easily accessible.

Cross over into Virginia and head south to a sanctuary of green countryside dotted with horse farms, vineyards and stately homes. You will enter Loudon County and soon discover Middleburg, a quaint historic village that dates back to pre-Civil War times. Since the 20th Century, Middleburg has been known as the playground for statesmen and socialites. Equestrians have elevated the region’s prestige and appeal with year round events that draw celebrities and distinguished guests from around the globe. Ask a local and they will tell you that their beloved Middleburg has no match; it is recognized by all as the “Nation’s Horse and Hunt Capital” and a little slice of heaven. Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Duval and other notable past and present residents have fallen under the Middleburg spell.

So it is not a surprise that others have been drawn to this special place.

“Build it and they will come” is quite the understatement.

The 2013 opening of the Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia has been a hospitality game changer regionally and nationally.

The vision is now a reality thanks to the fortitude and forward-thinking of founder, Sheila Johnson.

Ms. Johnson is no novice when it comes to launching and building a brand. Sheila Johnson has rocked the business world and continues to be a champion and mentor for women. In addition to being a top business professional and philanthropist; she has made history as the first Black American female billionaire.

She co-founded BET(Black Entertainment Television) and is part owner of the District’s beloved sports teams – the Wizards, the Capitals and the Mystics. A dynamic diva, Sheila Johnson exemplifies Type A; she does not rest. Her energy is contagious. She is already working on plans to expand her resort footprint with a new Florida property in 2016. An accomplished musician, photographer and fashion designer, Johnson lets her passion drive her business. And, it is her love that seeds her success. The Salamander Resort & Spa is a testimonial to that unbridled love. Sheila Johnson and her team have worked hard to create a nurturing environment that showcases the beauty and bounty of the region. The driving inspiration and emotional connection is close. Sheila’s daughter, an accomplished equestrian, was the muse for the project from its inception. Her love of horses and riding is a dominating theme. All of the property’s linens and blankets boast a custom signature equestrian monogram. A little bit of Sheila and family is evident throughout every inch of the property. The classic furniture – design and layout – was modeled after Sheila’s home to create a warm and inviting impression. You will find her photography on the walls, her painted scarf creations in the gift shop and her presence on any given day. She is an active investor and resident. During my visit, I was honored to meet her while dining at Harrimans, the property’s award-winning restaurant. Sheila was in an adjacent table chatting with a few of her close friends. A smile and a nod opened up a conversation. So diva to diva…Sheila to Sheila, we connected. She touched on her life goals, past and many philanthropic efforts. I was forever changed and inspired.

The chance meeting gave me more insight into the soul of the Salamander. It was designed to be a celebration of past and present. At the Salamander Resort & Spa, traditions are honored and southern hospitality prevails. At first glance, one is awestruck by the expansive 340 acre property. A stunning emerald landscape of rolling hills, winding paths, riding trails and paddocks come into view. As you turn a corner, a beautiful multi-balconied edifice with a grand entrance featuring a circular driveway greets you. Art, nature and life entwine. Two towering equine metal sculptures grazing on the grand lawn, remind us that it will only take a moment to make a lasting impression. History, amenities and location, make the Salamander hard to resist.

Middleburg has a full time resident population just shy of 800. But what it lacks in size, it makes up in atmosphere.The town center, speckled with coffee shops, boutiques, galleries and restaurants, is within walking distance of the resort.

And better yet, several Virginia wineries are only a ten minute drive or courtesy shuttle away.

Middleburg comes alive with every polo match, charity fundraiser, festival, holiday and horse/hunt event.

The Salamander is rich in activities that would captivate a guest for weeks on end – riding, zip-lining, culinary classes, spa treatments, yoga, golf, kids camps, movies on the lawn and more.

From the guest suites to the stables, one feels a continuity of spirit. Renewed, refreshed and reconnected to self and nature, one will happily find a reason for a return visit.

Summer to Winter – The Salamander is a truly a resort for all seasons.

Hotel Highlights:

Not to Miss:  Sunday Brunch at Harrimans. Opt for terrace seating to soak in the spectacular views and savor endless mimosas. And, don’t miss the the Gold Cup’s ” Wine & Dine” tasting events. The best of Virginia wines are showcased every Sunday afternoon.

Best Bets:

  • Explore the National Sporting Library and Museum which showcases the rich heritage and tradition of country pursuits like angling, horsemanship, shooting, steeplechasing, foxhunting, and polo in an extensive book and art collection.
  • Taste local Virginia Wines. The Boxwood Winery, a favorite weekend entertainment spot with music and local fare, is a short walk from town.
  • Plan a Picnic at a Polo Match
  • Indulge in a Spa Treatment. The Crushed Cabernet Massage, featuring natural products from Caudalie of France ,was my top pick. To start, skin is exfoliated and softened by a scrub of grape-seed, honey, brown sugar and essential oils. The finish is a nourishing, sculpting and relaxing massage. To invigorate and stimulate the senses, be sure to try the spa’s aroma-infused steam room and experiential ” light show” shower.
  • Refine your culinary skills and learn a Farm-to-Table local dish in the Cooking Studio.
  • Enjoy a cocktail  and conversation by the resort’s outdoor fire pit under a starry night sky.
  • Welcome the day with sunrise Yoga at the Stable or opt for the  Equi-Spective program, a bonding experience like no other.
  • Discover the region’s rich history. The Journey Through Hallowed Ground, a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness of  American heritage in the region, offers daily tours.
  • Go for an adrenaline rush with a Moonlight or Tree Top Zip Line Tour.

For the ultimate horse country escape, reserve the Salamander Resort’s exclusive Hunt Country Getaway package. The package includes a weekend two night stay, history tour, wine tasting, picnic basket and VIP access to the Salamander’s Saturday Twilight Polo Match.

For rates, reservations and more information, visit the Salamander Resort and Spa official website.

Photos Courtesy of Salamander Resort & Spa and S. Gaspers