Archives

TRANSLATE WEBSITE

A fall favorite at the Skyland Resort in the Shenandoah Mountains

Jordan Wright
October 10, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
Photo credit Jordan Wright 

The view from Skyland Resort

The view from Skyland Resort

When G. Freeman Pollock founded Skyland in 1894, he had been in and out of bankruptcy so many times he couldn’t possibly have envisioned the immense popularity it would have subsequently gained. Luckily for us his son George, an ardent naturalist, saw the raw beauty of the land as a draw for tourists. But in 19th century Virginia the remote destination had no trails and no roads, and it was such an arduous journey that guests would stay for several weeks or more. Today, however, to enjoy and explore the resort within the Shenandoah National Forest, we can just hop in our car and arrive in little more than two hours, ready to bask in (and document with our personal devices) the glorious foliage of autumn at a whopping 3,560 feet above sea level.

Driving along Route 211 past Warrenton and Sperryville we stop at roadside stands decorated with pumpkins, cornstalks and pots of colorful mums, and stock up on apple butter, cider, sorghum and honey. As the road turns up the mountain and onto Skyline Drive, ever more lavish displays of fall color come into view – red from maples, dogwoods, black gums and sumac, yellow from yellow birch, tulip poplar and hickory, orange from beech and sassafras. Stop at one of the many overlooks for gloriously scenic photo ops.

800 million year old rock formations on the Stony Man Trail

800 million year old rock formations on the Stony Man Trail

Arriving at Skyland Resort we picked up a few refreshments from the Grab n’ Go located beside the restaurant. Be sure to try the homemade brownies and blackberry lemonade. Since we were earlier than our check in time, we decided to make the most of our visit. Four short marked trails are easily accessible from the resort’s parking area – Miller’s Head, a 1.6 mile round trip, Limberlost Trail, a 1.3 mile circuit (ADA accessible), Stony Man, 1.6 mile loop trail and Little Stony Man, a 0.9 mile hike. We chose Stony Man Trail, a gentle that hike winds through dappled glades carpeted with ferns, drifts past 800 million-year old rock outcroppings draped in mossy lichen, and climbs to a height of 4,010’ where a spectacular view of the Piedmont and Old Rag Mountain are revealed. (More dramatic photo ops here.)

Ferns along Stony Man Trail

Ferns along Stony Man Trail

At this altitude you’ll see and smell red spruce and balsam fir, rare for southern climes. Breathe deeply and tune into the sounds of the forest, a practice the Japanese call “forest bathing” or “Shinrinyoku”, a sort of natural aromatherapy said to increase relaxation and boost the immune system.

Back at the lodge we had relaxing dinner in the Pollock Dining Room, which boasts a breathtaking view of the Shenandoah valley. The resort is proud of their new chef and has been hosting wine dinners with nearby vineyards. In November three unique pairing dinners are planned – one to feature dishes paired wines from Ducard Winery, another with Old Hill Cider and the final dinner of the season is slated to be a whiskey pairing.

Linguini with shrimp and scallops - Blackberry Ice Cream Pie at the Pollock Dining Room

Linguini with shrimp and scallops – Blackberry Ice Cream Pie at the Pollock Dining Room

 

Night programs here are just as popular as daytime tours offered by the Park Rangers. We chose the stargazing evening given by astronomers from the Charlottesville Astronomical Society. “Night Skies in the Big Meadows” begins with a talk on the constellations we would see before convening at an open field that afforded expansive views of the galaxy. Astronomer Richard Drumm, known as “The Astronomy Bumm”, awaited our arrival with telescopes at the ready. Unfortunately it was too overcast to see, no less identify, even the Big Dipper, so we asked a lot of what we thought were “smart” questions and learned about controlling light pollution.

Skyland horse-stable

The following morning bright blue skies accompanied hearty breakfasts, and after finding some locally made crafts in the gift shop we headed to the stables for a guided horseback trail ride (ponies are available for kids). I was very impressed by the overall care with which the stables, tack and horses are kept and that our young guide, Jeremy, was knowledgeable about horses, local plants and the history of the area and kept up a lively conversation throughout the two ½ hour ride.

Stirring the apple butter

Stirring the apple butter

Before heading for home we spent a few hours at the Annual Apple Butter Celebration (the resort provided a shuttle to take us to and from) where we watched the old fashioned method of making apple butter in a large copper vessel, tasted four varieties of the local hard cider from Old Hill Cider at Showalters Orchard, and gobbled up apple-smoked pork sandwiches and candied apples – all to the lively sounds of bluegrass bands.

Carmel and candied apples a the apple butter celebration

Caramel and candied apples at the Apple Butter Celebration

For more info visit www.goshenandoah.com.

Memphis and The Blues Trail in a 2015 Hyundai Sonata

Jordan Wright
October 1, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times

Photo credit to Jordan Wright

Driving Old Highway 61 in the new turbo-charged Hyundai Sonata

Driving Old Highway 61 in the new turbo-charged Hyundai Sonata

The Plan:   A road rally in the Hyundai 2015 Sonata.  When Hyundai contacted me and asked if I’d like to be part of a road rally in Memphis, I couldn’t wait to rev up its 7-speed dual clutch (automatic plus stick) transmission.  At least that’s how they described it in an email.  That it had more bells and whistles than I had time to grasp in 36 hours under a tight schedule, was unfortunate.

The Place:  Memphis, Tennessee to Clarksdale, Mississippi on Old Highway 61 returning to Memphis.

Neon BBQ sign on Beale Street

Neon BBQ sign on Beale Street

There are few cities that deliver the intensity of the American music experience and the culture of the old Deep South as Memphis does.  For starters visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music where Otis Redding and the Staple Singers cut records, the National Civil Rights Museum and the iconic Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

The Lorraine Motel - scene of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

The Lorraine Motel – scene of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination

To see luthiers make some of the world’s most famous guitars, there’s the Gibson Guitar Factory and Museum.  Another must see is The Memphis Rock n’ Soul Museum.  Developed by Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, it describes itself as a place where “musical pioneers and legends of all racial and socio-economic backgrounds who, for the love of music, overcame obstacles to create the musical sound that changed the world.”

The Gibson Guitar Factory and Museum

The Gibson Guitar Factory and Museum

From there you’ll hop the shuttle to Sun Studios where Rock and Roll legend Elvis Presley recorded his first song, “That’s All Right, Mama”; where Howlin’ Wolf first recorded before his Chicago Blues influence; Johnny Cash recorded “I Walk the Line”; Jerry Lee Lewis kicked off his career with “A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”; and Carl Perkins laid down tracks for “Blue Suede Shoes” before Elvis got ahold of it.  Only one member of what was known as the “Million Dollar Quartet” became “The King”, so for many fans a visit to the 1950’s cosmic bubble, Graceland, is somewhat of a sacred pilgrimage.

All that said, I couldn’t figure out why on God’s green earth friends thought I wouldn’t like Memphis.  Maybe they thought I wouldn’t cotton to the honky-tonk culture, or the snail’s pace of life along verdant banks where riverboats still ferry passengers along the mighty Mississippi.  Maybe they thought I wouldn’t take to leathered up bikers and their cigarette smokin’ mamas who stand beside hundreds of tricked out choppers.  Or that on a warm night you can hear the blues filtering out through the open windows of the clubs along Beale Street.  Or maybe they knew that some of the best barbeque and juke joints are outside city limits at rundown roadhouses in towns with no traffic lights – – just a single run-in store selling jars of pickled pig’s feet and tortillas for the seasonal migrant workers.

A tricked out Lamborghini bike wows the crowd on Beale Street

A tricked out Lamborghini bike wows the crowd on Beale Street

They should have known I’d pass up the cheesy Elvis impersonators to listen to raw-boned blues cranked out nightly by first-rate studio musicians, and that I’d satisfy my curiosity for the Peabody Hotel ducks with a bourbon and branch water while listening to a tuxedoed piano player recall cabaret songs from the 1930’s, and where just outside the lobby a Cinderella carriage will take you on a horse-drawn tour past historic sights.

The Italianate lobby of the Peabody Hotel

The Italianate lobby of the Peabody Hotel

I loved Memphis – the sights and the sounds.  From sidewalk street jammers playing rockabilly, rock n’ roll, Delta blues, gospel and soul to an unnamed group kickin’ it at an impromptu concert in a vest pocket park. They were all mining the roots of American music – preserving the sound that had bubbled up from both white and black musicians so long ago.

Day Two:  After a morning briefing and vehicle assignment we received our triplogs.  Twenty-four test drivers and twelve 2015 Sonatas left from the Westin Hotel on Beale Street and headed south out of the city along Old Highway 61.  Known as the “Blues Trail”, the road took us to Clarksdale, Mississippi with Driver Switch Points at Mhoon Landing Park in Tunica, MS and Arkabutla Lake in Coldwater, MS.

At the Rum Boogie

At the Rum Boogie Cafe

The veteran car writers on the team were eager to check out the subtle, and not so subtle differences.  They were keen on features like LED tail lights, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, lane change assist and rear and side window sunshades.  A hands-free trunk was noted as was the ventilated front seat, Blue Link touch screen infotainment system, Pandora Internet Radio, Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto that sends and receives text messages and can give fuel prices and movie times.  The fact that the turbo-charged ECO model with quad-exhaust comes in nine colors (I loved the Quartz White Pearl), was mostly overlooked by the men.

Ground Zero Blues Club, Clarksdale, Mississippi

Ground Zero Blues Club, Clarksdale, Mississippi

Driving along back roads we passed rusted silos and cornfields to Clarksdale, Mississippi where the Delta Blues Museum tells the story of early blues legends, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, and where we stopped to chow down at actor Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club, a funky, fried green tomatoes, BBQ-fueled roadhouse that roars with the sound of electric guitars – – even at high noon.

After a dinner of BBQ (You can eat it twice a day!), cornbread and sides at the vintage 1948 Rendezvous restaurant back in Memphis, I wondered.  With all that history and all those blues, would I find my inner Eric Clapton?  Easily!  At the Westin I was able to order up a gold vintage Gibson guitar equipped with amplifier and headphones that was delivered to my room for the night.  Sweet dreams, Mr. Clapton.  Sweet dreams, Layla.

Charles Vergo's Rendezvous

Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous

Westin Memphis Beale Street – www.westinmemphisbealestreet.com
Ground Zero Blues Club – www.groundzerobluesclub.com
Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous – www.hogsfly.com

Cambridge, Maryland

Jordan Wright
August 31, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Cambridge city mural

Cambridge city mural

In an area where watermen and their history have customarily been the prime subject of writerly interest, it was “Chesapeake” author James Michener who noted the architecture of Cambridge’s High Street, referring to its splendors as “one of the most beautiful streets in America”, which is precisely where we begin our exploration.

Richardson Maritime Museum - Photo credit to Cambridge Artist Michael Rosato

Richardson Maritime Museum

Start in the center of town at the Richardson Maritime Museum where a wealth of artifacts and expertly crafted replicas of historic ships are on display.  Around the corner is the Ruark Boatworks, which affords a fascinating look at modern-day boat restoration and the building of traditional wooden bay craft.

Along the Choptank River

Along the Choptank River

Follow the cobblestone High Street toward the Choptank River and along the way admire stately 18th and 19th century homes, some meticulously restored, others awaiting a fresh coat of paint and some new shutters to be brought back to their original splendor.

Cambridge House Bed and Breakfast

Cambridge House Bed and Breakfast

A stone’s throw from the river is the Cambridge House Bed and Breakfast.  Built in 1847 in the Queen Anne style of architecture, the manor boasts six large guest rooms with private baths.  Mine was on the second floor with a private porch overlooking a lily pond.  The elegant home is furnished in the style of the period.  Wicker chairs provide the perfect respite for reading or watching passersby from an expansive front porch.  Jim and Marianne Benson and their adorable pooch Max (rescued by the couple while Jim was stationed in Cuba with the Foreign Service), are the gracious innkeepers.  They will gladly share their stories (Max is available to play fetch) and describe the history of the former sea captain’s home.  www.CambridgeHousebandb.com.

Homes along Cambridge's High Street

Homes along Cambridge’s High Street

A five-minute stroll towards the river will take you to the picturesque boat docks and self-guided tour of the replica Choptank Lighthouse, a six-sided screwpile lighthouse that contains a small museum focused on the nautical history of the area.

A mess of crabs ready for steaming at JM Clayton Seafood Company & The steam pots

A mess of crabs ready for steaming at JM Clayton Seafood Company and the steam pots

Turning back towards town I dropped in on Joe Clayton, great-great grandson of Captain Johnnie, founder of the JM Clayton Seafood Company where watermen have been bringing their crabs for picking and cleaning for five generations.  To arrange a tour of the plant, visit www.JMClayton.com.  Behind the old single-story brick building is local artist Michael Rosato’s hyper-realistic mural.  Painted on the side of an old caboose it depicts life along the river.

Mural Photo by Cambridge Artist Michael Rosato on JM Clayton Seafood

Mural Photo by Cambridge Artist Michael Rosato

Continuing along High Street stop in at Christ Episcopal Church and Cemetery, the burial place of four Maryland governors. Though the church was built in 1883, the lovely parish dates back to 1692.

The High Spot Gastropub

The High Spot Gastropub

Cambridge has recently undergone an exciting restaurant renaissance offering both chef-helmed dining as well as casual fare.  Try The High Spot Gastropub on Muir Street where Executive Chef Patrick Fanning lures guests with his elegant twist on classic American dishes using locally caught fish and farm-sourced ingredients.   Head-over-heels creations are Zinfandel Braised Beef Cheeks & Blue Crab Hash, Conch Chowder with a splash of Gosling’s Rum, and Oyster Pot Pie.

Oyster Pot Pie at High Spot & Zinfandel Beef Cheeks & Blue Crab Hash

Oyster Pot Pie at High Spot and Zinfandel Beef Cheeks & Blue Crab Hash

Back on High Street we pass scores of recently restored historic buildings, one of which houses the Dorchester Center for the Arts.  The 17,000 sq. ft. space is home to state-of-the-art classrooms, galleries, artisans’ gift shop and a large performing arts stage.

 Pastry Chef Adam Powley of Elliot’s Baking Company shows off his brioche

Pastry Chef Adam Powley of Elliot’s Baking Company with his braided challah bread

A few days before my arrival Elliott’s Baking Company opened in one of these beautifully restored turn of the century buildings.  Owner and longtime resident, Bernie Elliott, hired French Culinary School grad, Aaron Powley, whose repertoire includes traditionally made brioche, croissants, sumptuous French pastries and hearty artisanal breads.  Many of the local restaurants feature Powley’s breads and rolls.

Wine tasting at A Few of My Favorite Things

Wine tasting at A Few of My Favorite Things

Look around to find trendy boutiques and specialty stores like Squoze, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it grab-and-go spot for freshly made green juices, smoothies, sandwiches and wraps and a well curated selection of health foods.  Another can’t-miss is A Few of My Favorite Things, a gourmet gift and wine bar.  Here samples of their wines are poured by a sommelier while you nosh on delicious cheeses, spreads and charcuterie.  They are one of many spots in town to hear live music at night.

J. T. Merryweather of Reale Revival Brewery

J. T. Merryweather of Reale Revival Brewery

Stop in Reale Revival, known by locals as RAR, where industrial chic dominates the quirky cool décor.  The brewery, bar and lounge was started by Dorchester County natives, Chris Brohawn and J. T. Merryweather, who decided to quit their day jobs to make beer – – every armchair beer drinker’s fantasy.  Luckily for them their palates matched their enthusiasm and they have been producing exceptional artisanal beers.  On a hot day the Mine Layer Saison, an unfiltered summer beer in the Belgian Farm style pairs well with sushi and fish tacos from their extensive small bites menu.

On the road to Hooper's Island

On the road to Hooper’s Island

What’s the must-have meal on the Eastern Shore?  Why a mess of steamed blue crabs dredged in Old Bay seasoning and served with local corn on the cob, of course!  Try the Ocean Odyssey, a family-friendly spot with an outdoor deck on the Ocean Highway.  You’ll also find bison burgers, fish tacos and a large selection of beers on tap.  For a touch of French bistro cuisine, you’ll need reservations for the new Bistro Poplar.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

The next day a brilliant summer sun broke through the morning’s haze and after a hearty breakfast at the inn, I headed off for Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, a breathtaking 25,000 acre waterfowl sanctuary with a new visitor’s center, wildlife exhibits featuring Osprey and Bald Eagle cam monitors, and native wildflower gardens.  This spectacular gem lies 12 miles south of Cambridge along Bucktown Road.  Drivable roads and boardwalks wind through much of the forests and tidal wetlands affording miles of flat trails for hikers, cyclists and birders.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Tim Devine checks his oysters

A few miles southwest lies the windswept chain of islands known collectively as Hoopers Island, where I visited Barren Island Oysters, an oyster aquaculture farm owned and operated by internationally famed nature photographer Tim Devine.  Grown in a pristine cove and transferred to cages in the bay off Barren Island, the conditions offer a desirable salinity, producing  the sustainably raised plump, buttery-tasting triploid oysters that are preferred by many area chefs.  A well-known client in DC is BlackSalt restaurant.

Sold to top DC restaurants as the "Ugly Oyster"

Sold to top DC restaurants as the “Ugly Oyster”

Farther down the road is Fishing Creek, a small community dotted with crab houses alongside a warren of wooden docks harboring boats for watermen and sport fishing.  Founded in the 1700’s, it’s where Phillip’s Seafood began operations 100 years ago.

Old Salty's on Fishing Creek & Old Salty's killer all-crab crab cakes

Old Salty’s on Fishing Creek & Old Salty’s killer all-crab crab cakes

Have lunch at Old Salty’s, a seafood restaurant in operation for 31 years in a historic schoolhouse with sweeping views of the Chesapeake Bay.  The crab cakes here are luscious and destination-worthy – barely held together, lightly broiled mounds of creamy white, jumbo lump crabmeat.  Rockfish, scallops and other locally caught seafood are another big draw.  But before toddling back to civilization complete the journey with a slice of their towering coconut, lemon meringue or chocolate pies.

Towering Key Lime and Coconut Cream pies

Towering Key Lime and Coconut Cream pies

Mark your Fall calendar for these upcoming Cambridge events:

September 20th and 21st – The IRONMAN Maryland Triathlon is expected to draw 100’s of racers and their families and will dovetail with the town’s 38th Annual Outdoor “Summer Sendoff” street fair of “Blues, Brews and Barbecue”.

Photo credit to Jordan Wright

October 10th to 12th – The Cambridge City Art Fair – UK and Outdoor Street Festival at Guild Hall hosts where local and national dealers and gallerists feature current, as well as antique 18th and 19th century, paintings to view and buy.  For more information visit www.TourDorchester.org.

Falls Church Farmers Market Shines a Light on Local Chefs

Jordan Wright
July 17, 2014 

Summer's bounty from Tree and Leaf Farm

Summer’s bounty from Tree and Leaf Farm

Beckoning the supermarket-weary shopper are our local farmers markets and closest to me are the markets in Del Ray, Old Town Alexandria, Crystal City and Mount Vernon – four markets who have had my business for many years.  Recently I discovered the Falls Church Farmers Market, a producer-only market that is twice the size of the markets I have near home.

Kale Salad from Oh Mercy!

Kale Salad from Oh Mercy!

Here you can find Mercy Duncan-Bloomgarden’s “Oh Mercy!” line of Ghanaian-inspired sauces, salads and condiments.  Her kale, Fuji apple and goat cheese salad, green salsa and fiery hot sauces reveal a distinctly African dynamic.

Flower display

Flower display

This two-street rambling market is chock-a-block with fresh local products.  Herbs and flowers both cut and abloom in pots, sit alongside tents filled with dozens of varieties of farm fresh vegetables.  I found honey, juicy white and yellow peaches (I even spied watermelon with bright yellow flesh), turnips, beans, peas, heirloom tomatoes, green leafy veggies and tubers, all straight from local farms.  Handcrafted sausages, sustainably raised beef, lamb, rabbit and free-range chickens’ eggs could be found here alongside crusty Euro-style breads and scrumptious baked goods – to wit – pies to die for.

Nutella Crepes from Kate's Crepes - The Mushroom Man

Nutella Crepes from Kate’s Crepes – The Mushroom Man

What I didn’t expect to find were wines, doughnuts deep-fried on site, smoked salmon, made-to-order Nutella crepes, spun wool from a sheep farm, six varieties of gourmet mushrooms, home baked doggie treats, Turkish pastries, savory pastries, cheeses, fresh fish and soft shell crabs.  Just don’t expect to find what doesn’t grow, isn’t made or isn’t raised in the Mid Atlantic region.

Deep fried doughnuts

Deep fried doughnuts

What surprised me most was meeting Bonnie Driggers who teaches Botanical Art in the town’s library.  Editor of the new “Native Plants of the Mid Atlantic”, a stunning and informative book illustrated with beautiful botanical paintings by local artists interpreting the flora common to our area, she was there to field questions and sign copies of the book.

Christophe and Michelle Poteaux of Bastille Restaurant - Tasting the Zucchini Soup

Christophe and Michelle Poteaux of Bastille Restaurant – Tasting the Zucchini Soup

The Saturday I visited noted Chefs Michelle and Christophe Poteaux of Bastille restaurant in Alexandria were in the monthly “Chef Series” tent preparing and serving a delicious rendition of their Cold Zucchini Soup.

Caitlin Dysart/ Award-winning (Pastry Chef of the Year/ RAMMYS 2014) Pastry Chef/ 2941 Restaurant

Caitlin Dysart/ Award-winning (Pastry Chef of the Year/ RAMMYS 2014) Pastry Chef/ 2941 Restaurant

Tomorrow morning at 9am RAMW Award-winning Pastry Chef, Caitlin Dysart from 2941 Restaurant, will prepare and serve Butterscotch Budino with Stone Fruit and Thyme.  Dysart will source fruit and herbs from the market.

The Falls Church Farmers Market is located in the City Hall Parking Lot at 300 Park Avenue, Falls Church, VA 22046.   It is open every Saturday year round from 9am till noon. www.fallschurchva.gov/547/Farmers-Market

Twenty-four Hours In the Lap of Luxury at Salamander Resort & Spa

Jordan Wright
July 1, 2014
Photo credit Jordan Wright
Special to the Alexandria Times

2015 Hyundai Genesis at Salamander Resort & Spa

2015 Hyundai Genesis at Salamander Resort & Spa

An hour’s drive to the tony village of Middleburg doesn’t seem far at all when the end game is a posh five-star resort.  An overnight stay was planned to coincide with a test drive in Hyundai’s recently launched 2015 Genesis.  It seemed an appropriately prestigious match for the latest in luxury properties from founder, Sheila C. Johnson.

For our one-night getaway we chose Salamander Resort & Spa, a spectacularly posh destination in the heart of wine country where horses, spa treatments and gourmet dining were on our “to do” list.

The restored Aldie Mill

The restored Aldie Mill

Just past Gilbert’s Corners where Route 50 and Route 15 meet, you’ll come into the quaint town of Aldie.  If you have an hour or so be sure to stop in at the Aldie Mill Historic Park to tour the four-story grain mill where President James Monroe had his grain ground when he lived at Oak Hill.  Flanked by the merchant mill, storehouse and granary, the early 19th century mill is powered by tandem water wheels that still use the original French burr stones. It is quite a sight to behold.

Arriving at the luxury resort midday, we checked in at the concierge desk where guests are offered a complimentary glass of the day’s featured Virginia wine.  Very civilized.  Strolling around we began to notice the elegance of the hotel and its equestrian themed touches – room numbers decorated with stirrups, horse-and-rider silhouettes emblazoned on porch rails, lamps adorned with horseshoes, and grand reception rooms decorated in the style of many of the manor houses in hunt country.  Even the bellmen sport riding breeches here.  It’s all quite tasteful and understated.  But once you’re on a mission to find these elements you can spy them everywhere, even in the Main reception room, said to have been designed after Dr. Johnson’s private living room.

Sushi in the Gold Cup Wine Bar

Sushi in the Gold Cup Wine Bar

We took a simple lunch of sushi with a glass of Virginia wine in the Gold Cup Wine Bar, that takes its name from the area’s august biannual steeplechase race of which Salamander is a major sponsor. Then it was off to a Gluten-Free Cooking Class given by Chef de Cuisine, Chris Edwards.  Held in the state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen, the classes are part of an ongoing culinary teaching program, popular with both guests and locals, and overseen by the resort’s Culinary Director, famed DC Chef, Todd Gray.

Chef Edwards teaching the Gluten-Free cooking class

Chef de Cuisine Chris Edwards teaching the Gluten-Free cooking class

As we learned the science of baking with grains as diverse as buckwheat, sorghum, quinoa and millet, and turning them into popovers and pizza dough, we sipped complimentary champagne and nibbled on Pastry Chef Jason Reaves’ herb-infused version of ice cream sandwiches – – Blackberry Basil, bracketed by almond cookies, and Mint Chocolate, homemade spearmint ice cream swathed in chocolate cookies and dipped in bittersweet curls.  Learning can be so stressful.

Herb infused ice cream sandwiches

Herb infused ice cream sandwiches

Next on the agenda was the Mindfulness Trail Ride, a leisurely amble across some of the resort’s 340 acres.  Down at the stables, however, we discovered that the previous day’s gullywasher had rendered the trail too slippery, even for our sure-footed steeds.  Thankfully all was not lost when at Equestrian Director Sheryl Jordan’s suggestion, we substituted a woodsy ride for a riding lesson with one of the instructors, and after a carriage ride into the village with our coachman, James.

A carriage ride through the storied village oh Middleburg

A carriage ride through the storied village of Middleburg

Dinner was in Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill.  Named after Pamela Harriman, the socialite and former Ambassador to France who owned the original estate, it is the more formal of the two restaurants and a stunning showcase for the skills of Executive Chef Sean McKee.  Especially lovely were dishes enhanced by herbs and produce from the property’s two-acre kitchen garden.  Mozzarella Caprese salad was really a ball of creamy burrata nestled beside grape tomatoes, olives and fresh basil and came with a tableside drizzle of aged balsamic.  Lobster Seviche, served in a glass-lidded box, was strewn with microgreens and cilantro clipped fresh from the kitchen garden.

Lobster Seviche - Mozzarella Caprese Salad -  Spring Collection vegetarian entree

Lobster Seviche – Mozzarella Caprese Salad – Spring Collection vegetarian entree

Entrées are listed separately from “Cuts” which include beef, lamb and pork from neighboring farms.  A choice of seven different gourmet sauces includes escargot in garlic butter, chimichurri and foie gras butter.  A vegetarian entrée we found especially delightful was “Spring Collection” – a colorful array of seasonal veggies served with a cylinder of pan-seared polenta.  After dinner enjoy a stroll into the field for s’mores at one of the firepits, or catch a game of pool in the wood-paneled game room.

Ribeye steak at Harrimans

Ribeye steak at Harrimans

Regrettably we passed up sunrise yoga on horseback.  It sounded terrific in the brochure, but a dawn-breaking class was not part of our agenda, even if it does involve horses and getting your inner spirit in balance.  Instead we languished in the room (all have private patios overlooking the rolling countryside) with a full-on breakfast and freshly made green smoothies, before heading downstairs to the spa where I had booked a rejuvenating Vitamin C facial.  The sumptuous treatment involved a face massage with reparative serum, and while that was being absorbed into the skin, a relaxing foot massage.  Facials are just one of the dozens of restorative treatments and massages available in the holistically-inspired full-service luxury spa.

The heated infinity pool, one of three

The heated infinity pool, one of three

Afterwards a dip in the heated infinity pool, a jungle rain shower, replete with lightening and thunder, and a power nap on mosaic-tiled warming beds, prepared us for our departure.

Mosaic tiled warming beds in the spa

Mosaic tiled warming beds in the spa

Though the hotel was abuzz with guests due to the Upperville Horse Show (Salamander is also a major sponsor of this oldest horse show in America), we managed to secure a late departure.  It wasn’t easy to leave the comfort and luxe, but we toddled off along winding country lanes for a planned tour of RdV Vineyards, where Bordeaux grapes planted on a granite hillside mimic the terroir of the Bordeaux region.  Inspired by the unconventional owner’s vision – he lives in an Air Stream trailer on the property – they are producing some of the most revered wines to emerge from Virginia.

RdV vineyards overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains

RdV vineyards overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains

It is a quiet and modern place, built primarily underground in German Bauhaus style.  You won’t see buses filled with tourists, pets, kids or BBQ grills.  This is an exclusive and serious experience befitting wines of the highest caliber.  You’ll need to reserve in advance, but the informative tour includes a tasting of their premium wines, an experience you won’t soon forget.  We left laden with a few bottles, if only to keep the memories alive…

RdV Vineyards

RdV Vineyards

Traveling back on Route 50 in Upperville we decided to while away a few hours at the horse show, where the country’s top riders and their million dollar mounts are put through their paces.  We even spied former New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s daughter, Georgina, soaring over some daunting jumps while keeping an ear to owners’ and competitors’ running commentary.

Taking the jumps at the Upperville Horse Show

Taking the jumps at the Upperville Horse Show

Building up a ferocious appetite from mentally riding our imaginary horses, we fueled up at Hunter’s Head Tavern in the village.  Built in 1750, the restored Colonial log house serves superb British pub fare sourcing meat and eggs from the owner’s nearby Ayrshire farm.  Here you’ll find bangers and mash, bubble and squeak, and a terrific shepherd’s pie.

At Hunter's Head Tavern with the charming patio in the background

At Hunter’s Head Tavern with the charming patio in the background

I swooned over the liver and onions, a dish as scarce as hen’s teeth these days.  Before heading home we raised a pint to one of the tavern’s reputed ghosts.

Liver and Onions sourced from the owner's Ayrshire Farm certified humanely raised beef

Liver and Onions sourced from the owner’s Ayrshire Farm certified humanely raised beef

For information and reservations at Salamander Resort & Spa or to learn about their new Tree Top Canopy zipline tours visit www.SalamanderResort.com.  For a tour and tasting at RdV in Delaplane, VA, go to www.RdVVineyards.com.