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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.

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