Yesterday, my husband and I returned from a three-night getaway at the lovely Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia…and I already miss it. My husband will be super swamped with work soon so he wanted to do a mini vacation while he had the chance! We initially considered going somewhere tropical like Puerto Rico, but we dialed it back and chose a place located just an hour and ten minute drive from DC.
The drive from DC to Middleburg is beautiful; there are lots of farms, vineyards, and rolling hills, so our drive to the resort was quite scenic. Salamander is located just off the main drag of Middleburg, a quaint town (population: less than 700!) in Virginia’s horse and wine country. Fun fact: the founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts is Sheila C. Johnson, a founding partner of BET. We didn’t know that detail prior to booking, but after I found out I was thrilled to be supporting a resort owned by a minority woman. #girlpower
Salamander is on a 340-acre property that includes (get ready for this): a hotel, bar, restaurant, meeting and events center, spa, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, basketball courts, an equestrian center, fire pits, a giant outdoor chess board, archery, yoga and fitness classes, lawn games, bike rentals, nature hikes, art classes, a cooking studio with classes, and even ziplining. I’m sure this insane list doesn’t even cover everything! They’re also a dog-friendly property (no cats, though). So if you can’t find something to do there, you’re probably a total dud. 😛
We noticed right away that the level of service at Salamander is first-rate—quite honestly, almost to the point of being a bit much for us jaded New Yorkers (can we still call ourselves that even though we moved a couple months ago?). Seriously, we’re still adjusting to people being attentive and polite! We arrived before check-in time, so our room wasn’t quite ready yet. While we waited, we decided to stroll the half mile in near-90 degree weather to the main strip and have a snack at Market Salamander, a cute spot affiliated with the resort. Our room was ready when we came back; it was large, comfortable, and had this gorgeous view of the property:
We were pretty tired from the travel even though it wasn’t a long drive (let’s just go ahead and blame the heat), so we rested in the room until dinnertime. In the late afternoon we started hearing thunder rumbling and as we went to scope out the pool before dinner, this storm started to roll in:
The rain starting coming down hard not long after we sat down for a drink at the hotel bar, Gold Cup. The wind was blowing sideways and there were loud thunderclaps and bolts of lightning. It was pretty fun to sit inside and sip on a cocktail while watching a huge thunderstorm rage outside!
We ate dinner at Gold Cup and the food was very good. Unfortunately, I only remembered to take a photo of our shared appetizer, which the kitchen kindly separated onto individual plates for us: salt roasted beets with watercress, pistachio yogurt, and mint. So beautiful and tasty!
My husband got the sashimi omakase and I had a portobello burger, which I really enjoyed. After dinner we went into the back room of the bar to have some wine and play pool. That room has SUCH great carpet for a carpeteer like myself! 😛
The next morning we had breakfast at Harriman’s Virginia Piedmont Grill, the “proper” restaurant at the resort. I wasn’t all that hungry so I just had a bagel and cream cheese, but my husband had a ranchero scramble that he really enjoyed.
We had been wanting to visit Luray Caverns, which is only about a seventy-minute drive from Middleburg, so we figured this trip would be the perfect opportunity to go. Friday was shaping up to be very hot and humid again, so it was a great day to stay cool deep underground. On the drive to Luray we passed Skyline Caverns, which also offers tours, but we’ll save that for another trip. Luray holds hourlong tours starting every twenty minutes throughout the day. During the tour you walk about a mile and a half and end up quite far underground (about 165 feet, if I remember correctly). It gets chilly the deeper you go, so I recommend bringing a jacket—and wearing comfortable shoes, of course!
The caverns are beautiful—natural wonders like this are JUST SO COOL. I’ve visited a couple caverns in the past (Meramac Caverns in Missouri and Green Grotto Caves in Ocho Rios, Jamaica) and they never cease to amaze. It’s like a whole other world down there! I’m only sharing a few photos here, but suffice to say I’d recommend visiting Luray Caverns if you find yourself in the vicinity. It’s hard to get a true sense of scale unless you see the caverns in person.
The below formation is seven million years old. !!!!
The Cathedral Room is the deepest point in the caverns, and they even hold wedding ceremonies down there. Can you imagine getting married in a setting like that?! Amazing.
Tour tickets include admission to the Car & Carriage Museum, so we popped inside after the cavern adventure. I wasn’t all that interested in going to the museum, but they had a pretty impressive collection of antique cars—Stanley Steamers, Model T Fords, fancy old Rolls Royces, and more. Very cool even if you’re not a car buff.
When we returned to our hotel we rested in the room for awhile before our dinner reservation at Harriman’s. The menu has some overlap with Gold Cup, and there are enough options that you could eat at both places several nights in a row and not order the same dish twice—even as a vegetarian. To start, we decided on the grilled and chilled asparagus appetizer, a seasonal dish consisting of green and white asparagus served on a bed of spicy whipped ricotta and topped with marcona almonds. Everything we ate at this hotel looked so pretty—and tasted good, too!
My husband got the fried chicken entree, which he LOVED. Even though I generally don’t like meat I tried a bite of his chicken, and it was super moist and flavorful. I don’t usually say this about meat, but I actually would have eaten a little more of it! For my entree I chose the pan roasted potato gnocchi with spring vegetable ragout, roasted oyster mushrooms, and Appalachian fonduta. SO GOOD. The portion was actually just right for me, and I ate every bite.
One thing to note about the dining at Salamander: their butter is out of this world! It’s whipped and I think it might have a bit of honey in it (they have an apiary on-site), so it’s incredibly soft and sweet and kind of difficult not to devour with a spoon. Also, their bread is amazing, whether it’s the toast at breakfast, the bread basket at dinner, or the buttermilk biscuits that came with the fried chicken. CARB HEAVEN.
After our amazing dinner we took a spin around the lawn to walk it off a little, and then we ordered glasses from the bar and took them out to one of the fire pits. We had a really nice time chatting with some of the guests out there. It’s such a relaxing setting, and everyone loves a fire pit. You can even order a s’mores kit from the bar for $20 and take it out to a fit pit to make your own dessert. We were definitely too full to partake in that activity, but it looked fun.
On Saturday morning we went back to Harriman’s for breakfast, and that time I opted for an omelet with swiss, tomatoes, and mushrooms. The omelet was pretty standard, but I was in love with my multigrain bread spread with that incredible sweet butter on top!
We decided that Saturday would be an R&R day. The outdoor pool didn’t open until 11am (the hours are limited before Memorial Day) so we walked around the property after breakfast to kill some time. We checked out the very nicely organized culinary garden:
And visited the horses at the equestrian center:
Here’s the view of the resort from the Hunt Barn:
By the time we made it to the pool it was pretty overcast and a little chilly—in the mid-60s—so we never really warmed up enough to want to go in the water. But it was great to just relax in a lounge chair by the pool:
While we were by the pool I got the itch to play tennis, so we went back to our room to change, then borrowed complimentary racquets and balls from the fitness center. I took private tennis lessons from the ages of 11 to 17 and I played on the team in high school; back then I was a fairly decent player. I haven’t played that much since then and I’m certainly not a teenager anymore, but I can still hit a decent shot. Tennis is hard on my feet and I’m not in the best shape so I’m a VERY lazy player now; I basically only hit the ball if it comes to me. If I have to run for it, forget it. Still, I managed to hang in there for about 45 minutes of play, which is actually quite good for me. I even won a couple games against my husband, who has had no formal tennis training but is naturally athletic and in much better shape than me.
After our tennis adventure we rested in the room for a couple hours (Do you see a theme here? When we travel we like to do an activity in the morning, then rest and relax before dinner). There are several wineries in Middlebug and we figured we couldn’t leave town without visiting at least one. We settled on going to the closest one, Boxwood Estate Winery, which is only a mile from the town center. My husband had actually been there on a work trip a few years back, but he said it was nice and didn’t mind going again.
The vineyard is beautiful and the tasting room is also very nice, with a clean, modern vibe. It wasn’t busy at all, probably because we went so late in the day. We tasted through four wines: a 2016 Sauvignon Blanc (the estate’s first white), a 2016 Rosé, and two red blends: the 2014 and 2015 Trellis. We liked each of the wines and ended up buying four bottles—the Sauv Blanc, 2 of the Rosé (for #summerofrosé, duh), and the 2015 Trellis.
After the wine tasting excursion we drove back to the hotel, then walked over to the main strip in town and had dinner and drinks at Red Horse Tavern. The place was alright, nothing special—just your standard pub food (I had nachos, my husband had a steak & cheese sandwich). But it was a whole hell of a lot cheaper than the food at Salamander, so we saved a lot of money on dinner that night!
After dinner we walked back to the hotel and settled by the fire pit with a glass of wine again. As it got dark and guests finished up their dinners, they trickled on out to the fire pit. We meet and talked with several more groups of people out there—lots of nice folks, some from DC. I always wonder if we’ll ever run into people that we randomly met while on vacation. It hasn’t ever happened….yet.
On Sunday morning we had breakfast at Harriman’s again, then packed up our stuff and said goodbye to the hotel. We were sad to leave, but because Salamander is so close to DC we will very likely go back again, even if it’s just for a night. We really loved our stay at Salamander, and there’s so much to do there that we could go multiple times and not get bored.
Writing these blog posts is such a fun way for me to document our trips. I hope you’ve enjoying reading about our mini vacation as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about it!