I’m not a horse person, per se. I haven’t been around them much, other than the ones in our neighbor’s yard that I used to sneak sugar cubes to when I was a kid, and I’ve never had the urge to hop on a saddle and trot around, let alone gallop. And yet, here I am, climbing on a 1,200-pound Norwegian Fjord named Odin and heading out for an afternoon ride.
You may wonder what, after 31 years of being slightly timid around horses, has sparked my equestrian interest. The answer isn’t quite a what but rather a where. I’m visiting Salamander Resort & Spa, a luxurious country estate in Virginia’s horse, hunt and wine country, and I’m not about to pass up the chance to roam a few of the property’s 25 equestrian acres.
After adjusting my helmet and giving Odin a friendly nudge, off we go. But we don’t get very far. As I watch the rest of the group leisurely trot toward the trail through the woods, Odin, surprisingly keen to my inability to steer, meanders in the opposite direction and stops to graze on a patch of grass.
Despite my feeble attempts of softly patting his back and verbally coaxing him—“C’mon, boy, follow your pals up ahead”—he could clearly sense that I had no idea what I was doing, and he had no intention of giddying up.
Thankfully, our guide noticed the difficulty I was having right out of the gate (literally) and came over to assist, instructing me to be firmer with my kicks and use the reigns to steer Odin back to the trail. Before long, we’ve rejoined the group and I’m feeling relaxed as we traipse through the quiet woods, experiencing nature in a way that I never have before.
As relaxing as the trail ride turns out to be, I’m about to experience unbridled levels of tranquility at Salamander Spa, complete with aromatic steam rooms, sun-drenched relaxation spaces and a secluded spa courtyard with an infinity-edge pool and cabanas. The spa’s main interior is adorned with sophisticated blue tiles, with a stunning Vitality Pool that beckons to be soaked in and heated Tepidarium loungers ready for relaxing. In total there are 23,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor spa and wellness amenities, including a couple’s spa suite and 14 exquisitely appointed treatment rooms.
The treatments here are incomparable to what you’d find at most standard spas. They offer Rasal, a unique, Hammam-inspired thermal mud treatment offered in a private ceramic temple; wraps geared to anti-aging and full body exfoliation; a selection of facials aimed at healthy skin and radiant glows; and a variety of massages, including Deep Tissue (focused on releasing chronic muscle tension); Well Being (Swedish-style) and even a Couples’ Experience which includes 25 minutes of suite escape time and a complimentary glass of Prosecco. I opt for a specialized Balancing Treatment, which calms the mind, refreshes the feet and energizes the lungs, and I leave feeling more rejuvenated and centered than I have in months.
The sun is just beginning to set over Salamander’s gorgeous landscape, so I take the opportunity to explore the property by foot. Salamander sits on 340 acres where guests can take part in all kinds of activities like hiking, tennis courts and lawn games including croquet, bocce ball, cornhole and life-sized chess. The scene is more serene today, though. Guests are relaxing by expansive firepits and sipping wine on cushioned patio furniture by the ivy-adorned terrace.
I journey down to a quiet pond where benches are placed for gazing on the water, then back up the hill where I discover a delightful garden. There are rows of swiss chard and lettuces of vibrant greens and purples, along with an aromatic assortment of fresh herbs, situated among flowers and vines bursting from the sides of paths and twinkling lights strewn above, lending a magical feel to this lush outdoor space. It’s here in the culinary garden where chefs select the freshest ingredients for flavorful dishes featured at Salamander’s onsite restaurant, Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill, where I’m dining this evening.
The menu at Harrimans celebrates the rich resources and history of Virginia’s most abundant region. Menu selections from the Butcher’s Block abound, with items like Not Your Mother’s Pork Chop featuring pork from Autumn Olive Farms in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley; or a Cowboy Cut, 2-ounce prime bone-in ribeye with smoked pancetta pesto. But there are plenty of succulent seafood dishes, as well as some vegetarian options to tempt every palate.
Finding it impossible to decide on just one of these impeccable options, I go for an assortment, starting with the Crispy Cauliflower—perfectly crunchy cauliflower florets, coated in a delicate sauce and topped with Calabrian chili, parsley and Parmigiano Reggiano. Next on the lighter side: Salt Roasted Beets diced and topped with watercress and mint, paired with toasted pistachios and with a smattering of yogurt; as well as Honey Glazed Rainbow Carrots, served with spiced Greek yogurt, parsnips and Carrot Top Salsa Verde. For my main course I indulge in Applewood Smoked Diver Scallops in brown butter with a smooth cauliflower puree, truffle vinaigrette, preserved lemon relish and aged Villa Manodori Balsamic. Desserts at Harrimans are not to be missed, with seasonal options available to tempt a variety of sweet tooth cravings, each with the option of being paired with a sommelier’s suggestion.
After-dinner drinks are recommended in the resort’s opulent study, adorned in rich, dark wood with leather furniture, fireplaces blazing, assorted reading material and a luxury 3D edition game of Clue. Maybe tomorrow. Tonight I’m ready to rest my head in a comfortably lavish room and prepare for another perfect day in Virginia’s hunt and horse country.
More to Explore
Salamander is home to a wealth of activities that guests can experience on-site without ever having to leave the resort.
Join Salamander chefs each Saturday morning for an interactive cooking class featuring seasonal menu offerings.
Pick up a putter and enjoy the complimentary putting area.
Spanning more than 20 acres of the property, this exhilarating, professionally guided experience is comprised of a series of rope bridges and zip lines varying in length from 90–670 feet.
However, if you do feel like exploring further, the charming town of Middleburg is just minutes away. Here are some recommended places to visit:
Crème de la Crème
Whether you’re looking for fine dining accessories, ornate linens or a whimsical accent piece for your home you’re sure to find it inside this well-appointed shop with roots in French and Italian impression. ShopCremeDeLaCreme.com
The Fun Shop
Looks can be deceiving, and what looks like a tiny shop from the street view lures visitors into rooms upon rooms of gifts, soaps, books, home décor and all the fox and horse décor you could ever wish for. TheFunShop.com
Greenhill Winery & Vineyards
As one of the foremost boutique destination wineries in Loudoun County, Greenhill offers quality wine in a breathtaking hunt country environment. GreenhillVineyards.com
An ideal spot to grab lunch inside the inviting café or outdoor patio, Market Salamander offers gourmet sandwiches, soups, sides and boxed lunches, as well as a wonderful assortment of pastries. MarketSalamander.com
Red Fox Inn & Tavern
Simply put, a visit to Middleburg is incomplete without a stop at Red Fox. Established in 1728, this Virginia landmark offers hearty meals inside a historic fieldstone inn and tavern. RedFox.com
Hunt for more at VisitMiddleburgVa.com.