When we headed to Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, VA, we expected spa treatments and superior cuisine, but what we experienced was even more rewarding: a sunrise yoga session that finished with poses on horseback, and a cooking class that reignited my passion for pasta.
Salamander Hotels & Resorts is the brainchild of Sheila C. Johnson, who cut her teeth in the music industry (founding the BET network with her former husband, Robert Johnson) before entering into the world of hospitality. She founded Salamander Hotels & Resorts in 2005, and the company’s portfolio includes Reunion Resort, the Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club and Hammock Beach Resort, all in Florida; Salamander Resort & Spa opened in the fall of 2013.
The sprawling 340-acre property resides at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the outskirts of historic Middleburg and features 168 spacious guestrooms, lush vineyards, a
comprehensive equestrian program, a state-of-the-art spa and a culinary program headlined by chef Todd Gray of the famed Equinox Restaurant in nearby Washington, D.C.
One of the aspects that makes the resort so enticing is its staff and their devotion to service. “There is a wonderful sense of arrival with a genuinely warm and friendly greeting,” says Dan Beschloss, executive director, industry relations, at Valerie Wilson Travel, who visited the resort shortly after it opened. “Whether it is the guest service staff at the front door or the team at reception, you are made to feel extremely welcome.”
home away from home
There are 100 ways you can lose yourself at Salamander—there’s golf, tennis, billiards, a sprawling library, hiking…the list goes on and on.
We started with food, stopping at the Gold Cup Wine Bar, which serves seasonal, Piedmont-inspired small plates, before finding ourselves at Salamander’s Equestrian Center, which is comprised of an immaculate 22-stall barn and a practice ring.
During the year, there are more than 400 annual equestrian-related activities at the property, including steeplechases, polo events and horse shows. Clients can take advantage of a unique roster of equine activities, namely the Equi-Spective Experience. This program is designed for guests to uncover communication skills (strengths and weaknesses), leadership and relationship styles by connecting with horses (no prior horse experience is necessary). Individuals achieve personal goals working with the horse and can learn valuable tools that they can take into their everyday life.
Other options for equine-inclined clients is the 1-hour trail ride, which teaches basic riding instructions before a horseback ride through the woods; the 2-hour mindfulness rides that allow riders to bond with the horses through unique riding techniques; Horses 101, a class that teaches about the daily care of the animals and also offers an optional bareback ride; pony rides for younger guests; and a variety of custom options.
in the kitchen
Owing to its family-friendly nature, the resort offers a wide variety of cooking classes for both children and adults. Classes can vary from demonstration-only to a complete hands-on, interactive affair. The cooking studio can also be booked for private meals for large groups and families.
Our group participated in an interactive cooking demonstration where we learned the fine art of ravioli making. While we sipped locally sourced wines that were paired with our meal, the chefs prepared the ingredients. When it came to preparing the dough, everyone was front and center for a hands-on (literally) experience. As we handled and shaped the dough, we learned valuable tips and tricks for attempting the recipe at home. The chefs were relatable, witty, fun and easy to understand, and the food (made by amateurs) tasted fantastic.
Dining isn’t only part of the instructional nature of the resort. Harrimans, the onsite restaurant, is fine dining at its best. Incorporating the recent farm-to-table trend, the establishment pays homage to regional Virginia Piedmont cuisine. Fresh seasonal ingredients alight to comprise a mouth-watering variety of entrees and menus that often reflect local culinary traditions as well as timely events. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, reservations are recommended and can be made online or by phone prior to your client’s arrival.
ready to relax
Salamander Hotel & Resort’s 23,000-sq.-ft. spa has 14 treatment rooms, an exclusive couple’s suite, an infinity-edge pool, a 10-station salon, experiential water features, and treatments for men and women. Unique treatment spaces offer private outdoor areas and gas fireplaces. The couple’s suite features a private terrace, a whirlpool and a shower; and the fitness center includes an indoor pool, a cardio room, a weight room, a movement studio and a sauna.
Yoga plays a big role at the spa and classes are available in the fitness center. For horse-lovers, equestrian yoga is a truly special experience that includes a sunrise yoga class held in the stables followed by a session of yoga poses done on horseback. There are also wellness packages available that combine both an equine experience as well as spa treatments. Travel agents who would like to arrange this for their clients should contact Salamander’s concierge directly for information, availability and pricing. It may take some time to set up, but your clients will never forget watching the sun rise while posing bareback on a horse.
There’s no such thing as a bad view at Salamander. Guestrooms are spacious, measuring 545 to 575 sq. ft. and offering a sitting area as well as an outdoor balcony with chairs, a cocktail table and views of the surrounding countryside. While half of the guestrooms feature a gas fireplace, all 17 suites have one, which adds to the country estate feel of the property.
Standard amenities in each guestroom include a flat-panel TV in the bedroom, a 15-inch LCD TV in each bathroom, a marble shower with body jets, a pedestal tub and dual sinks. Adding to the friendly feel of the resort, rooms also accommodate pets and, when the weather is just right, Yappy Hour (happy hour for dogs) will make all pet owners wish they had brought their furry friends.
“Salamander presents a wonderful opportunity for travel professionals in that I see it as a conference resort during the week and a luxury FIT leisure resort for families or couples on the weekend,” says Beschloss. “The resort has an amazing equestrian program, as well as outstanding food and beverage options, not to mention a thoroughly enjoyable spa. Travel advisors will have an easy time selling this to a wide cross section of clients.”
He also notes that, for agents with clients in the northeast U.S. region, it’s a fairly easy 4.5-hour drive from New York City.
Navigating the myriad activities available on the property can pose a challenge, but there are many resources for agents.
“The concierge is a tremendous asset for those who are not familiar with the Middleburg area,” says Kelly Merryfield, director of travel industry sales, Salamander Hotels & Resorts. “In addition to on-property activities, they can also suggest wineries, sightseeing tours and restaurants in town.”
When it comes to providing a unique experience for clients visiting the area, Merryfield recommends taking time to find out exactly what they are looking for. “We are in the business of creating memories,” she adds. “The more information an agent can give the resort about their clients, such as ages of children, information about their pet’s breed, travel arrival and departure information, allergies, etc., aids us in making the experience special.”
To make the experience special and affordable, Salamander, a member of Preferred Hotels, offers various niche-focused packages including Dreaming of a Culinary & Wine Experience; For You and Your Horse; and Tally Ho Fox Hunting Package. Starting rates at Salamander Hotel & Resort are $275 per night. ●