Founded by the intrepid entrepreneur Sheila Johnson, the Salamander Resort & Spa is a stunning 340-acre luxury equestrian hotel. Located in Middleburg,VA, near Washington DC, the resort is especially popular among the rich and famous. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live on a country estate, this black-owned resort will give you a taste of the elegant, yet understated, lifestyle of the Washington power brokers who live in Virginia horse country. The property was once the equestrian retreat of British-born socialite Pamela Churchill Harriman, and is now open to those seeking a relaxing getaway or a time to connect over business.
In 2022, the 168-room luxury property received the prestigious Forbes Five-Star designation for the fourth consecutive year, and for the first time, the Salamander Spa also received the coveted award, making it the only five-star spa in Virginia.
The Five-Star Salamander Spa
Awarded the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star designation in 2022, the Salamander Spa offers a holistic health and wellness program tailored to your specific well-being needs, including integrative and regionalized treatments, along with educational workshops and results-driven therapies. The spacious complex—an homage to nature featuring natural stone and wood design elements— includes a stunning couple’s suite for tandem treatments, aromatic steam rooms, a lush private courtyard with an adults-only infinity-edge pool and a posh spa lounge. The spa’s innovative treatments go far beyond standard massage with offerings like magnetic therapy and a farm-to-treatment ritual based on the four seasons of the year that incorporates essential oils from local native plants, herbs, botanical blooms and organic fruits. Try the Rasul – a Moroccan-inspired therapy that takes place in a heated ceramic dome and uses a re-mineralizing mud to break down impurities in the skin. Pump up your heart rate in the state-of-the-art fitness center and cool down in the year-round indoor pool. Try an outdoor yoga class with the whole family or lower your stress level with a meditation class.
“As a hotel company, our approach to hospitality is the same as it is to family: you will always belong, always feel welcome, respected, appreciated, and special.”
Equestrian-Themed Luxury Hotel
The Salamander Resort & Spa’s public spaces are purposely designed to feel like a Virginia country home, with a casually elegant and spacious living room area for relaxing with friends and family in front of one of the fireplaces. There is also a fully stocked library with warm wood shelving and plush leather furniture, that invites guests to take a break and curl up with a good book to enjoy their vacation.
All of the guest rooms and suites are spacious and offer either a balcony or terrace, and many feature fireplaces—in fact, the Owner’s Suite has two! The décor is country chic, with luxurious linens and equestrian-themed touches designed by Sheila Johnson, and each room or suite features unique artwork and accessories at the Salamander Middleburg. Bathrooms offer pedestal tubs, large walk-in showers, flat-screen televisions and plush robes and bath towels. All design is intended to envelope guests of the hotel in elegant comfort in the heart of Virginia’s beautiful wine and horse country.
Salamander Middleburg treats all guests like family. Canine guests receive in-room amenities including a luxurious bed, food and water bowls, organic treats, a special toy and waste bags. Pet friendly rooms are located on the Terrace level for easy access to the spacious grounds and include a semi-private stone terrace, where you and your pooch can relax. And, because this is an equestrian resort, you can also bring your own horse who will also get “winner’s circle” treatment in the resort’s Equestrian Center.
Horseback Riding, Sports and Activities at Salamander Middleburg
Only 140 acres of the 340-acre resort are cleared and 25 of those acres are dedicated to the equestrian center. Thus there are miles of riding, hiking and biking trails for guests to enjoy on the Salamander Resort property and throughout Middleburg. And although other resorts in Virginia may offer horseback riding, there are few that allow you to bring your own horse. But you don’t have to be a horse owner to experience the sporting life through the resort’s wide range of equestrian classes, ranging from beginner riding lessons to more advanced dressage techniques. The Equestrian Center at Salamander Middleburg includes a 14,000-square-foot stable with 22 stalls, nine paddocks and a state-of-the-art outdoor riding arena with ThorTurf footing. Group and private trail rides, as well as pony rides for young family members, are available and the center is open daily for guest visits, where kids will enjoy seeing the resort’s mascot, a miniature horse named Cupcake.
And although the resort has an equestrian focus, you don’t have to be a “horse person” to enjoy the plethora of activities—there is literally something for everyone in the family to enjoy. A complimentary putting green, zip lines, lawn games like life-sized chess, bocce ball and croquet, indoor and outdoor pools, hiking trails, guided nature tours, falconry, tennis, art classes, disc golf, a spa and a wide range of culinary classes and activities offer hours of fun and relaxation for visitors of all ages.
The Salamander Resort & Spa Family Reunion
The resort also hosts unique special events like the second annual Family Reunion, scheduled for August 18-21, 2022. This multi-day immersive event was designed to celebrate racial and ethnic diversity in the current and future generations of hospitality professionals. The event, created by Chef Kwame Onwuachi in partnership with Food & Wine magazine and Salamander Hotels & Resorts, includes cooking demonstrations, panel discussions and daily “family meals”, where guests and celebrity participants can interact. This year’s lineup includes some of the industry’s best chefs and cookbook authors including Carla Hall, Rodney Scott, Nina Compton, Gregory Gourdet, Mashama Bailey, Tavel Bristol-Joseph and Pierre Thiam.
Fine Dining Virginia Getaway
Foodies will find a wide range of culinary adventures at the resort from fine dining and seasonal menus at Harriman’s Virginia Piedmont Grill to weekly wine seminars at the Gold Cup Wine Bar. Cooking classes are offered at Harriman’s Cooking Studio, which also doubles as a private Chef’s Table for exquisite farm-to-table dinners. Locals and travelers alike enjoy dining at the Salamander’s restaurant.
Using fresh regional and seasonal ingredients—including those from its Culinary Garden—Harriman’s is known for dishes like its Wagyu ribeye steak, impressive seafood towers and roasted foie gras. Take a stroll through the culinary garden before dinner or relax with an after-dinner drink by the cozy firepit. And don’t forget to try Salamander Middleburg’s signature cake, a decadent six-layer masterpiece created by Executive Pastry Chef Jason Reaves, known on The Food Network for his award-winning cake designs. Guests may order a whole cake to take home for a sweet souvenir and, if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind gift, shipping is available for this indulgent treat.
Offering lunch, dinner and carryout, the casual yet sophisticated Gold Cup Wine Bar features a variety of soups, sandwiches, salads and small plates, as well as fresh sushi on the weekends and an extensive selection of Virginia wines and craft cocktails. Drop by on Saturday afternoons for a weekly complimentary wine tasting hosted by a local winery.
An easy walk—about seven minutes— from the resort, Market Salamander in the village of Middleburg was actually Sheila Johnson’s first venture in the hospitality industry, years before the Salamander Resort & Spa opened. The gourmet market evokes an Italian village market with its smell of freshly baked bread and offers a variety of grab-and-go items, including house-pickled vegetables and local preserves. Enjoy breakfast all day, savor lunch on the covered deck or pick up a gourmet picnic basket for your outdoor adventure.
Experience Middleburg, VA While Staying at the Salamander Resort & Spa
If you’re a wine aficionado, you’ll want to explore some of the 50 wineries that are within a 60-minute drive of the resort. If you’re also an equestrian, start with Greenhill Winery & Vineyards, a winery with its own polo team that participates in Virginia United Polo. Another must-visit destination for oenophiles is Cana Vineyards & Winery, the winner of the 2022 Virginia Governor’s Cup. The first female winemaker to ever win the modern day Governor’s Cup competition, Melanie Natoli’s 2019 Unité Reserve took the grand prize, while her 2019 Le Mariage racked up a gold medal and five other Cana wines were awarded silver medals. Also worth a wine-tasting trip is 50 West Vineyards—their 2019 Ashby Gap also took home a gold in the 2022 Virginia Governor’s Cup. RdV Vineyards is another unmissable winery to visit in the area.
If you prefer shopping to sipping, head to the charming village of Middleburg to find some one-of-a-kind treasures. Known for their custom design services, Mystique Jewelers also carries several upscale jewelry brands to add sparkle to any ensemble. Antique lovers should head for Antiques on Washington Street for English, European and American furniture and a large selection of Staffordshire dogs. The Middleburg Antique Gallery also features an impressive selection of Staffordshire, as well as English and Scottish furniture and a little bit of everything else with more than 40 dealers under one roof. For more history of Equestrian sporting life in Virginia, visit Middleburg’s National Sporting Library and Museum. For unique home décor and stunning gifts from around the world, visit Terri Pakravan’s Atelier Design and Décor, where you’ll find everything from fine art to statement jewelry.
For equestrians who just can’t get enough, the Virginia Gold Cup Races and International Gold Cup Races are held annually in Northern Virginia in Spring and Fall respectively.. Just down the road from Salamander, you’ll find the annual Upperville Colt & Horse Show, the oldest Hunter/Jumper competition in the United States.
If you fall in love with the village of Middleburg and the Salamander Middleburg Resort & Spa, you may never want to leave—and you may not have to. Sheila Johnson invites you to share her passion for luxury resort living in this pastoral setting with her curated collection of 49 homes within the resort grounds, where residents enjoy all the resort has to offer year-round.
Whether you visit Salamander Resort & Spa for a quick getaway, an equestrian program, a vacation packed with possibilities or an inclusive event like the annual Family Reunion, Johnson sums up the Salamander experience perfectly saying “As a hotel company, our approach to hospitality is the same as it is to family: you will always belong, always feel welcome, respected, appreciated, and special.” ~
The resort’s design architect is the visionary WATG while the architect of record is the talented team at Architecture Inc., of Reston, VA. Project Management for Salamander Middleburg was provided by the well regarded MGAC of Washington, D.C., while the general contractor was Turner Construction Company of Washington, D.C. known for their superior workmanship. Interior design inspiration was supplied by famed designer and author Thomas Pheasant, and interior design completion was provided by Kent Interior Design of Atlanta who ensured every detail was perfect.
Discover more luxury resorts in Virginia Wine Country. The iconic Keswick Hall Resort has been recently refurbished with a new spa, a Jean Georges restaurant, guest rooms, golf course & more – a beautiful resort in wine country near Charlottesville Virginia. Up in northern Virginia, the Omni Homestead Resort offers a stunning spa and natural hot springs along with historic sites, dining, equestrian activities and more.
is a freelance writer specializing in arts, entertainment, travel with pets, and European destinations. Author of Fido’s Virginia and Fido’s Florida (both Countryman), she is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and lives in Richmond, Virginia with her German Shepherd, Lola, and her cat, Gizmo.
you might like
Virginia Wine & Country celebrates elevated living in Virginia Wine Country. Virginia Wine & Country Life is a semi-annual luxury print magazine with a full digital presence. The Virginia Wine & Country Gold Book is an annual guide to the top award-winning wines, wineries and experiences in Virginia Wine Country. The annual Virginia Wine & Country Wedding Planner is an art book of elegant Virginia weddings. Virginia Wine & Country tells the stories of Virginia wineries, the farm-to-table movement, luxury travel, entertaining, art and the elegant country lifestyle. Ivy Life & Style Media also provides branding, web design and PR services for the wine industry.