ABOVE PHOTO: Sheila Johnson on SRS grand lawn.
By Renée S. Gordon
“In riding a horse, we borrow freedom”
On April 20, 1861 Robert E. Lee resigned his US Army commission and declined Lincoln’s request that he take command of the Union forces. On April 23rd the Governor of Virginia named him commander of Virginia’s Confederate Army and a little over 1-year later he assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia. In correspondence, he stated that though he believed in the Union he could never bring himself to fight against his home, his Virginia.
A trip through Loudoun County allows visitors to view the countryside as Lee did. The county, much of it considered part of the D.C. Metro area, is an ideal place to explore colonial history, Civil War sites, equestrian trails and venues, fine dining, unique shopping opportunities and splendid accommodations, all nestled near the Blue Ridge Mountains in the heart of the state’s wine country. The county has 40 wineries and 83 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
Many credit Sir Walter Raleigh with naming the colony Virginia after Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. In the early 1600s, all of the English land in America was known as Virginia. The first permanent English settlers in America landed in Jamestown in 1607 to claim land granted to them by James I. They brought with them ideas and concepts that would grow into both what would make the nation great and those that would prove to be deeply divisive. The state that brought forth Patrick Henry, whose words ring through the decades, “Give me liberty or give me death,” was also the 1619 site of the first Africans in the nation to be purchased for servitude. www.virginia.org
Loudoun County is situated in the picturesque northern portion of the Piedmont, “foot of the mountain”, Region. The county is named in honor of former, Governor General of Virginia, Major General John Campbell, 4th Earl of Loudoun. Interestingly it is believed that he never visited the colony. It was created in 1757 about 30-years after it was initially settled by the English from the Potomac River to Middleburg.
Revolutionary War Lieutenant Col. Levin Powell purchased 500-acres that would become Middleburg in 1787, at $2.50 an acre, from George Washington’s cousin Joseph Chinn. The site was a midway point on the Ashby Gap Trade Route, currently Route 50. Since the early 1700s Chinn’s Crossroads, as it was then known, had provided rest and respite for travelers, settlers and traders. For 300 years Middleburg has offered cutting-edge hospitality and it maintains its reputation as an ideal location to dine and lodge and from which to explore all the wonders of Loudoun. www.middleburgonline.com
Sheila C. Johnson, one of the most lauded African American entrepreneurs in the nation, is founder and CEO of the luxury Salamander Hotels and Resorts. Each of her properties incorporates her personal vision but none more so than Middleburg’s 168-room Salamander Resort & Spa. It opened in 2013 with a creative combination of equestrian and nature themes throughout the public and private spaces. The destination resort is situated on 340-acres that once belonged to Pamela and Averell Harriman where horse and wine country intersect and charm and genteel hospitality abound.
The long, curving driveway is designed to give visitors glimpses of what is in store for them and evoke the feeling of entering the grounds of a grand estate. The porte-cochere leads directly into a very welcoming “living room,” modeled after the one in Johnson’s home. It features cushy seating groups and bookended by fireplaces. So much attention to detail has been paid that the Living Room floor is designed to “creak” as do those in historic homes.
The Library to the left s filled with 2,000 books and the perfect chairs in which to read them. Adjacent to the Living Room on the right is the Gold Cup Wine Bar and Billiards Room. A state-of-the-art cooking studio offers regularly scheduled classes. Guest rooms are tastefully decorated and are located on four floors, each representing a season.
Health and wellness are important aspects of Salamander’s overall commitment to their guests. The 23,000-sq. ft. spa features all of the standard services with the addition of a signature therapeutic massage, an infinity pool, a tepedarium and innovative, immersive, personalized treatments. My favorite “experience” is the shower with settings to choose shower styles from rainstorm to arctic mist complete with sounds and lights.
All of the visitors don’t walk on two legs. Salamander Resort is equally welcoming to guests who choose to bring along their horses and has special packages that include boarding your horse in the modern 22-stall barn. If you opt to leave your horse at home the resort can still arrange trail rides and educational equine classes.
Throughout the resort you will see artwork created by Johnson from her photographs. Her signature line of scarves is on sale in the gift shop and the profits help fund her numerous philanthropic endeavors. If you visit one resort this year it must be Salamander Resort & Spa. www.salamanderresort.com
Salamander Touch is located in Middleburg and features exquisite items to enhance your lifestyle and extend the resort experience beyond your visit. This is an opportune place to purchase those special gifts. www.salamandertouch.com
Middleburg is recognized as the “Horse and Hunt Capital” of the country and as such a walk through town provides glimpses into equestrian culture through its boutiques and antique shops. By the beginning of the last century this was the main region for foxhunts and steeplechases. Because of these equestrian events, the opportunities for fine dining and the relative obscurity it was often visited by the Kennedys. All of the venues along the main street and tucked into the lanes and streets adjacent to them are totally unique. Stores and eateries are located inside buildings that date from the 1700s and it is not unusual to dine beside movie idols and Washington D.C. movers and shakers. Most of Middleburg’s historic buildings have survived.
Joseph Chinn selected Middleburg as the site of a tavern, Chinn’s Ordinary, in 1728. The ordinary was constructed of 30-inch fieldstone walls that provided a safe place to sleep and eat for colonists including George Washington in 1748. In 1812, Chinn’s Ordinary was enlarged and renamed the Beveridge House and 50-years later became a frequent stop for Confederate soldiers including Jeb Stuart and Colonel John Mosby. The tavern was, for a time, a Confederate headquarters and the inn rooms functioned as a hospital. The current Tap Room service bar was formerly a field-operating table. Jacqueline K. Onassis lodged in the inn when participating in foxhunts, it was a favorite of Elizabeth Taylor and during the Kennedy administration Pierre Salinger, held press conferences in the JEB Stuart Room.
The Red Fox Inn & Tavern, the “oldest original inn in America,” continues the tradition of fine dining and exemplary service. The menu showcases American regional cuisine. Their signature dish is peanut soup but you will not be disappointed no matter your choice. The inn was listed on the (NRHP) in 1997. www.redfox.com
Market Salamander is described as a “working chef’s market” where guests can purchase gourmet foods or individual meals. The market is entered through barn doors and the décor replicates that of a regional market. Guests can dine in the inner courtyard under a sky blue ceiling. www.marketsalamander.com
The National Sporting Library and Museum (NSLM) is located just off Route 50 and is one of the city’s treasures. The mission of the library and museum is to display and promote sporting art and research. The library dates from 1994 and contains a collection of 30,000 books, 5,000 of them in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room. The museum’s permanent collection consists of more than 200 artworks. The oldest book, on dueling, dates from 1523.
The NSLM was established in 1954 with the library housed in an antebellum home. In 1999 a larger, carriage-style, library was erected and the art museum was relocated to the renovated house. The library is beautifully designed with window seats and other comfortable seating areas. Fine and decorative artworks are displayed throughout the rooms that further interpret outdoor sporting tradition.
The art museum is only a few steps away but it is hardly sufficient time to prepare to be awed. Guests are greeted by a stunning sculpture, “Still Water,” by Nic Fiddian-Green. This 10’ 2” hammered lead piece is a monumental horse’s head that perfectly encapsulates the overarching equestrian theme. The paintings represent outdoor sports in a variety of eras. Another of the gems of the collection located in the museum is a sterling silver coach and four that is so detailed that the horn and crop are removable. The piece was originally crafted for Alfred G. Vanderbilt’s dining table.
Paul Mellon was one of the NSLM’s patrons and while reading about the Civil War he learned that 1.5-million horses and mules died or were wounded during the course of that war. In 1996, he donated “War Horse,” a bronze sculpture by Tessa Pullan, to recognize the contributions made by these animals. The memorial is located at the entrance to the complex. www.nsl.org
Greenhill Winery & Vineyard is located just off Route 50. It is the newest of the county’s wineries and offers a uniquely different experience as well as superb views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The 128-acre complex consists of 11-acres of vines, a tasting room, 1762 manor house, horses and a special French breed of cattle, the Charolais.
The Tasting Room is open daily and affords guests an opportunity to try some of Greenhill’s award-winning wines. Visitors can purchase light food, ham, cheese, bread and chocolate.
The 1762 manor house is for the exclusive use of club members. The house was originally one room wide and two wings were added in 50 year increments. Three major tasting rooms are currently featured with original architectural elements. Greenhill is an ideal place to watch the sunset and listen to one of the unique musical programs they regularly schedule. www.greenhillvineyards.com
Isabelle Truchon is Greenhill’s planner, decorator and architect of programming and an addition to Middleburg’s story of female creativity, skill and entrepreneurship. The line stretches from an early 1800s female owner of the Red Fox Inn & Tavern to the women of today like Sheila Johnson who are forging a future for the city grounded in the past. Visitors can plan a girlfriend’s getaway and share a sense of camaraderie with girlfriends you did not know you had.
No matter how you choose to experience Middleburg it will leave an indelible impression. www.visitloudoun.com
I wish you smooth travels!
There was a time we simply viewed television shows and if they were mega-hits they might sell an action figure or a lunchbox or a doting mother would throw a towel around your neck so you could be superman. All that has changed. Now there are all types of novelty items and video games so you can sustain the thrill. This season travelers have entered the fray with guided trips to movie locations.
“Turn,” the Revolutionary War-era spy series, premiered on April 6, 2014 on AMC. It began filming last year in Central Virginia at a variety of historic sites that are now sites on “Turn: The Trail.” The trail is interactive and includes espionage activities, museums and film sites. Watch the show and then live the history. Planning resources can be accessed at www.Virginia.org.
“Pirates” has completed its season but it will return and you had better be ready. The 15th Annual Blackbeard Pirate Festival will be held in Hampton, VA May 30th-June 1st. Hampton has a rich maritime history, much of it focused on the pirates who plundered the coast in the 17th and 18th centuries. Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, was the most formidable. In 1718 he was captured and his head was displayed near Hampton Creek. Blackbeard and his crew will live again at the festival. Activities include a Pirate Ball, skirmishes between pirates and the militia, an encampment, tall ships and Blackbeard’s funeral parade. www.blackbeardfestival.com
Zicasso Luxury Travel is offering a tour of “Game of Thrones” filming locations in Croatia. The 7-day guided tour features locations from all four seasons and Croatian historic sites. Additional highlights of the tour are a lesson in falconry, a visit to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a catamaran trip. www.zicasso.com