Visit to Middleburg spa and horse ranch was relaxing [Commentary]


Years ago when I interviewed Olympian equestrian Joe Fargis who said he had a horse ranch in Middleburg, Va. Without looking it up on the map, I assumed it was a few hours away. A few weeks ago, I drove there and found out it's only a 45-minute drive; but once I got there, I did feel like I was hours away from Beltway and city traffic, hectic work schedules and deadlines.

My destination was the 340-acre Salamander Resort and Spa, which opened August 2013 in Middleburg and is definitely designed for relaxation. With a luxurious and subtle equestrian theme throughout, the resort fits in well with the wooded horse country. Salamander's stately building is surrounded by rolling, well-manicured lawns. There was even a horse-driven carriage out front that a guest had reserved when I checked in. The lobby has an old-world appeal, with hardwood floors, dark furnishings and a large library, with about 2,000 books for guests to read.

I know it was probably 100 degrees outside, but once I entered my room, I couldn't resist flipping the switch to the gas fireplace across from my bed to create a relaxing ambience. I simply blasted the air conditioning and it was perfect. When I went down to relax on a window seat in the library to read later that evening, I was glad to see that the large gas fireplace there was roaring and the room temperature was fine. The room had sofas, love seats and quaint niches designed so others could enjoy the room without disturbing those nearby. I almost went to sleep but I had a great view of the expansive lawn that had an outdoor fire pit, surrounded with Adirondack chairs, where several people were enjoying the nightly marshmallow roasting. Also, in the adjacent designated living room, a pianist and saxophone player started playing a medley of smooth jazz. There were lovely sofas and loungers spread throughout the room and the fireplaces on each end of it were flickering.

I took a seat on an ottoman in front of the fireplace one near the band. A group of women from New York sat across from me on a sofa. They came down to get away from the hectic pace of the city they said, and looked very relaxed as we enjoyed the music. We exchanged stories about the resort's 23,000-square-foot spa (that has a fireplace, too), and services that we agreed put us all in a Zen state of mind. I loved the oversized personal shower room that let me pick whether I wanted a rainfall, thunderstorm, misting or other variety of shower. I tried them all. It was also great to relax and read outside on a soft lounger, with drapes for privacy and overhead beams at the spa's private pool. The resort has a separate outdoor and indoor pool for other guests.

I did get active while there — I worked out in the fitness center, I used the indoor pool and I went horseback riding at the resort's richly appointed 14,000-square-foot, 22-stall stable. Thankfully they have horses and trails for all skill levels and ages. Some guests bring their horses with them and board them there. There's also a large riding arena with Thor Turf, dustless sand that I'm told riders love. The trails are scenic and they even offer horse whispering classes and yoga on horseback.

I didn't do any of that, although I do enjoy horseback riding. I've even ridden a horse in the ocean in the Bahamas, but I must admit, I'm not that good at it. However, the experienced staff members were very patient and made sure I had a gentle horse, Whiskey, who was beautiful but so tall that I had to use a stool to mount him. Part of my riding experience included time to get acquainted with the horse and a riding lesson.

As for the food, I had the best hummus, lobster ceviche and decadent pecan scones. They even have a large herb garden on the property where I saw chefs picking ingredients for that night's dinner menu.

There's a lot to do in Middleburg, such as boutique shopping. Golf is nearby, and there are wine tastings at local vineyards, but several people told me they were happy not moving their vehicles, and so was I. Maybe I'll do some of the other stuff next time and even try the resort's new zip line experience, or just relax all over again.

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