“The Couple Massage Experience welcomes guests into a private suite for a half-day and features fireside massage tables, private soaking tub and outdoor seating area with private hot tub,” explained Salamander Resort & Spa General Manager Reggie Cooper. In an interview, we discussed the origins of the property, top-tier suites and luxury interior design, signature dishes and drinks, the on-site equestrian program and much more.
Just over three years ago, Salamander Resort & Spa opened its doors. Tell me a little bit about the origins of the property and how it came to be.
The opening of Salamander was a long time coming. Ms. Sheila Johnson had moved to the Middleburg area to be closer to where her daughter was training for equestrian jumping competitions. Many years later a 340 acre portion of the property that Ambassador Pamela Harriman had owned, was brought to her as a real estate development. At this point Ms. Johnson had sold Black Entertainment Television which she and her now divorced husband had co-founder in the 80s. She had decided that she wanted to start a new form of luxury properties that offer elegance and be icons of the communities where they are.
Knowing the incredible interest in Middleburg form equestrian competitors who would come here, combined with the rapid growth in wine production in the Middleburg AVA and the ease of access from Washington, D.C. and through Dulles and Leesburg airports, Ms. Johnson set out to build a resort that would help the community of Middleburg prosper as a whole. The property was 80% completed when the economic downturn approached and the construction was actually put on hold for two years until times improved. The resort opened to great fan fair in August of 2013 and has quickly risen to become one of the great destination resorts in the country.
In terms of luxury accommodations, the Owner’s Suite is particularly noteworthy, as is the owner, Sheila C. Johnson. What makes this suite so unique, and how does it represent the owner’s personality?
So much of Ms. Johnson’s own style and sense of décor can be found throughout the resort. Before the resort planning had begun, Ms. Johnson had done a renovation and expansion of her home, Salamander Farm. Working with renowned interior designer, Thomas Pheasant, they took a lot of the residential touches from her farm and incorporated them into the resort. The Library and Great Room are meant to feel like you are in someone’s home. Guests often remark that they feel like they are staying at a “rich uncle’s estate”. In the rooms and suites there are special features like built in cubbies in the limestone lined showers so that soap, shampoo and towels are always easy to access. Half of the rooms have fireplaces and all rooms have a private balcony or terrace to enjoy the beautiful views of the surrounding lawns and wooded areas.
What are some of the signature dishes and cocktails you might recommend first-time guests of the property?
One of our most popular drinks is “the H” which is a twist on a Hendricks gin drink. Of course, because of the numerous vineyards in the area, we feature a lot of different wine flights showcasing local favorites like RdV Vineyards, Greenhill and Boxwood wines in our Gold Cup Wine Bar. We offer signature food items in all of our restaurants taking advantage of the abundance of local providers of poultry, produce, meats and seafood. A special and new item at Harrimans Grill is the Double Cut Berkshire Pork Chop from the property’s new Executive Chef, Ryan Arensdorf. In the Gold Cup Wine Bar have a wide all-day menu but some of our social plates are a great way to start a meal or just to enjoy in the grand terrace. Our ever-changing cheese and charcuterie program features housemade honey from our Salamander bees on-property, Buratta Cheese and Truffle Salumi.
Zip-lining, archery, tennis, golf privileges and more are all available on-site, but perhaps the most comprehensive and one-of-a-kind offering is the equestrian program. Whether one is a beginner or a professional rider, what kinds of activities would you encourage guests to experience?
The focus on the equestrian experience is a very unique part of Salamander Resort & Spa. For some guests their inclusion in the equestrian scene can be as simple as walking the grounds and visiting with the horses as they graze in their paddocks, enjoying some of the competitive polo and show jumping that is in the area on most weekends from April through November or enjoying a scenic trail with our staff through the woods of the estate.
Some of the more extensive programming is a feature of EquiSpective activity which is a form of self-leadership development using the working horse as the communicator to break down barriers in confidence or release stress or trauma. It is skillfully lead by our Equestrian Director, Sheryl Jordan, who is widely noted as a pioneer in the area of horse communication. Another very unique part of our equestrian programming is our on-site relationship with Destination Middleburg who offers guests the opportunity to learn about the game of polo and get instruction on the basics of the game including swinging a mallet all the way to mounting a horse and playing a modified game of polo in our riding ring. Basically in an hour even the newest rider can be taught to play the game and participate on horseback in a game of polo. Guests get a keepsake booklet and a souvenir Salamander logoed Polo ball.
Finally, to relax, rejuvenate and recharge, what are some of the more exclusive spa treatments on offer at Salamander Resort & Spa, for both men and women?
In the Salamander Spa we offer over 30 different treatments in our 24,000-square foot sanctuary spa. The Spa features 14 beautifully appointed treatment rooms with most having a private outdoor terrace, a couple’s Rasul treatment room, an expansive outdoor infinity edge pool with fire pit and hot tub for year-round use and a unique couple’s suite. The Couple Massage Experience welcomes guests into a private suite for a half-day and features fireside massage tables, private soaking tub and outdoor seating area with private hot tub. A little lunch and beverage can also be served in the private courtyard. This unique space is part of what has led to the Salamander Spa recently being voted as the Most Romantic Spa by American Spa magazine.