Three Excellent Winter Getaways Hiding in the Hills of Virginia
From a resort in horse country to winery hopping in the Shenandoah Valley
Only two months into the year, and 2021 has already brought us enough drama to fill the full 12 — between the insurrection of the Capitol and the lawyer who had to declare on Zoom that he is not, in fact a cat, we’re ready for a vacation.
Even during more normal times, the chilly monotony of winter is best served with at least one relaxing escape from the city. But considering we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, that vacation will, and should, look different from the ski trips and resort visits you’ve taken in the past.
That said, many health experts agree that local travel to places where you can participate in mainly outdoor activities are fairly low risk as long as you are being vigilant in taking the necessary precautions. For Washingtonians, the best, easiest place to get away to is Virginia — a state whose border takes less than half an hour to cross, but whose roads you can explore for countless hours.
From luxe resorts to — believe it — some ski-ready slopes, here’s how you can get away from it all this winter without going too far from home.
Salamander Resort & Spa
Driving over the sloping pastoral roads of Loudoun horse country, you’d never expect to come upon a resort like Salamander. Located mere minutes from the town of Middleburg, the acclaimed destination sits upon 340 acres of pastoral land.
The LEED-certified country manor is something of an enigma: it was founded by Sheila Johnson, the co-founder of BET and the first Black woman to attain a net worth of at least $1 billion. Johnson is also the only Black woman to have ownership in three professional sports teams: the NBA’s Washington Wizards, the NHL’s Washington Capitals and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
Johnson also had a hand in designing aspects of the tasteful, equestrian-themed bedrooms at the resort, in 50 percent of which guests can find a cozy, personal fireplace. It’s touches like this that distinguish Salamander, and make it a luxury resort with warmth and personality perfect for a family vacation or a couple’s retreat.
Walking in, you’ll notice that the main corridor is actually meant to feel as if the guest is arriving at a friend’s home rather than a five-star hotel. A grand lobby opens up on either side to a cozy library full of sitting areas, a fireplace and books galore. To the other side is Gold Cup Wine Bar, where you can grab a cocktail or two upon your arrival.
Besides the obvious vacation activity of imbibing, most of Salamander’s other attractions can be found in fresh air. A 22-stall horse barn is available on property for trail rides, or you can take part in anything from a zipline canopy tour to archery instruction to axe throwing. Afterwards, take a visit to the resort’s 23,000-square-foot spa and its outdoor heated pool. Spa offerings include a CBD massage that will quite literally melt your tension away.
Surrounding the hotel, you’ll find the town of Middleburg, which is only a seven-minute walk if you decide to get there on foot. There, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time, as the quaint streets are lined with charming shops, cafes and restaurants. Venture out further and you’ll find 50 wineries within an hour’s drive, as well as innumerable trails to hit if you’re looking to spend some time in nature.
Driving from Washington, DC over to Shenandoah is a fairly quick and easy journey with a big reward. With the Blue Ridge Mountains as your backdrop, the area provides local travelers with endless options for socially distanced outdoor activities, whether you plan on hiking in the National Park or not.
For nature lovers, hitting the trails in Shenandoah National Park is a no-brainer, but for those looking for something a little different, there is also Luray Caverns, the largest cavern system in the Eastern United States. There, marvel at the clear pools of water that reflect the sight of the towering stone columns that surround them.
Don’t forget a trip to one of the best wineries in Virginia while you’re there either: RdV Vineyards in Delaplane. Named after co-owner Rutger de Vink, RdV is known for bottling master Bordeaux-style blends that are smooth on the palate and age well should you decide to bring several bottles home. The grounds of the vineyard are also stunning and worth an afternoon tour.
Settle in for the night at The Inn at Little Washington, a smaller boutique hotel that first began back in 1978 as a restaurant. That restaurant still exists, by the way, albeit now with the accompaniment of three Michelin stars. The restaurant also gained some local attention last year when they decided to fill empty seats with mannequins. Now spanning 24 acres with mountain views, the property is a real escape from city life.
It would be a crime to make winter travel recommendations without mentioning a place to hit the slopes. During a time where outdoor activities are the safest move, what could be better than gliding down a mountain, in your own world and headspace? The answer is nothing, and luckily there are plenty of spots within a few hours’ drive of DC to get you there.
A sure bet is Wintergreen — just about a three-hour drive from the city. There, you’ll find the only ski area on the East Coast where all its terrain is covered by automated snowmaking. That means that any weekend this winter that you decide to pay the resort a visit, you’re guaranteed fresh powder.
Also unique is the way the resort is situated. It’s one of the rare spots you’ll find that skiers start at the top of the mountain and make your way down the slopes to the chair list. From the ski-in, ski-out condos and lodge, you’ll find yourself surrounded by stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
To create that coveted après-ski experience, simply take a trip over to Devil’s Backbone Basecamp Brewpub, where you can reserve a private fire pit pod for warming up with a couple of brews and up to five friends.
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