We decided to forego big New Year’s plans this year to join a few friends at the Salamander, Sheila Johnson’s newly opened Middleburg, VA property. The highly-anticipated resort opened earlier this year, and while everyone had heard the buzz, we didn’t know anyone who’d been yet, so we decided to take the plunge.
The drive out there is always more annoying than it should be. Lots of stop and go on 50 (aka the John Mosby Highway) and then curvy roads as you get to the smaller towns of the “country.” The Salamander was so new that our car GPS didn’t recognize it, but Apple maps did (whew). In fact, Salamander is pretty easy to find. It’s located just behind the main drag in Middleburg, off one of the side streets. As we pulled up to the resort, G remarked that it looked just like the photos. It did. It also reminded me of the Allison in Willamette, Oregon. Similar idea, I guess.
The place itself is lovely, and the staff is very welcoming. It seemed that if you were standing there by yourself for 5 minutes that someone would come up to greet you and ask if they could help. The main lobby had roaring fires and plenty of comfy furniture for you to lounge on. The library was suitably clubby, complete with book collection and chess set. The bar – more on that later – looked inviting as well.
Although Salamander is dog-friendly, we decided not to bring ours. With the weather as cold as it was, we weren’t sure which areas would be okay for them and which would be off-limits. Not to mention they aren’t the best behaved. When we got to the room and saw the staff setting up the “pet amenity,” I had a moment of regret … They would love the cute dog bed by the glass doors leading out to the patio, water bowl, biscuits … In the summer, this would be perfect. Sit on the patio and drink wine in the country, dogs sitting happily with us. Not so much in the dead of winter.
The room itself was nicely done, with a good sized living area and a spacious bathroom (with its own TV). Everything looked – and felt – luxurious. Much like the rest of the resort.
For lunch, we went into Middleburg, waiting longer for the valet than it took to drive to town. Supposedly there’s a shuttle or the resort has cars to take you, but it might be a good idea to pave a walkway for guests to go on foot on a nice day. The short drive just meant that some of us had to show moderate restraint with wine at lunch. Poor them!
After lunch and some shopping, we repaired to the bar, which was a ton of fun. The bar featured large, flat screened TVs for watching sports and a nice pool table, as well as groups of small tables and chairs. We sat at a “big boy” table, with high leather bar stools that swiveled – bonus! The drinks were good – my red wine hit the spot, while the cocktails looked great. All topped off by pleasant service.
From there, G and I each went to the spa, which is suitably tranquil. The women’s area is tastefully furnished, with quiet, relaxing locker room and dressing area. In the warren of the locker room, there was a steam room, whirlpool (which was lukewarm when I dipped my foot in), showers, hair and nail salons, relaxation room and treatment rooms. The robes were nice and fluffy, and there were attendants picking up after you immediately – useful when I accidentally left my ring in the robe pocket and had to retrieve it!
My 50 minute facial was wonderful. I’m not sure what the aesthetician did – I fell asleep – but my skin felt hydrated and plump for the first time in months. It might be winter outside, but I felt like I glowed.
Now the downside. I’d read that the food was iffy – I wasn’t a good judge of dinner, partly because I was famished by the time we sat down for our late meal and partly because it took so long to get our appetizers. Our server was … amateur, if I want to be charitable. She wasn’t familiar with the menu – it’s salsify not “selfie” and “corrected” our friend on her drink selection. Hmmmm …. This didn’t sit well with our group, and so while our food was fine, the service detracted from the overall experience. It’s likely just growing pains, but service in the dining room stuck out – in a bad way.
In contrast, the sommelier was pleasant, charming and knowledgeable, picking a very nice Italian wine for us. We wanted to invite him to the bar with us after dinner, that’s how much we liked him!
All in all, a lovely experience (with just the dining service hiccup), and sure to be even more enjoyable when the weather warms up. Next time, we’ll bring the dogs for a picnic on the patio ….