Special feature & giveaway guest post by Keryn Means.
Shenandoah Valley in Virginia
I visited Middleburg, Virginia, with Go Blue Ridge Travel and Trekaroo in June. This tiny town is in Virginia’s prime horse country. As you drive into town you are welcomed by farm after farm raising and boarding horses for riders in the area. In fact, we were in town during the Upperville Colt and Horse Show. As we entered town, we noted all of the riders in their riding pants and boots grabbing a bite to eat. Riders from up and down the East Coast descended on the Valley for the week to show off their skills. One of the main places to see horse country in action was the Salamander Resort and Spa.
Salamander Resort and Spa
Sheila C. Johnson created this luxury retreat, now part of the Preferred Hotels & Resort group, after buying the former D.C. socialite Pamela Harriman’s horse farm. Just 35 minutes from Dulles International Airport, the 340-acre resort is home to 168 rooms and suites, a full equestrian program offering everything from pony rides and trail rides to one-on-one lessons and boarding for visiting horsemen and women, and two dining options that will make it hard for you to leave the resort to explore the town.
Kids are certainly not forgotten at the resort either. Cooking classes, kid-friendly menus, zip-lining, a family pool with splash pads for little ones and an activity center offers craft projects are just a few of the fun things your kids can look forward to while visiting. The Great Lawn has a giant chess set and corn hole (a game that requires you to toss bean bags into a circle hole cut into angled planks of wood). It is the perfect place to unwind after a long day or let the kids roast marshmallows as the fireflies start to appear when the sunsets.
Walking into the resort you feel as though you have stepped into your favorite aunt’s (massive) living room. Big glass windows take up the back wall letting in plenty of light to bath the blue and cream tones of the décor. As you walk toward reception, you will see the library, which instantly invites you to pick up a book and cozy up on a leather couch by the fireplace. To the right of the Living Room you will find the Golden Cup Wine Bar, a local happy hour spot and easy place to unwind after a day in the pastures training with your horse or exploring the Shenandoah Valley with your family.
Our guestroom on the fourth floor had two comfortable queen beds, a dining table, 40-inch screen TV the boys insisted on trying out the second we walked in the door (after they had tested the beds of course) and a balcony where my husband and I enjoyed a glass on wine while our boys were falling asleep. The only thing better (or at least as good) as that glass of wine before bed was the bathroom’s giant soaker tub, which was a welcome sanctuary after a very long and stressful week.
Salamander Resort Activities
Bright and early the next morning, my boys were up and ready to go. I had ordered room service the night before to satisfy those grumbling bellies while my husband continued to sleep and I got ready for a visit to the spa. I can’t think of a better reason to wake up than to get a massage. I arrived early for my massage so I could enjoy the steam room (perfect if you suffer from allergies), programmable rain shower and warm whirlpool. There was also an outdoor heated pool that only spa guests were allowed to use. The pool deck had plenty of chairs to lounge in with a book or to catch up with friends. My massage with Kerry Minter was the highlight of my entire visit, however. Minter had worked as a mail carrier for years, but always dreamed of helping people through massage therapy. He quit his job and went back to school. I am so glad he did. Kerry was knowledgeable, respected my privacy and worked out some knots that I thought had settled in for good over the winter.
Completely relaxed, but knowing my little family was ready to explore, we drove the three minutes into town. The Saturday Farmers Market was in full swing when we arrived in center of Middleburg. There weren’t many vendors, but I was able to pick up a pile of strawberries to keep the boys happy while we walked through the perfect horse country town.
Everywhere you turn you are reminded of this town’s primary interest. The Middleburg Tack Exchange sells horse wear, while the numerous galleries along West Washington Street (Route 50) highlight horses in many of the paintings and sculptures. If you aren’t a big equestrian fan, there are plenty of shops for you as well. My boys loved exploring the Fun Shop, a maze of eclectic goods with a very nicely sized toy section on the top floor in the back. I was more interested in Lou Lou, a clothing store that can now be found in DC and around the East Coast. Middleburg boasts its original location. The owners are local and the large store certainly holds its’ own in this tiny town. Olio is the place to go if you enjoy olive oil tasting and their tea selection was also superb, while the chocolate wine at the Shenandoah Chocolates was definitely a surprising find.
Horseback riding at the Salamander Resort
Having toured the town, we headed back to the Salamander Resort equestrian center for the boys’ pony ride and my trail ride. The resort equestrian program is top notch and ready to teach any skill level. My boys have never had formal riding lessons, but my oldest felt comfortable taking a turn around the meadow on a pony named Flea with the handler. My youngest liked the idea of the pony, but didn’t actually want to climb on top. While the boys ran off to the pool, I hopped on Whiskey, a handsome brown horse, for a guided trail ride through the Salamander property. Trail rides are offered for children 13 and up, but if you have a younger child who is a proficient rider, just talk to the staff. Usually they will test your child’s skills quickly to make sure they are ready for the very easy ride. The trail heads up and down hills, but never requires much work on the part of the rider. It can be hot in the summer months, but there is plenty of shade and fun conversation to be had with your trail guide.
Watching the Twilight Polo
We also had the opportunity to go to the Great Meadows for Twilight Polo, probably one of the most exciting activities of our trip. I have never seen a polo match before. After working in the Hamptons as a photo assistant for a few years after college, I was familiar with the equestrian lifestyle, but we photographed more horse competitions, not polo matches. I didn’t know what to expect. My oldest and I arrived as the sun was beginning to set, and we saw a crowd of people up on the lawn. This was the best place be. Families had pulled out lawn chairs and picnic blankets. Kids were running around, while 20-somethings said hi to friends they hadn’t seen all week. This is a weekly tradition for some families and they do not mess around with their food. I saw everything from a stack of Little Caesars pizzas to homemade fried chicken with all the sides you could possibly want. Wine, cheese, crackers, mini quiches—they all showed up in beautiful picnic baskets with real china and silverware. Women dressed up in cute sundresses and maxi skirts, while the men wore polo shirts and button-down shirts over their khaki shorts and pants. This was not a dirty t-shirts and ripped jeans kind of event, but not stuffy either.
The actual polo match was what I figured a polo match out to be. My son picked his favorite team (blue) and started cheering away as the horses and their riders zoomed down the pitch after a small ball, trying to whack it into what looked like a door opening. I didn’t think we would stay very long, but when I told my son it was time to go during half-time, he refused to budge. He needed to find out who won the match. There was no way he could leave now! Astonished that he even cared, I plopped myself back down and we stayed until the end. I’m still not sure who won, but my son was happy and had found a new sport to cheer for, which is all that mattered.
There are 50 wineries within an hour’s drive of the resort. We drove about 20 minutes to Barrel Oak Winery, perfect winery for parents to go with their kids. You do have to pay for tastings, but the wine is decent and there is usually live music on the weekends plus wood-oven pizzas available for purchase.
One night we dined at the resort’s Golden Cup Wine Bar. Burgers, steaks and even pretty decent sushi were on the menu, along with a beet salad you will not want to miss. The kids’ menu offered the usual fare for little ones. Our other dining option would have been Harriman’s, the fine dining restaurant at the resort. Their exquisite dinner menu draws from the local flavors and fresh ingredients from the onsite garden that guests are welcome to walk through to see what is in season.
Harriman’s also does a gorgeous breakfast buffet that my children loved. You walk into the cooking classroom just off the main dining room and are instantly greeted by trays of macarons, tiny lemon meringues and fruit tarts. These are just the beginning of your feast. The omelet station was quick and efficient with plenty of healthy ingredients like peppers, spinach and tomatoes to start you day off right. The boys loved the pancakes and when my five-year-old son asked if they had blueberry pancakes and I said no, an attendant swooped in and whispered to me that he could have blueberry pancakes rushed out to us if we needed them. We were content with a large pile of bacon, eggs and French toast, but my heart gave a little squeeze just knowing that this restaurant knew that happy kids made for happy parents (and vice versa of course). Anything that could be done to make our morning better, they would do.
We spent most of our weekend in Middleburg, but felt like we wanted to see a little more of the area before heading home. We drove west to Upperville, to eat at the Hunter’s Head. This English tavern is better known for their lunch and dinner, but brunch is definitely worth a visit, especially if you can sit in the garden. Their crème brulee French toast is a unique rush of sugar, especially if you give it a generous drizzle of syrup. The sweet potato biscuits with honey butter were a hit with all of us. One thing that we continued to find in the Shenandoah Valley: the commitment to farm to table dining. This was most evident at the Hunter’s Head as they use organic, local and non-GMO meats and produce whenever possible.
Family-fun in Winchester, VA
My husband and the boys also visited the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum in Winchester while I ran down the street to Nibblins to take a macaron cooking class.
Nibblins, a cookwares store and cooking school that offers classes for both kids and adults, is the brainchild of Susan Dolinar. She regularly teaches classes, as well as pastry chef Shanna Avila from Bon Matin Chez Leroy Bakery and Café. Chef Avila was my instructor in all things macarons. Shanna had us create four different macaron flavors, including vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and carrot cake. I found out that macarons are fickle creatures that hate humidity and any extra water of any kind. Basically the best time to make them is around Christmas. Macarons are time consuming, but actually fairly easy to make. They are gluten-free, although certainly not nut-free (almond flour is the base), but at least the gluten intolerant can enjoy them.
Go Blue Ridge Travel makes it easy to plan a child-friendly trip
We arrived in Middleburg not really sure how kid-friendly it would be, and we left knowing our kids would be mad if we didn’t bring them back with us on a return visit. The Salamander Resort and Spa made it easy to escape city life, but the Shenandoah Valley was what really captured our hearts. As we drove home late on Sunday, I was still marveling at this little slice of Shenandoah Valley that we had discovered. There was so much more to do than I could ever imagined. I would have guessed that my husband and I could have a romantic getaway, but bringing the kids might not have crossed my mind. Thanks to the Kids Trail, part of the Go Blue Ridge Travel website, I was able to quickly search kid-friendly activities in the area. I didn’t have to bumble around and try to figure it all out on the fly. Everything I needed was in one convenient site.
Disclosure: This post is part of a campaign with Trekaroo and Go Blue Ridge Travel. I have been compensated for this post and most of my travel was covered. As always, my opinions are my own; when they aren’t you will be the first to know.
Guest post by Keryn Means. Keryn is the founder and editor-in-chief of Walking on Travels, an award-winning site that gives hope to today’s active parents who don’t want to stop their lives; they simply bring their kids along for the ride. You can find Keryn dragging her two boys around the DC area most days and across the globe several times a year.