The rural hills begin to lift and drop as the road narrows from four lanes to two and we make our way toward Middleburg, Va. Forty miles southwest of the nation’s capitol, Middleburg is set in the lush foothills of the Blue Ridge and Bull Run mountains. Low stone walls gracefully wind through the rolling terrain. Hay bales, tree-shaded lanes, clapboard farmhouses, and grand manor houses all contribute to the allure of Virginia’s horse and fox hunt country.
George Was Here
The hamlet was established in 1787 by Leven Powell, a colonel in the Revolutionary War. Powell named it Middleburg because it was midway along the Ashby Gap trading route, which is now Highway 50, between the cities of Alexandria, Va. and Winchester, Va.
A young George Washington once surveyed this land. Nearly 200 years later, Jackie Kennedy galloped on horseback across its lush hills as she rode with the Orange County Hunt in the 1960s.
Middleburg still occupies the same five-by-two-block grid laid out by the first president. It’s literally a one-stoplight hamlet where boutique shops, cafés, art galleries, and historic inns create a downtown simply made for strolling.
An Outpost for Exquisite Curiosities
You will be hard pressed to find a more attractive treasure-hunting village than Middleburg. Celebrated for its polished hunt-country style, talented tailors create bespoke clothing and top-notch saddlers outfit the equestrian community. Shoppers delight in the affordable, one-of-a-kind gifts that can be found inside unique boutiques.
Keith and Pam Foster opened their exquisite shop, “The Outpost,” in September 2012, with a cache of antique British campaign furniture, sporting antiques, tribal art, custom-designed British leather club chairs and sofas, and curiosities from their travels around the globe. They shutter the shop each year from January to March, reopening in April with a bonanza of new, seductive decorative objects. Last year, the Fosters traveled to England, Belgium, and France, as well as a personal stop at a tent camp in Kenya’s Masai Mara. Some current items for sale include an English saddle trunk, vintage cricket balls, circa-1900 wall-mount gun rack, and a pair of fencing foils. Some specialized home furnishings from abroad that are also for sale include a hanging trifold mirror, stag horn dinner gong, and 1920 seltzer bottle lamp.
An Equestrian-inspired Setting for Relaxation
A couple of furlongs away is the Salamander Resort & Spa that opened in August 2013. This equestrian-inspired luxury destination was the dream of Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television and producer of the film, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” Set on 340 acres, the sprawling country retreat is designed to re-create an old Virginia manor with the oversized porte-cochere, slate walkways, brick façade, and steeple on top.
When stepping inside Salamander, visitors feel as if they have walked into a grand home. The lobby area is a welcoming living room, decorated in textured linen furnishings and modeled after the nearby Johnson residence.
Off to one side of the facility is the Gold Cup Wine Bar, a fun gathering spot to enjoy the creative cocktails and extensive Virginia wine list. On the opposite side is a stately but cozy library where fireplaces serve as the focal point of the room along with books from all genres, vintage fox hunting paintings, stylish chess boards, and wooden game boards of Scrabble and Monopoly.
Salamander is comprised of 168 rooms and suites, a 23,000-square-foot spa, and a state-of-the-art cooking studio. The outdoor terrace offers dazzling views of the expansive, rolling lawns outfitted with croquet, bocce, a giant chessboard, and fire pits. Every Tuesday, guests and residents turn up with their canines for “Yappy Hour” festivities on the terrace and surrounding grounds.
The Salamander’s signature restaurant, Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill, is named for one-time property owners, the late Averill and Pamela Harriman. Modeled after their former barn, the venue is octagonal in shape and contains a great expanse of windows overlooking the Virginia hills.
The Perfect Path to Grapes
One of the newest vineyards in the area is already making a name for itself. Greenhill Winery has received high marks for its Bordeaux blend, labeled Philosophy, and the sparkling Blanc de Blanc.
A bit further down Highway 50 are the Chrysalis Vineyards, champions of Virginia’s native Norton grape. This winery will launch a creamery, bakery, and spectacular new tasting site on an adjacent hillside in the spring.
Horsing Around at the Local Museum
The National Sporting Library and Museum is dedicated to preserving and sharing the literature, art, and culture of horse, angling, and field sports. Founded in 1954, the institution has more than 26,000 books dating as far back as the 16th century.
Currently, “A Sportsman en plein air: C. D. Clarke,” is a traveling exhibition of 21 watercolors and oil paintings that winds through the museum, which is housed in the 1805 Federal Manor house. The intimate galleries, with original floors and thick windowsills, showcase 150 works. Among the artwork is a 10-foot horse head sculpture by Nic Fiddian-Green that greets visitors entering the museum.
Ready to Dig in at the Red Fox and Red Horse
As with most places in Middleburg, history seeps from the Red Fox Inn & Tavern’s thick fieldstone walls. Billed as the oldest continually operated inn in America, it dates to 1828 and still anchors Main Street. Here, steeplechasers, fox hunters, and top-flight equestrians mingle with country squires, local business professionals, and D.C.’s political power brokers. You can request a cozy fireside table or sidle up to the pine bar, made from an old military operating table.
The dining rooms of the Red Fox Inn & Tavern serve up beautifully seasoned and carefully prepared selections, relying heavily on locally available ingredients, and using traditional methods of braising, roasting, and smoking in true Virginia style.
Just down the street, the Red Horse Tavern offers a more casual pub menu, and with its large outdoor seating porch, provides a dog-friendly atmosphere. Live music draws in folks on Friday and Saturday nights.
Holiday Happenings Fresh From the Hunt
Come December, many travelers fancy Christmas in a country village, and nowhere will you find a Christmas experience quite like the one in Middleburg. Starting in late morning, the Middleburg Hunt Review takes to the streets, creating a spectacular sight as roughly 100 horses, riders, and dozens of hounds, come parading down Washington Street. You get all of the expected floats, bands, and signature antique fire trucks, as well as Santa closing the parade riding in an ornate horse-drawn coach.