Travel Tips to Virginia’s Horse Country
The hills are alive—with vines producing award-winning wines in and around gorgeous Middleburg in Virginia’s horse country.
Written By: Contributor
Travel Tips to Middleburg, Virginina
Here’s a challenge for you: Try to leave Middleburg, Virginia, without sneaking a peek at the real estate prices. It’s impossible to spend time among the rolling hills planted with quaint stone houses, orchards, and the industry that has made this rural spot a destination—grape vines—without imagining yourself retiring here. That is, if you can wait that long.
Middleburg sits about an hour-and-a-half west of Washington, D.C., in the heart of Virginia’s hunting and horse country. With direct flights from Nashville to Dulles International Airport, located about halfway between D.C. and Middleburg, you can make it to this enchanting area in less than two hours. Of course, you’re definitely going to want to explore the wine country surrounding Middleburg. If you rent a car, it takes about 40 minutes to get from Dulles to one of the area’s top resorts, and those who love to drive will delight in the country roads where each one is more narrow and remote than the last.
Salamander Resort & Spa’s proximity to Middleburg’s main drag and its amenities make it a top choice for visitors. Families will appreciate the lawn games, fire pits with s’mores, horses, trails, and diversions like zip-lining, while couples will appreciate the cozy, horse-themed rooms and the incredible spa.
About that spa: You’ll want to pack a bathing suit. Each treatment, such as one of their unforgettable massages, allows for two hours of access to the relaxation room before or after. The gender-specific relaxation rooms are outfitted with waterfall hot tubs; a eucalyptus steam room; an “experiential” shower that involves various settings of hot and cold sprays; and heated-tile chairs. If you’ve opted for a massage, it starts with a custom aromatherapy blend mixed by your therapist, and massage rooms feature fireplaces. Afterward, head outside for a dip in the heated infinity pool and a soak in the outdoor whirlpool—both of which are relaxing, even on cool, fall days.
Other nearby accommodations include the historic Red Fox Inn & Tavern on Washington Street, which is where you’ll find most of the town’s shops, and Goodstone Inn & Restaurant, which can be reached via a 10-minute drive north of downtown Middleburg. These two channel more of the bed-and-breakfast vibe, decorated with antiques, floral patterns, and four-poster beds. Goodstone has the added benefit of its 18 guest rooms being spread among six individual buildings, with names like The Dutch Cottage and The Manor House.
As one would expect in an area that identifies strongly with England’s hunt culture, food options in Middleburg often veer toward pubs and taverns. Harriman’s Virginia Piedmont Grill is one exception, with chef Ryan Arensdorf arriving early this year and breathing new life into Salamander’s fine-dining experience. Arensdorf pulls from both the produce and herbs grown on the property, melding them with pristine seafood from the Chesapeake Bay and locally grown fruits and veggies with delicious results.
Pastry chef Jason Reaves is another notable talent here, having competed three times on the Food Network (and winning two of those). More importantly, he makes beautifully plated and tasty desserts at Harriman’s, such as the deconstructed carrot cake for two that graced the menu this summer. After dinner, your server might offer to fix you a coffee in a to-go cup, so you can head out to the lawn for corn hole, chess, or croquet, or for making new friends by the firepits.
If you’re looking for something more casual but want to stay on the Salamander property, Gold Cup Wine Bar offers sushi four nights a week, along with salads, sandwiches, and other pub fare for lunch and dinner. Picnics are also available for pick-up on the way out to wineries or for a blowout al fresco experience on the resort’s lawn.
Down the street, Red Fox Tavern serves mid-Atlantic favorites, like crab cakes, fried green tomatoes, steaks, and fried chicken at dinner, in addition to breakfast and brunch. Goodstone Inn offers fine dining at its newly unveiled conservatory dining room surrounded by glass for starlight views.
For something more casual, hit Upper Crust, an adorable throwback where you can order a ham-salad sandwich or barbecue, a baker’s dozen of cookies, or two cookies of your choice made into an ice cream sandwich on the spot. Whole pies are also available if you have a crowd to please or are in search of a hostess gift.
If you’re already en route to some of the wineries listed below, Marshall—situated 20 minutes southwest of Middleburg—is a great town to schedule a pit stop. Locals know to duck in to Red Truck Bakery for sandwiches and treats, and Virginia wine expert Neal Wavra recently opened Field & Main along Main Street, serving upscale riffs on country favorites, like deviled eggs and hearth-roasted beets with pecan butter dust and sorghum syrup.
There’s no denying that Virginia wines have come a long way. Thomas Jefferson famously tried (and failed) to grow it in the hills of Charlottesville, so that gives some indication of how challenging it is, thanks to the region’s clay soil and unpredictable weather. These days, you can hardly throw a grape without hitting a vineyard or winery among the rolling hills surrounding Middleburg—and they vary widely, both in flavor profiles and quality. Because of that, it’s smart to do your research ahead of time to make sure you’re getting the most of your experience. Or you could do what I did, which is start at one of the most reputable wineries in the area and then ask the staff where they would go next. Repeat until you’re ready to head back to your hotel and take a long nap.
This is how we started a mini wine tour just west of Middleburg, beginning with D.C. sommelier-darling RdV in Delaplane. You’ll want to sign up ahead of time for the tour, which starts with a glass of rosé in the barn-like tasting room, accented with a tin roof, silo, and a glass wall facing the vine-planted slopes above. The easy walking tour begins with a short hike up the hill to the edge of the vines, moves back in to the cellar and cave below the tasting room, past the high-tech bottling machine, and, then, above ground again for a tasting of four wines, plus pâté and cheese.
Ask RdV staff where to go next, and you’ll hear a hearty recommendation for Linden Vineyard—and for good reason. The gorgeous Alpine-like setting coupled with some of the best wines Virginia has to offer make it a must-visit. Owner Jim Law, a relative Virginia wine old-timer, who launched his vineyard in the ’80s, makes an outstanding Sauvignon Blanc and Petit Verdot, along with several other enjoyable varieties from the five we sampled.
Two wineries—Boxwood Estate Winery and Greenhill Winery & Vineyards—are located just minutes from downtown Middleburg, and Greenhill wine pourers like to tell guests that bottles of the winery’s Blanc de Blancs were tucked into swag bags at the Oscars this year. Farther afield, but still worthy of a visit, is Bluemont Vineyard, which sits above a valley and affords unparalleled views on clear days. The Barns at Hamilton Station, a short drive east of Bluemont, is a low-key tasting experience, with quality wines blended by well-regarded Virginia winemaker Michael Schapps.
Wherever you end up, make sure you read the rules of each winery before heading out. Some allow picnics, dogs, limos, and children—others don’t. Also, the tasting room hours change with the seasons. And do be careful with drinking and driving. There are plenty of limo and bus services that will cart you around, but, if you opt to make your own way, consider sharing a tasting with your travel buddy to cut down on the buzz factor.
If wines aren’t your thing, Middleburg’s still got you covered. Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery on Washington Street pours tastings of its hard ciders and spirits, including an excellent absinthe. Dirt Farm Brewing, which can be found next to Bluemont Vineyard, makes refreshing craft brews, with tables that overlook that breathtaking valley.
History fiends will want to poke in to Aldie Mill, which offers tours on weekends from April through November, and the National Sporting Library & Museum, which houses art and artifacts that tell the region’s story through its sporting legacy. Nearby Leesburg features even more in the way of historic sites.
Most of Middleburg’s shopping can be found in the town’s designated historic district, which is most concentrated along Washington Street. Shops like Second Chapter Books, The Fun Shop, and Crème De La Crème provide opportunities to pick up gifts; clothing stores abound with preppy hunt-country attire; and antiques and art stores will challenge you to find something that will fit in your airplane’s overhead bin.
Nature buffs will love the inherent beauty of the area while zip-lining and indulging in long walks in and around the town, with visits to wineries and horseback riding lessons. After indulging in the many charms of Middleburg, all that’s left to do is download that real estate app and start figuring out ways to make this your forever spot.
Photos courtesy Salamander Resort & Spa and Greenhill Vineyards.
— By Rina Rapuano