After all the wheeling, dealing, politicking, and protesting in Washington D.C., you need to step out for fresh air. The wide open fields of Virginia are calling. Head to the Commonwealth’s hills, fields, and vineyards, for five country escapes within an easy drive from the nation’s capital.
Where: Middleburg, Virginia
Why: Deep in Virginia horse and wine country, Salamander resort’s Middleburg outpost presides over 340 acres of rolling meadows and woods. In the style of an English country house meets large Southern hotel, Salamander has sizable rooms and suites and wood-paneled living rooms filled with books, rolled-arm sofas, and roaring fireplaces in seemingly every corner (including in guest rooms). While it’s tempting to stay inside, outside is where it’s at. Bonfire pits are ringed by Adirondack chairs, a stocked fishing pond requires no license, and guides wait to lead you through horseback riding, fly fishing, archery, falconry, or river sport expeditions. The crown jewel is the 22-stall horse barn, which matches the guest rooms in presentation and hospitality. (Yes, you can book an overnight stay for your horse, too.) Harriman’s, the on-site restaurant, has a wine list that's largely absent of Virginia wines but shines with show-stopping dishes like Maine diver scallops served on the half shell surrounded by billowing smoke (an at-the-table display caused by jasmine tea delicately poured over dry ice). Book yourself into the spa for a Vitamin C facial followed by an hour or so in the steam room, body-temperature pool, or heated lounge beds.
What’s Nearby: Middleburg’s main street, a two-minute drive away, is the beginning of wine country. Stop at Greenhill Vineyards or The Winery at La Grange. For cider, try Mt. Defiance Cidery & Distillery. Salamander’s fleet of Audi cars will drive you around town.
Where: Middleburg, Virginia
Why: Middleburg may be small, but its offerings are rich. Goodstone, the more understated cousin to the flashy Salamander, is a truly boutique choice for a country weekend. Just 45 miles west of the nation’s capital, Goodstone is a country inn tucked snugly into the woods and horse pastures of Middleburg. Originally a dairy farm and fox hunting estate, the 256-acre property was transformed twenty-odd years ago into a quiet, ultra-private, luxe retreat that feels more like one’s own compound than a hotel. Eighteen rooms and suites are spread across six historic buildings on the property, with options ranging from a full house rental to individual rooms to suites. (The Carlyle Junior Suite, in a converted carriage house and stable, has a claw foot tub, proximity to the restaurant, and expansive views of the rolling fields.) The rooms are tastefully adorned with French and English antiques and reproductions, as well as decor accents from local artists. See the expanse of the property by hiking Goodstone’s trails or ride one of the inn’s bikes down the paved roads. Dinner is a la carte or a tasting menu of up to six courses. Breakfast is included for guests. Christen the summer months with a first dip in the meadow pool.
What’s Nearby: Stop by Middleburg’s Knead Wine, a nicely curated shop run by a master sommelier that also happens to serve outstanding to-go artisan pizzas and cookies. At the top of the town is the stately National Sporting Library & Museum. The compact museum provides an artistic window into the equine-related pursuits so deeply ingrained in the area. The collection offers a fascinating view into classic and contemporary American sporting art.
Where: Charlottesville, VA
Why: Built in 1799 for Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Martha, The Clifton has withstood nearly two centuries of private ownership and over twenty years as a hotel. The 100-acre property is trimmed with a lake, cabana-flanked infinity pool, walking trails, a croquet field, and idyllic lawns. With just twenty rooms, life revolves around a central Manor House and includes a restaurant and bar worth traveling for even if you don’t spend the night. Several outbuildings have been converted into guest rooms and cottages-style accommodations for longer stays. The Manor House’s fireplaces, staircases, and historic charms have been preserved, but the hotel’s 2018 redesign has added richly hued furniture, mid-century chandeliers, modern art pieces, and texturized wall coverings that land the overall aesthetic firmly in the present. The restaurant, 1799, offer a three-course prix fixe dinner menu ($69, not including wine) and revolves around local ingredients and American classics.The Copper Bar is located in the Manor House in a stone-floor room that seemingly once was a kitchen or porch and is now stylishly accented with copper. Sample the local moonshine and gaze at the stars from the front porch rocking chairs.
What’s Nearby: The area around Charlottesville is ringed with wineries. Pippin Hill and King Family are worth visiting for the grapes and the views. The one-street town of Gordonsville has a collection of charming shops like Folkling for vintage clothing and quilts and Jackson & Company Market for coffees and delicious pastries.
Where: Meadows of Dan, Virginia
Why: Five hours south of Washington, DC — the final hour of which winds through long stretches of country roads that cut through smaller and smaller postage stamp towns — will put you at the North Gate of Primland. Although you’ve arrived, you’ll continue driving another twenty minutes up a steadily inclining path to the lodge. When you finally reach the top of the mountain, you’ll pull into the main estate building — or perhaps one of the private homes you’ve rented (you'll feel like you’re perched high in a treehouse). Although Primland has the feel of an estate that’s been passed from generation to generation under the watchful eyes of devoted caretakers, the lodge was only built in 2009, when the property was nothing more than wilderness. The current compound stretches across 12,000 acres of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is part wilderness preserve, part luxury hotel, part Southern Virginia’s answer to Balmoral. Lucky is the traveler who lands here for a snowy winter weekend or a solstice summer one. Primland, despite its country setting, has a corporate retreat edge that’s softened by the hiking trails, a clay shooting range, RTV trails, and spa that pays tribute to Native American healing rituals. Climb to the estate’s observatory for truly awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping views of the night sky, perhaps with a knowledgeable astronomer guide.
What’s Nearby: Primland’s remoteness is what makes it so desirable; you’re far from just about everything here. If you do venture down the mountain, swing into Nancy’s Candy Co. and Poor Farmer’s Market country store, both in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Meadows of Dan.
Where: Keswick, Virginia
Why: Built in 1912 as a private home, Keswick Hall has gone through more than one iteration as a hotel before being top-to-bottom reimagined and reopened in 2021. The 80-room hotel has already played host to an illustrious crowd from up and down the eastern seaboard, including Hillary Clinton and her husband. With an expansive golf course, a cocktail-rich bar (don’t leave before sipping a martini), a brand new spa, and one of the most beautiful (heated) pools this writer has ever seen, Keswick is a grand reason to travel to this part of the state. The carefully curated, unfussy décor, plethora of fireplaces, chess board, and array of daily newspapers make it a place to stay in all weekend. Marigold, the next door, brand-new restaurant by celebrity chef Jean-Georges, is a real gem. A meal here is obligatory, from the first glass of champagne to the perfectly cooked Faroe Island salmon, juicy beef tenderloin, and festive fig and burrata, to the bill, ingeniously delivered between slips of paper that can be planted in the ground to grow your own marigolds.
What’s Nearby: In the middle of the night, you might hear the faint whistle of a coal train rumbling through the landscape: Across the street is the oldest hunt club (including 50 hounds) in the country. From Keswick Hall, you can explore Charlottesville, the University of Virginia, and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello plantation (the hotel can arrange private tours).
Where: Washington, VA
Why: Opened in 2021, the hotel is the new crown jewel in Virginia’s Rappahannock County, which previously made a name for itself as the home of famed The Inn at Little Washington. This recently renovated modern take on a country inn sits on eighty acres that skirt Shenandoah National Park. Blue Rock has five stylish and unpretentious rooms so snagging a reservation here takes some advanced planning. There is also a separate farmhouse rental on site ideal for families or groups of friends. The Inn is set on an elongated koi pond and is framed by a vineyard (just planted with help from nearby Quièvremont Winery) and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Cozy into an Adirondack chair and catch the sunset with a drink in hand — Blue Rock’s Tasting Room serves locally procured wines, beers, and spirits. Dinner here steals the show. Bin Lu, the former chef of D.C.’s lauded Pineapple & Pearls helms the restaurant where the four-course prix-fixe menu ($99) features a rotating selection of seasonal fare. Splurge for the wine pairing that will lead you on a journey from Germany to France to Virginia.
What's Nearby: Sperryville, just five minutes down the road, is a blink-and-you-miss it culinary wonderland. Stop in at the Corner Store for fresh produce and an expertly curated wine selection. Grab a cocktail (some of the best we’ve found outside DC) at FRANCIS and a fresh pie at Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen. Stop in at Happy Camper Equipment Co. before heading to Shenandoah National Park.