When Virginia Tourism launched its Crush Friday initiative earlier this year, the message was loud and clear: Take some time off from work. Get away for a weekend or longer! It’s good for your mind, body, and soul – and yes, Virginia’s economy! While this particular campaign was aimed at what the tourism industry likes to call millennial work martyrs, Virginians of all ages are fortunate to live in an area of the country with so many options for recreation and travel right within the state.
Whatever the occasion – family vacations or reunions, girlfriend getaways, weddings, babymoons, anniversaries, retreats, business trips, and birthday celebrations – Virginia resorts offer opportunities for relaxation and adventure. Choose to lounge at the pool or opt for a pampering spa treatment. Explore stunning vistas while golfing, skiing, hiking, or mountain biking. Virginia resorts differ, but the goal of each destination is the same – a rewarding and memorable stay.
The resorts I visited over the past several months are known for memory-making family activities, palate-pleasing cuisine, and impressive accommodations. But what caught me off guard while visiting each destination were the distinctive mountain vistas. I was mesmerized by Blue Ridge mountains so picturesque that staring was the only option – yes, even when racing along treetops on a zip line nearly sixty feet in the air at the Salamander Resort and Spa.
As I drank in similarly breathtaking spectacles at the other resorts, this native Philadelphian gained a new appreciation of the natural beauty in my adoptive home state. The peaks punctuating the horizon heightened the picturesque setting of these resorts – each less than a 2-hour drive from Richmond.
Salamander Resort and Spa
Located about forty-three miles northwest of Washington, D.C., Salamander is the newest luxury destination of the group of resorts I visited during my travel spree. Opened in 2013, it boasts 340 acres of rolling fields dotted with horses and lush vineyards. Middleburg’s soothing ambience, which earned it a reputation as the “Nation’s Horse and Hunt Capital” more than one hundred years ago, belies its proximity to the nation’s capital.
Spacious and well-appointed quarters feature bathrooms with touches modern (a wall-mounted TV) and ornate (a gorgeous claw-foot tub). Outdoor patios or balconies offer splendid views of the lovely manicured grounds, with its fire pits and horse sculptures. Not only are pets welcome, but with advance notice, the resort will provide your furry family member with a comfy bed, organic treats, toys, and food and water bowls.
For hubby and me, the 90-minute treetop zip line tour with Empower Adventures, led by charismatic Chris and Sam, was the highlight. We rode a golf cart a short distance to a wooded area where we received detailed safety instruction and did practice runs prior to zipping to five different tree platforms and traversing two suspension bridges.
Midway through the tour, a cacophony of dogs and intense rustling underfoot caught my attention. I saw about a dozen deer bolting away from the barking. That’s when I spotted a horseback rider in the traditional red hunt coat associated with fox hunting. Later, we learned the foxes are not hurt. I loved witnessing this impromptu event almost as much as learning more about the trees I saw up close.
Before every zip, Chris and Sam urged us to “Take two steps of courage and go!” – which can serve as a mantra for getting out of your comfort zone. The company also offers a moonlight tour. Tour leaders took photos throughout the course and made them available a few days later. Water and a place to store valuables were provided.
At Salamander, other resort activities for a fee include horseback riding, falconry, archery, mountain biking, and fishing. Free activities range from a putting green for aspiring golfers to lawn games – including croquet, bocce ball, cornhole, and life-sized chess – to an indoor scavenger hunt with prizes for children. Hubby and I played Scrabble in front of the fireplace of the stately but cozy library, where other board games are available.
For adults, the award-winning 23,000 square-foot spa offers a tantalizing menu of treatment and relaxation options. I wasn’t planning on spending time there until I learned about the availability of disposable bathing suits. Who knew such things existed? I eagerly donned a black bandeau top with matching boy shorts and thoroughly relaxed on a heated, tiled chaise and then inside the opulent whirlpool.
We savored a thick lobster roll, a chunky portabella sandwich, and house-made pickles for lunch at the resort’s handsomely decorated Harrimans Grill. I also recommend the satisfying sandwiches at the Middleburg Deli, a 15-minute walk from the resort.
If you go:
Salamander offers a Tuesday yappy hour from five to seven, May 15 through the end of October on Gold’s Cup Terrace. Watch your dog test his or her skills in the obstacle course while you indulge in the special Sharable Chow menu from the Gold Cup Wine Bar, including dog collars (house-made onion rings with truffle aioli). Wash down your chow with a spicy pup-arita with blanco tequila from the refreshing pup-tail menu. It’s all very festive and clever for pet lovers, and a portion of the proceeds is donated to the Middleburg Humane Foundation.
Located on 11,000 acres, this mountain getaway offers a variety of year-round activities including an indoor water park, which was voted America’s third-best indoor water park in the USA Today 2017 Readers’ Choice Awards. Warm-weather activities include a canopy tour through the forest that involves crossing a rope bridge and zip lines ranging in length from ninety to 470 feet. Horseback riding, fishing, mountain biking, and tubing are also available.
I visited Massanutten in the winter, so I only know the thrill of speeding down a snowy lane on skis. I am confident the fun factor is similar when mountain biking down a 600-foot trail in warmer temperatures.
I was delighted with the décor in our spacious condo in Woodstone Meadows, which included a kitchen, a living area with a fireplace, and a bedroom with a jacuzzi in the corner. From the balcony, we took in a panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
After settling in, I went for a massage at The Spa at Massanutten while hubby grabbed a wood-smoked pulled chicken sandwich from Virginia BBQ and Pizza Co. and waited for his turn at the spa. The spa’s signature massage – a deep-tissue rub, aromatherapy, and warm towels – was just what my sore neck and shoulders needed.
That night, we grabbed a bite to eat at the lively Encounters Lounge, where I wolfed down the base camp sandwich – honey-brined smoked turkey with avocado, spinach, and a Dijon aioli on a wheat sub roll. I washed that down with a couple of the lounge’s potent frozen drinks – a milkshake with a kick – just as the live entertainment started in the form of a heavy metal cover band.
The following morning, I awoke to a panic as the manufactured snow at the resort was being supplemented by the real thing. We headed back down the mountain with fond memories of a brief, but fun getaway.
If you go:
The Lucky Duck Escape Room at Massanutten ranks as one of the best I’ve experienced. Guests encounter a Prohibition scenario involving an illegal bootlegger’s gang in 1925 at the height of the era. With multiple rooms, figuring out these clues, riddles, and locks requires high-functioning teamwork. Warning: If you are north of age forty, bring a millennial or two along for nimble brainpower.
At an elevation of 4,000 feet, Wintergreen Resort offers goose bump-inducing views of mountains, both from a distance and up close – especially while driving up the steep, serpentine slope to reach the check-in at Mountain Inn.
No matter when you arrive, guests will find plenty to do. Enjoy swimming, tubing and tennis year round. Warm-weather activities include zip lines, golfing, and complimentary access to Lake Monocan Park, where families can kayak, canoe, and grill out, among other pursuits. For indoor and outdoor fun, the Discovery Ridge Adventure Center features a bungee trampoline, climbing tower, miniature golf, and creative children’s programs.
The resort offers an array of amazing hiking trails, including one I trekked to find a gorgeous waterfall on an unseasonably warm winter afternoon (You know what they say about Virginia weather, right? Don’t like it? Wait a day!). This hike, made possible with a shuttle drop-off and pick-up, is doable in an hour and easy enough for children of all ages to navigate. I spotted a toddler standing with her other older siblings on an oversized rock admiring the cascading water.
Shortly after my hike, I found myself frolicking on the ski slopes with Brandon, a first-rate instructor, who retaught me the basics, since I last skied decades (not years!) ago. With his guidance, I balanced myself, skied downhill, learned to turn in both directions, and managed to stop – sometimes without falling! – which was an impressive feat.
Later, my 60-minute spa treatment was so superb, I nodded off several times and actually forgot that I had just required my limbs to hike and ski mountain trails in a 3-hour period. I had planned on napping after the massage, but felt rejuvenated enough to leave the condominium and enjoy a hearty salad and appetizers at The Edge, a casual eatery with great views.
Our 3-bedroom resort condominium afforded us clean, spacious, and well-decorated accommodations, and its wrap-around deck provided expansive views of the mountains, forever imprinting the stunning images in my mind.
Not since I visited Maui and gazed open-mouthed at its glorious watery vistas could I recall such spectacular views. Beauty aside, the condos are a smart choice for families as they provide separate bedrooms, so adults and kids have some privacy. Plus, having a kitchen means you can prepare meals and preserve your travel budget.
If you go:
The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen, which champions conservation of the natural resources of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Central Virginia by facilitating research and education, hosts regional, national, and international conservation efforts. Pick up hiking and trail maps and check out the website (twnf.org) for special seasonal events. It’s a great place to enjoy amusing photos of inquisitive bears curious about people invading their woodsy home. Also, treat your child with a visit to the second floor, a haven to cuddle and read a book or just enjoy each other’s company.
Boar’s Head Resort
Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Boar’s Head Resort dates back to 1834. Acquired by the University of Virginia Foundation in 1989, the 573-acre resort recently underwent a renovation of its rooms and is currently overhauling its Old Mill Room Restaurant (its fine dining venue), as well as the Main Inn lobby, guest check-in area, and the façade of the main building.
The changes ensure that the only AAA Four Diamond resort in Virginia doesn’t “sacrifice a single modern amenity,” according to the website. The renovations are scheduled for completion in September. We might have to go back!
Two gracious doormen greeted us as we entered to check in. Customer service is consistently first-rate. Our room was gorgeous, comfortable, and spotless with a huge gleaming bathroom. We wanted to linger in the upscale, yet relaxed, ambiance but decided to stroll the handsome rolling grounds, dotted with lakes, before heading over to the state-of-the-art Boar’s Head Sports Club.
We watched the University of Virginia tennis team and teams from three other schools blast rockets across the net in one of the finest tennis facilities on the East Coast. Tennis Magazine ranked it the number one tennis destination in the mid-Atlantic. The facility, open to all guests, is home to UVA men’s and women’s tennis teams.
The nearby Birdwood Golf Course is UVA’s official home course. I ate a scrumptious burger for lunch at the Birdwood Grill inside the golf course clubhouse. Fortunately, we had a chance to enjoy a tasty dinner and breakfast at the Boar’s Head Inn’s Old Mill Room before it closed for renovation the following week. Until the restaurant reopens, visitors can opt to eat at Racquets, a former café in the Sports Club that was upgraded.
Boar’s Head is a bucolic setting with well-marked and maintained nature and hiking trails, which guests can opt to see from a different perspective by reserving an hour-long hot air balloon ride over the beautiful, historic Virginia countryside.
A new partnership this year with Boar’s Head Outfitters provides recreational, team-building, and educational programs to guests. Family-friendly activities include falconry, scavenger hunts, paintball, and mountain biking. The resort also has three outdoor pools.
For me, the highlight was the aromatic and colorful spa, where I had the best massage ever. The Garden Massage includes the targeted
application of hot, herb-filled poultices you can bring home and add to your bath water.
If you go:
The Summer Celebration Bed and Breakfast package includes family-friendly movies on the green, shown on a giant screen.
Virginia Getaways: 5 More to Explore
Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg is a family favorite with vacation packages that include visits to Busch Gardens, Water Country USA, and Colonial Williamsburg. On-site activities include golf, tennis, spa treatments, and a huge outdoor pool. Accommodations include guest rooms, condos, and cottages on the James River. kingsmill.com
Leesburg (thirty miles northwest of Washington, D.C.) is home to Lansdowne Resort and Spa. Visitors choose from luxury guest rooms and suites at this beautiful facility on the Potomac River, which also features four restaurants. Recreation includes golf, tennis, hiking and biking, and winery excursions. Active families love footgolf and the aquatic complex. destinationhotels.com
Go west, RVA families, for The Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, where – you guessed it! – you will discover the largest hot springs in the state. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991, the resort dates back to a lodge built on the site in 1766, which is considered to be the founding of The Homestead. Activities include world-renowned golf, zip lining, the Allegheny Springs water-play attraction, mountain biking, and skiing, snowboarding, as well as tubing in the winter.
Navigate your way through the Roanoke Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains to Meadows of Dan, and that’s where you’ll find Primland. With private lodges, cabins, and treehouses, the resort’s accommodations are designed for families, couples, and group getaways. Outdoor activities run the gamut from golf to tomahawk throwing to stargazing. Recreation packages make planning easy. primland.com
The Martha Washington Inn and Spa in Abingdon is a favorite with packages that include activities in Abingdon: bikes rides on the Creeper Trail, world-class shows at Barter Theatre, and golf at the Virginian Club. At The Martha, activities include tennis, indoor and outdoor pools, and movie nights for the kids. Accommodations include guest rooms, specialty suites, and family-friendly suites. themartha.com
Photo: provided by salamander resort & spa, massanutten resort, wintergreen resort, Boar’s head resort