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Crossing from Capital to Country

How to spend four perfect days between Washington, D.C. and Middleburg, VA.
By Jillian Dara

Brimming with history, culture and a burgeoning epicurean scene, a trip to Washington, D.C., is a vibrant occasion. Unique among American cities because it was completely planned as the national capital and needed to be distinct from the states, there’s so much to see that you might feel like taking a break from your own vacation after buzzing from museum to theater and bar to restaurant. And, that’s just the opportunity that the serene Virginia countryside offers with its rolling hills and vineyards. At the center sits historic Middleburg, which got its name because of the town’s location midway between Alexandria and Winchester on the Ashby Gap (now known as Route 50). These two Capital and Country neighbors provide the perfect complementary way to spend four ideal days.

Washington, D.C.

Choosing the right home base is key to maximizing time in the District. Conveniently located along the southwest waterfront, between the National Mall and The Wharf, Salamander Washington DC is located in the new heart of D.C. The area offers a plethora of eateries for foodies, while history and entertainment are only ever a five- to 10-minute jaunt away (or opt for the hotel’s Gem Car for a complimentary drop-off to The Wharf and all museums at the National Mall up to Constitution Avenue).

The National Mall is an ideal place to start with its array of museums that appeal to every taste, from the National Gallery of Art to the Library of Congress, United States Botanic Garden and National Portrait Gallery, the latter of which hosts weekend workshops for artists and change-makers. Of course, there’s also The Smithsonian Institution’s 21 museums and zoo, including the must-see National Museum of American History and National Air and Space Museum. With so much selection, it’s best to narrow down your interests ahead of time to ensure your entire party’s preferences are met.

After some historical and intellectual stimulation, it’s time to head back toward the hotel and The Wharf ’s impressive dining scene. A few of the D.C. team’s favorite spots are: La Vie, offering coastal-inspired cuisine like moules frites, sweet and savory tartines, plus stunning water views. Officina is elevated Italian: the first floor features aisles of the finest imported Italian olives, prosciutto and cheese, the second-floor restaurant is focused on the bold flavors of southern Italy and the third floor is outfitted with a stunning rooftop bar complete with fire pits and a private dining space. Lastly, check out Nara-Ya for Japanese izakaya (think: sashimi, kushiage meat and vegetable skewers and takoyaki, or octopus) as well as one of the most creative sushi menus in the area by Executive Chef Lucas Irwin and renowned Creative Culinary Director Kaz Oshiro.

After refueling head over to a performance at one of the nearby venues. Though timing varies per event, there’s The Anthem for headliner concerts and The Kennedy Center for large-scale performances, covering everything from opera to the symphony orchestra. For something slightly more low key, check out Union Stage for rotating live music in an intimate bar with draft beer.

Start your second day with a visit to ARTECHOUSE, an innovative amalgamation of art, science and technology that’s on a mission to “stimulate interest in limitless possibilities.” Spend as much time here as you like then get moving in the form of shopping.

Some of the most popular recommendations of the Salamander DC team include: Politics and Prose: Unique to D.C., this independent bookstore and community gathering place features a wide assortment of books, stationery and gift items, and an inviting space with regular author events, book signings and classes.

Shop Made in DC: A retail initiative with a mission to grow the D.C. maker community (while also offering diverse programming, classes, and events), this store at The Wharf showcases a wide selection of products, including apothecary items, apparel, art, furniture, jewelry, home décor, and stationery.

Diament Jewelry: A treasure box of jewelry, gifts and accessories, its jewelry line is delicate with a vintage feel, all at an affordable price. Most pieces are handmade locally by the owner Libby Diament.

Starting this spring, take advantage of staying at Salamander and enjoy a hot new dining experience at Chef Kwame Onwuachi’s vibrant new restaurant, Dōgon. The renowned chef is returning to D.C. after opening Tatiana, an esteemed restaurant in New York.

On the Road

The drive from D.C. to historic Middleburg is just over an hour northwest, but we suggest departing in the morning and leaving a little buffer room for stops at some must-visit spots along the way.

First up, the Pentagon is just across the George Mason Memorial Bridge as you leave the city behind. You can either marvel at it on a quick drive by or sign up for an hour tour of the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense and world’s second-largest office building. Then, just up the road is Arlington National Cemetery: the globally recognized burial location hosts the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the eternal flame at President John F. Kennedy’s grave.

Finally, hit the road for about 40 miles then stop for lunch or an afternoon snack and tasting at Quattro Goombas winery and brewery, suggests freelance writer and local guide, Austin Graff. (@austinkgraff on Instagram). “There’s something for everyone—beer, sour ales, wine, pizza, and weekend live music,” he shares, adding that there’s plenty of space for everyone, too, including a family section and separate adults-only area.

Middleburg, Virginia

The trip to Middleburg is like driving through the English countryside. Stone stacked fences line the roads, which are dotted with one small town after another. But, there are very few with the history and culture of Middleburg, and none that can showcase 15 stars—which in the case of Salamander Middleburg represents three separate Forbes Five-Star ratings for accommodations, spa and dining. This makes the resort one of only five in the United States and 13 worldwide to achieve these designations.

We recommend checking in at the resort first before venturing out, as you can easily walk into the village or use Salamander’s car service. There are plenty of local attractions to explore in this historic town, including numerous boutiques, specialty shops and restaurants. With just one stop light, but several side streets with hidden gems, Middleburg has a particular charm and celebrates the equestrian lifestyle, which has drawn many famous residents for decades. President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy would often spend their White House weekends out in the countryside and were building a home in the area before President Kennedy was tragically killed.

After exploring Middleburg for all it has to offer and more, we suggest retreating back to the resort to either relax or choose from an expansive list of activities from horseback riding to mountain bike tours, mixology classes, cooking demos, foraging hikes and more. Many also come to enjoy the Salamander Spa, which boasts tailored wellness treatments and a private outdoor courtyard with a heated pool, while an evening at Salamander is not complete without a dining experience at Harrimans Grill, which is the newest Forbes Five-Star-rated restaurant in the mid-Atlantic. With a nightcap in hand, take a seat at the outdoor fire pit, reflect on a star-filled dining experience and take in the clear night sky.

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