Grand Getaway: Salamander Resort & Spa
One of the nation’s most accomplished businesswomen establishes a pastoral paradise in the heart of Virginia’s horse country.
By Annalise DeVries
Photography by Stephen DeVries
As the road winds its way through Middleburg, Virginia to the Salamander Resort & Spa, the trees give way to grassy fields that have long attracted equestrians, wine connoisseurs, and avid golfers to the area. The resort, however, offers something new. Here plush sofas, cozy fireplaces and a carefully curated art collection send the message of freshly added luxury. It can be hard to imagine that a few years ago the property was a quaint farm. Yet when Sheila Johnson first set eyes on the site, she conceived of an alternative use for the space. “I immediately saw the opportunity to build something different—a luxury retreat for the Washington, D.C. area,” she says.
Though only 20 miles from the D.C. metro area, the Salamander feels worlds apart from the busy capitol. As the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, and co-owner of three professional sports franchises, Sheila is well acquainted with urban jetsetters and their need for a quiet retreat. That’s why she first envisioned the location as home to a luxurious spa. “From the beginning, health and wellness have been important parts of the Salamander story,” Sheila says.
As plans developed, Sheila’s vision for the Salamander expanded to include a larger resort with fine dining, an equestrian center, and access to the neighboring golf course and vineyards. The spa features state-of-the-art amenities, as well as a range of specialty treatments, including grape-rich products developed in the south of France. The fitness center offers classes such as happy hour yoga and a complementary fitness walk through the property. For Sheila, the spa remains her favorite attraction at the Salamander. “I always make time for it regardless of how busy I get,” she says.
While plans for Salamander started with the spa, Sheila first came to Middleburg for the horses. Her daughter Paige is an accomplished equestrian and competed in the town. With riding’s importance to her own family and to the life of the surrounding community, Sheila carved out a special space for horses at the Salamander. The equestrian center offers traditional and non-traditional training that emphasizes partnership between horse and rider for experienced and novice riders alike. Equestrian director Sheryl Jordan explains, “We teach a deeper level than just the mechanics of riding and give our guests the opportunity to learn to relate to horses on a deeper level.”
While Sheila leaves the riding to her daughter, by establishing a multifaceted experience at the Salamander, she has found a complement to her previous work in the entertainment industry. In both businesses, she reflects, "it's about taking care of people." The natural transition to hospitality shows in the careful attention to detail that pervades the Salamander.