Driving along Highway 50 you feel as if you've been transported into the middle of an English countryside where low stone walls gracefully wind through rolling pastures that stretch to the horizon. Hay bales dot the landscape. Welcome to the heart of Virginia’s horse country.
Forty miles southwest of our nation's capitol, the tiny community of Middleburg (pop. 750) is set in the lush foothills of the Blue Ridge and Bull Run mountains. In 1750 an enthusiastic 16 year-old named George Washington came to survey the surrounding lands. More than 200 years later Jackie Kennedy galloped on horseback across its lush hills as she rode with the Orange County Hunt.
One of the quaintest destinations on the east coast, its fox hunts, antiques shops, and nearby vineyards are year-round attractions. The Virginia Gold Cup is one of the nation’s most prominent steeplechase races attracting a crowd in excess of 50,000 at the Great Meadow in Plains, Va. the first Saturday in May.
Still, the most festive event is the annual “Christmas in Middleburg,” a three-day yuletide extravaganza beginning December 1. On Saturday the Middleburg Hunt & Hound Review takes to the streets creating the spectacular sight of 150 horses with riders in black leather boots, breeches, and pink and black hunting coats. In keeping with the animal friendliness of the town, the parade includes horses, foxhounds, ponies, llamas, alpacas and a variety of dog breeds, all trotting down Washington Street. Treading on the coattails of the foxhunters, floats, bands, and troops pass by, and the signature antique fire trucks-- and, of course, Santa, who closes the parade riding on an ornate horse-drawn coach.
In Middleburg it's normal to see people in riding britches shopping in the local grocery store. Fauquier County has long been ground zero for Virginia’s rich equestrian tradition and serves as a premier training ground for aspiring riders and Olympic champions. You can get an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at a dozen of the most beautiful farms rarely open to the public at the 59th Hunt Country Stable Tour May 26-27, 2018.
Stroll down Washington Street for a sense of the town's history and character. More than 160 buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. An 18th-century powdered wig wouldn't look out of place. It's literally a one-stoplight town where boutique shops, cafes, art galleries and historic inns create a downtown just made for strolling. Grab a cappuccino at Cuppa Giddy Up then head down to the Home Farm Store, a must-go-to butcher and cheese shop as well as a purveyor of excellent pastries.
The National Sporting Library and Museum is dedicated to preserving and sharing the literature, art and culture of horse, angling and field sports. Founded in 1954, the institution features an extensive, unique collection of over 16,000 books. There is an exhibition space in the basement where scholars and journalists can visit the rare book room in which some manuscripts date as far back as the 17th century.
Celebrated for its polished hunt-country style, talented tailors create bespoke clothing and top-notch saddlers outfit the equestrian community. The Outpost evokes the allure of another era. Owners Keith and Pam Foster serve up a cache of antique British campaign furniture, sporting antiques, tribal art, custom-designed British leather club chairs and sofas and curiosities from travels around the globe.
Not far away is the equestrian-inspired luxury destination Salamander Resort & Spa. Set on 340 acres, the sprawling country retreat is designed to recreate an old Virginia manor with the oversized porte-cochere, slate walkways, brick facade and the steeple on top. It comprises 168 rooms and suites, a 23,000 square foot spa, and a dedicated state-of-the-art cooking studio that stages Saturday morning classes. There is a wide array of equestrian programming to match miles of trails.
The Salamander's signature restaurant is Harriman's Virginia Piedmont Grill. Modeled after the late Averill and Pamela Harriman's former barn, it is octagonal in shape with high ceilings while its great expanse of windows offers the best view on-site: a 220-degree vista overlooking the Virginia hills. Under the expert direction of Executive Chef Ryan Arensdorf, all of Salamander's dining options showcase local bounty and celebrate farm to table in its best sense. Harriman's menu features such stand-outs as Not Your Mother's Porkchop, the Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast, and a Prime Rib Delmonico.
Just east of downtown visitors will find the Greenhill Winery that has earned high marks for its Bordeaux blend labeled Philosophy and the sparkling Blanc de Blanc. A bit further down Highway 50 are the Chrysalis vineyards, a champion of Virginia’s native Norton grape. This heirloom gem consistently produces premium quality red wines of great character and intensity.
Touted as the oldest continually operated inn in America, the Red Fox Inn still anchors Main Street. In the 1700s it was a place for weary stagecoach and horseback travelers to recharge. Request a cozy fireside table or sidle up to the pine bar, made from an old field military operating table. The inn is celebrated for its peanut soup, crispy but moist southern fried chicken, and the beautifully cooked U-10 scallops. Try the Night Fox Pub on the second floor for a late nightcap.
For an authentic Middleburg pub experience stop by the Red Horse Tavern with its large outdoor seating porch that provides a dog-friendly atmosphere. There are some nice craft beers on tap and good rail bourbon. Many of the region's best bands perform here on Friday and Saturday nights.
With its sweeping views of rolling pastures and historical character, the wide world of horses and the region’s newest luxury destination resort, you’ve got yourself one powerful road trip!
Photos courtesy of Loudoun County Tourism and Jane Conway