Trip Overview: For this DC Road Trip, we focus on the quaint town of Middleburg, Virginia. Known as the nation’s “Horse and Hunt Capital,” Middleburg is an upscale rural escape that’s just about an hour away from the nation’s capital. Its historic district dates back to the 1700s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, countless boutiques, cafes, historic inns make for a downtown that’s just made for strolling. Couple that with dozens of nearby wineries, sweeping views of horse-filled pastures and the region’s newest luxury destination resort… and you’ve got yourself a road trip!
Time needed: 1 day, with an optional overnight
Distance from DC: Around 40 miles
Best time to visit: Year round
Best suited for: Couples, Girlfriend Getaway, Friends… and feel free to bring your dog. Middleburg is very dog friendly!
DC ROAD TRIP TO MIDDLEBURG, VIRGINIA
SUGGESTED ROUTE – DAY 1
1.) Stop and Shop in Aldie
The drive from DC is typical (traffic, subdivisions, strip malls) until about 8 miles before you reach Middleburg. At that point, the traffic dissipates and you’re left with gorgeous pastoral views of fields with rolling hills.
Before you reach Middleburg, you’ll pass through the super-small village of Aldie, established in 1810. With a few shops and a historic mill, it would be easy to pass right through. But stop and explore two Aldie gems that I discovered, and you’ll be rewarded with good wares at great prices… and a couple big personalities!
Aldie Peddler – The Aldie Peddler is a wine shop owned by Wally, the former Mayor of Aldie. Wally’s boisterous greeting — “Y’all’ve been here before, haven’t ya?” — welcomes many visitors, most local, some just passing through. The shop boasts 100 wines under $10, and while that may be a bit of an overstatement, the Peddler’s worth a stop for some wine tasting and chitchat with Wally.
Bella Villa Antiques – Next to the Aldie Peddler is Bella Villa, an antique shop that feels like an Anthropologie-esque boutique. Run by Rosanna Smith, a feisty and energetic Italian who tells it like it is, Bella Villa is full of rustic, whimsical and elegant items. My favorite pieces were a golden duck perched on an aqua crushed velvet arm chair, a series of flying pig statuettes and gorgeous antique books with jewel-toned bindings.
2.) Window Shopping in Middleburg
Middleburg’s downtown historic district is just about a half mile long, so in theory you should be able to see everything fairly quickly. But, not so fast! All of the stores here are really unique and it’s easy to lose track of time as you wander through those that pique your interest. And definitely don’t resist striking up conversation with the storekeepers– they’re all too eager to share some local history and recommendations.
Some of my favorite shops include:
Middleburg Tack Exchange – This is horse country, so it’s only fitting that Middleburg’s home to this 4,000 foot shop, once called “the best equestrian shop in the country” by Southern Living Magazine. Even non-riders will appreciate the sheer variety of merchandise. The store offers everything from traditional English-style equestrian garb, as well as accessories like hunting horns, sandwich cases and flasks.
Lou Lou – This reasonably-priced clothing and accessories boutique is now a local chain with 15-some locations in the DC-area. However, here in Middleburg is where Lou Lou first got its start and the town has both Lou Lou and Lou Lou Too, which focuses on accessories.
Olio – Olio‘s an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting room with flavors ranging from the classic — like Black Truffle olive oil — to the fun — like Citrus Habanero olive oil or Blueberry balsamic vinegar.
Betsey – Promising “clothing with moxie” this cute boutique features accessories, shoes and clothing for young, modern women. Betsey provides lots of style for prices that won’t break the bank.
All of this shopping is sure to work up an appetite! There are a few standouts for catching a casual bite to eat along Middleburg’s main street. Or, consider getting your food to go and create a picnic to take on to your next stop…
Market Salamander ($) - Evoking feelings of an outdoor cafe in a European village, Market Salamander has been a local staple in Middleburg for years. It’s a gourmet eatery with soups, sandwiches, daily specials and a number of picnic-worthy wines, cheeses and charcuterie.
The Home Farm Store ($$) - This must-visit grocery store is part organic butcher, part locally-sourced gourmet market. I was awed by the displays of cheeses and baked goods (think: maple-glazed donuts topped with a huge slab of crispy bacon!).
Common Grounds ($) - Light fare like sandwiches, salads and an extensive list of coffee drinks are on the menu at Common Grounds. Inviting touches like leather armchairs, a roaring fireplace and paintings of traditional horse hunts give this coffee shop a cozy lodge-like feel.
4.) Wine Tasting at Greenhill Winery
Less than 2 miles from downtown Middleburg lies one of Northern Virginia’s newest wineries, Greenhill Winery. Opening in late August of 2013, Greenhill has already become very popular, and it’s easy to see why. Here you get the quintessential Virginia winery experience, including award-winning wines like the 2009 Blanc de Blancs (an effervescent sparkler) as well as world-class views of the Virginia countryside.
Winemaker Sébastien Marquet is both knowledgable and passionate about his craft, and it shows in his high-end wines that showcase Virginia’s grapes to their fullest. Tastings are just $8, and wine’s also available for purchase by both the bottle and glass. For the devoted, the Greenhill Wine Club gives members access to it’s super-chic club house as well as invitations to special events and tastings.
5.) End the evening at Salamander Resort
After nearly a decade of challenges, in August 2013, the Salamander Resort and Spa finally opened with much pomp and circumstance. Former BET head honcho Sheila Johnson’s dream has been realized, and Salamander Resort is truly a high-end escape.
The furnishings are impeccably luxurious and the service is top-notch. (Upon arriving, I locked my keys in my car – yes, that really happened — and they handled dealing with AAA without even blinking.)
For daytrippers, it’s worth stopping by Salamander to sneak a peek for yourself. In the winter, I would argue that there’s no place more inviting than the resort’s library. Dark woods, comfortable leather chairs, walls full of books, and a roaring fire in the center of the room make for a heavenly escape from the cold. Grab a glass of wine (they give hearty pours!) and a cheese plate from the bar menu and challenge your traveling buddy to a board game before heading back home to the real world.
Optional Overnight: Salamander Resort
At this point in the itinerary, it would be easy to turn around and head back to DC. In an hour, you’ll be home in time to catch up on your primetime shows on the DVR. But, if you’re looking for a more immersive escape, why not spend a night at Salamander?
It’s not cheap (rates run around $400/ night, which feels a tad steep) but the rooms are warm and comfortable, with glamorous touches like gigantic bathtubs, fancy toiletries and evening turn down service with butterscotch and walnut scones instead of chocolate. My friend Adriana and I both had the BEST sleep, thanks to some extraordinarily comfortable beds and really good black out shades. Truly, the best sleep in months, I’d say!
After staying there for one night, the only “miss” I found was the restaurant, Harrimans. It’s characterless, and drab. Skip it and head back into town if you’re looking for a fancy dinner out. (Some good dinner places include the French Hound, the Red Fox or the restaurant at Goodstone Inn.)
The next morning, head to brunch at the historic Red Fox Inn and Tavern, the oldest building in Middleburg. This nearly 300 year-old building retains much of its historical charm, with ornate paintings of horses and hunting events, weathered wood floors and multi-rooms (each with a fireplace). The historical touches provide ambiance but it’s not a gimmick. The food is upscale American… and it’s really, really good.
7.) National Sporting Museum
The final stop on our tour of Middleburg is a place that celebrates the tradition and heart of the town’s horse and hunting culture: The National Sporting Museum. Upon entering the museum, visitors are greeted by a dramatic 10-foot piece by famed horse-sculptor Nic Fiddian-Green and is just one of many beautiful sculptures and paintings. Admission is free, and it’s worth a quick walkthrough before you say farewell to Middleburg and head back to DC.