Located about 50 miles outside of DC, just before you reach Warrenton, Virginia’s quaint downtown district, is a unique retreat for those looking to get away from it all. The destination: Airlie— a gorgeous historic property based at the foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains with an esteemed past and an aura of exclusivity.
For over 50 years, DC’s most influential movers and shakers came here to discuss policy and conduct environmental research on the resort’s 1,200 secluded acres. Today, Airlie is now open to the public, giving vacationers an option with a dash of luxury and panache to an otherwise unassuming region.
I recently had the incredible opportunity to visit Airlie on an overnight visit to attend one of their monthly Signature Dinner Series featuring Virginia’s Early Mountain Vineyards and just loved the whole experience. Here’s what you need to know.
The Airlie Center was first founded in 1956 by Dr. Murdock Head as a meeting and conference destination. It’s been a mecca for environmentalists, corporate organizations, government agencies ever since. Its sprawling grounds and lack of distraction became known as the perfect place to brainstorm unfettered from the real world — so much so that Life Magazine dubbed Airlie “an island of thought.”
On this “island,” many long-lasting ideas were discussed— from advances in the Civil Rights Movement to LGBT rights, from the future of thermonuclear war to organic gardening and sustainable agriculture practices.
Perhaps one of the most lasting legacies first discussed at Airlie occurred in 1969 when Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin shared one of his ideas about environmentalism to a group of medical and law students. What resulted from this idea was the first nationwide demonstration in support of the environment… otherwise known as Earth Day, which continues to live on at Airlie through many on-site green initiatives.
During my visit, I made sure to early in the afternoon to allow plenty of time to explore the property. It was a late spring day— one of those days where I just had to be outside. So, I set out and ended up on a lovely two-hour walk around the grounds.
Every time I came to a juncture I just kept going farther and farther— as far as the path would take me— past ponds, through fields and around the property’s landmarks. Rustling trees, a gentle breeze and chirping birds became my companions and I saw countless geese, birds and swans on my walkabout.
An old stone fence lines the entire perimeter like something dating back to the 1800s. It’s easy to imagine stonemasons building the fence stone by stone. This time of year, the fence was also home to rows of daffodils, perkily poking out of the ground to herald the start of spring.
While the Georgian-revival styled Airlie House is the hub of dining and meeting spaces on site, Airlie’s home to over 150 renovated rooms and cottage suites spread among 8 smaller buildings. Our room was in “The Lodge,” a two story structure. The exterior was simple— reminiscent of a motel— but the interior is home to a well-furnished and welcoming common area, and the rooms are simple but comfortable and well-designed with classical decor.
Side note: During my walk, one thing I really enjoyed was discovering that the weather vanes atop the many buildings each appeared to feature a different animal— from horses, to birds, to deer.
Airlie’s culinary director Jeff Witte oversees the resort’s dining options, which range from the casual (The Whistling Swan Pub) to the formal (The Garden Bistro). All options feature locally-sourced and organic ingredients which tie back to the resort’s Local Food Project initiative.
Since 2014, Airlie has been taking their gourmet goals even further by hosting a near-monthly Signature Dinner that pairs a seasonal multi-course menu with the best wines from a local Virginia winemaker (or, alternatively, the occasional local brewery/distillery). The dinner itself is $125/ person, but my recommendation is to make a night out of it using Airlie’s Special Getaway rate. For $390, a couple can enjoy the Signature Dinner, one night’s accommodations as well as the Sunday morning buffet.
I attended the April dinner which celebrated the bounties of spring alongside Early Mountain Vineyard’s best wines, and I truly savored every morsel. The dishes were fresh, creative and oh-so-pretty to look at (and eat!) And my boyfriend is a vegetarian and the chefs prepared an adaptation just for him. Talk about going above and beyond! And I have to say that after a filling meal with more than my fair share of delicious wine, it was so wonderful to be able to float my way back to my room— just in time for sweet dreams.
I took a sneak peek at the upcoming Signature Dinners and they looks so good that I may need to plan a repeat visit! Take a look at what’s coming up down the pike, and you can book a dinner for yourself by calling 540-341-3299.
Fri. July 3, 2015 Featuring Jefferson Vineyards
Sat. August 22, 2015 Featuring Lost Rhino Brewing Company
Sat. October 17, 2015 Duckhorn Vineyards
Sat. November 7, 2015 Veritas Vineyards and Winery
DISCLAIMER: MY MEAL AND ACCOMMODATIONS WERE PROVIDED BY AIRLIE. BUT, AS ALWAYS, ALL OPINIONS ARE COMPLETELY MY OWN.