Greener Pastures

For those fond of long weekends in the country, the Salamander Resort & Spa (Middleburg, VA) provides the ideal escape. Located less than an hour outside of Washington, D.C., the blissful, bucolic property is set in Middleburg, a charming town known as the “Nation’s Horse and Hunt Capital.” Sporting an equestrian theme throughout, the resort was founded by Sheila C. Johnson, who oversees a growing portfolio of luxury properties and serves as vice chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment and president and managing partner of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. A founding partner of Black Entertainment Television, Johnson has lent her Midas touch to the Salamander, which takes its name from a former owner of the estate, a war hero named Bruce Sundlun. After crashing over Nazi-occupied Belgium, Sundlun evaded capture and was recruited by a resistance group that gave him the code name Salamander. After returning to the U.S., he purchased a 200-acre estate in Virginia and named it Salamander. The farm was later sold and re-named. When Johnson purchased the property, she restored the original name and opened it to the public as an inviting resort, complete with 168 guest rooms and 17 suites, two restaurants, a state-of-the-art cooking studio, a first-rate equestrian program, and the Salamander Spa.

A relaxing reprieve, the spa welcomes guests with a soothing water feature upon arrival. Spa-goers will also notice one of Johnson’s signature scarves used as a decorative accent over the entryway. The scarves, part of the Sheila Johnson Collection, are changed based on the season. Each of the 14 treatment rooms have either a fireplace or a private outdoor treatment terrace and an exclusive Couple’s Suite features a private terrace, a whirlpool, a steam shower, and a pedestal tub. A highlight of the spa is the deluxe locker rooms, where guests can take advantage of the vitality pool, eucalyptus-scented steam room, heated stone lounge chairs, and experiential shower. For those who prefer to relax outdoors, there is a secluded spa courtyard with an infinity pool, a fire pit, a whirlpool, and private cabanas. 

While the many amenities are impressive, it’s the menu that truly helps the spa to shine. “We incorporate an apothecary approach to each of our massages to customize the blend based on how the guest feels and would like to feel,” says spa director Penny Kriel. “We then give them the remaining oil in a two-ounce bottle to take home to continue the benefits. We use only high-grade eco-friendly and organic oils and infuse them with 100 percent natural essential oils.” Incorporating the popular farm-to-treatment-table trend, the spa offers the Salamander Seasonal Rituals (starting at $200, 80 minutes; $310, 1 hour 50 minutes; $460, 2 hours, 50 minutes). This winter, the spa will offer an invigorating full-body exfoliation to fight dry skin, followed by a red-algae wrap. The treatment will conclude with a full-body massage using hot stones and concentrated aroma synergies. “Our Salamander Seasonal Rituals incorporate essential oils derived from native Virginian plants and herbs, as well as organic produce straight from the farm,” says Kriel. “Our goal is to have these items grown in our culinary garden by next spring, so that we can have guests pick ingredients fresh from the garden. We will then mix them up and apply during the treatment.”

According to Kriel, the treatment menu is based on creating experiences that incorporate the local culture and surroundings. Because the spa is in “horse country,” the Riders’ Relief (starting at $150, 50 minutes; $200, 80 minutes), a massage geared toward equestrians, was a natural fit. It focuses on releasing muscle tension and mobilizing joints in affected areas. Riders aren’t the only ones who can benefit, though, as Equine Massage (pricing varies) is available for the horses.  Spa-goers who want a real stretch can also opt for Yoga in the Stable ($20), a prerequisite for Equestrian Yoga ($150), a unique experience involving yoga poses on a horse. Of course, there are also plenty  of options for those not interested in saddling up.

With 24 full-time and six part-time employees, the spa is able to accommodate up to 70 clients each day. According to Kriel, one of her biggest challenges is the spa’s size, as the distance from the reception area to the treatment area is rather far. The same can be said of the distance between the prep room and the treatment rooms. Despite such operational challenges, Kriel is focused on making improvements and planning for the future. “We are looking at incorporating medical services through the Inova VIP 360 program, as well as partnering with a plastic surgeon to offer a variety of services to our guests,” she says. “We will also look at bringing on additional product lines later in the year.” In the meantime, the spa is clearly not horsing around when it comes to wooing both guests and locals. 

Owner: Sheila C. Johnson


Spa Director: Penny Kriel


Opened: August 2013



80% female, 20% male



23,000 square feet; 14 treatment rooms



aromatherapy, body treatments, chromatherapy, couples’ treatments, energy work, facials, fitness, hair and scalp treatments, hammam, hand and foot treatments, hydrotherapy, makeup application, massage, nailcare, nutrition consultation, outdoor treatments, prenatal services, salon services, yoga



Salamander  Seasonal Rituals (starting at $200, 80 minutes; $310, 1 hour 50 minutes; $460, 2 hours 50 minutes)



Time for Two (starting at $1,200, 5 hours 50 minutes)



Alchimie Forever, La Bella Donna, Laboratory of  Flowers, Moroccanoil, Natura Bissé, Satin Smooth, Terreno Organics, Zents



Life Fitness, SpaSoft



Architecture Inc. (Reston, VA) and WATG (Irvine, CA)



Kent Interior  Design (Atlanta)



Blu Spas (Whitefish, MT)