Travel: The USA’s Capital region puts health and wellness first – Scotland on Sunday Travel
It’s a trip that starts and finishes in locations with a connection to pivotal historic American figures George Washington and John F Kennedy. And others who have helped shape the nation in their own, but perhaps equally important, style – including MC Hammer and Beyoncé – also crop up along the way.
However, beyond the pages of the history books and list of Grammy-winnning musicians there is an abundance to enjoy in the here and now in this relaxing and reviving health and wellness-focused visit to the USA’s Capital Region – which spans Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC, and the mountains, beaches and cosmopolitan city appeal of each location respectively.
I begin the trip by flying direct from Edinburgh into DC’s Dulles airport, and after a journey of about 40 mins by road arrive at my first lodgings of the trip – the Salamander Middleburg in Virginia. The five-star resort and spa is the brainchild of Sheila Johnson, said to be the first female African-American billionaire, and has been designed to have a homely feel, combined with equestrian-inspired design touches throughout. I can easily see why it’s a favourite of the likes of Michelle Obama, not least the luxury spa, where any traces of jet lag are well and truly scrubbed off with a detoxifying body polish.
We also get to experience a more unusual activity in the form of “equine communication”. Taking place in the property’s staggering 340 acres of grounds, members of the group take their turn to guide horse Stella, showing how the animals pick up on energy and intention in this fascinating demo of real-life horse-whispering.
We also during our stay visit Middleburg itself, which was bought from a cousin of George Washington. After we plough through a tasty seafood extravaganza at the King Street Oyster Bar, we get a quick peek at The Red Fox Inn & Tavern that was established in 1728. Legend has it that acting legends Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Tom Cruise have all crossed its threshold, while JFK held a press conference in its upper Tavern, while spouse Jackie frequently stayed at the property, writing letters on its headed notepaper.
On the subject of writing, author Bill Bryson comes into my mind when we head out into the Shenandoah National Park, which includes part of the Appalachian Trail. I have fond memories of reading about his walk along the vast route, including part of the path we cover in our visit, in A Walk in the Woods, one of his travel memoirs. We pass through atmospheric fog-enshrouded woodland with a moss-strewn floor dotted with the pale petals of trillium wildflowers, and on our return journey downhill the visibility improves, enabling us to see across verdant treetops.
We see more greenery when we cross the border into Maryland, and check into Kent Island Resort, which says it is surrounded by 220 acres of parklands and nearly two miles of waterfront. We head out onto the water for some paddleboarding yoga, courtesy of Dragonfly Paddle & Fitness, which sees us head into shallow water in a class that proves both fun and quite the workout trying to stay balanced.
That comes after breakfast at Yo Java Bowl in Chester, which offers healthy and highly tasty breakfast bowls, while another activity I am happy to classify as wellness is sitting in the shade sampling the rather splendid wines made by the affable Mark Cascia at his eponymous vineyards, with a calming view over the sun-dappled water.
The wine-making harnesses the scientific know-how of his day job as NASA engineer, and his output includes a Norton, which he says was found growing wild on the islands of the Chesapeake, and “is now back home on Kent Island fulfilling its legacy as producing ‘the best red wine of all nations’.” Cheers to that!
Maryland is also known for its crab, which we see in its fresh form, the creatures still a vivid blue before being cooked, and we have a go at shelling them at the Jetty Restaurant & Dock, while the work has already been done for me when I order the soft crab at the Bridges on Kent Narrows restaurant, both of which are classic waterside US restaurants in the same area.
At the latter spot, boaters can apparently “dock and dine”, while a local wise mantra advises that if you don’t have a boat, make friends with someone who does. We also cycle the Cross Island trail, past more tranquil waters, powered by a pre-ride coffee at the excellently named Dessert First cafe on Kent Narrows. Once I saw the Beyoncé’s Queen Bey latte on the menu my order was decided.
We then head into the historic city of DC, the needle-like Washington Monument gradually moving closer into view, and check in at The Morrow, a smart and comfortable new hotel in the heart of the city with a royal blue-tinged colour scheme throughout.
We dine that evening at in-house restaurant Le Clou, and my starter of beef tartare, served in an immaculate rectangle topped with a blanket of chopped chives alongside two delicate, almost lace-like potato lattices, is such an artwork it should be on display at one of the city’s many, many museums. On that note we visit the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History & Culture, whose plethora of exhibits I am delighted to see include a pair of MC Hammer’s iconic trousers.
Heading into the chilled-out city centre, with an obligatory photo opp outside the White House, we enjoy a spot of relaxation with a spot of Himalayan Salt Room Therapy – said to help cleanse the airways and skin – at the city’s vast Waldorf Astoria hotel whose huge, vertiginous atrium contains a massive stars and stripes flag.
We also dine at the rooftop bar and restaurant Moonraker at hotel Pendry Washington DC, with the marina beneath us lighting up in technicolour as the sun sets, and manage to squeeze in a wander through Georgetown, where George Washington and Thomas Jefferson apparently used to meet city commissioners.
The area is now full of boutiques and hospitality venues such as Martin’s Tavern, claimed to be the oldest family-owned restaurant in Georgetown, and where John F Kennedy apparently proposed to Jackie in 1953.
However, after I tuck into a delicious early lightly fiery dinner at Laos in Town, including a mocktail of grapefruit turmeric, basil and lemon, I must then head back to Dulles for my flight home. While I do that physically, it takes somewhat longer to wrench my mind away from this captivating corner of the US – the Capital region offering “capital gains” aplenty.
Rooms at Salamander Resort and Spa in Virginia start from $650 per night, at Kent Island Resort in Maryland from $179 per night, and at The Morrow Hotel in Washington DC from $192 per night. Return flights to Dulles from Edinburgh via United Airlines start at £661.