Trump Winery and Albermarle Estate in Charlottesville, Virginia

A visit to Monticello and a stay at the Trump Albermarle Estate and spa located in Charlottesville, Virginia. Donald Trump and Thomas Jefferson on the same day?

 

A visit to Monticello and a stay at the Trump Albermarle Estate and spa located in Charlottesville, Virginia. Donald Trump and Thomas Jefferson on the same day? 

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The  Trump Albermarle Inn and Winery

I had the pleasure of spending time with my family touring Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, VA earlier this month. We stayed overnight at the Trump Albermarle Estate. Trump’s is the largest winery in Virginia, and includes a 45-room estate with 10 guest rooms. Surrounded by all the presidential history in Charlottesville, I could not help but make comparisons of the two homes and, at times, the two men. The Albermarle Estate and winery is just down the road from both President James Monroe’s home, Ash Lawn-Highland, and Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. I was entertained by the thought of considering TJ and Trump as neighbors. Would they have been civil?

 

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Monticello
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My family at Monticello
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My husband, Mike, a double Hoo looks up to TJ.

Thomas Jefferson, famous as an American Founding Father, principle author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), architect and founder of The University of Virginia (1819), elected as the second vice president under John Adams (1797-1801), elected our third president (1801-09), one-time minister to France (1795) and our first Secretary of State serving under George Washington (1790-1793). Jefferson was also an avid botanist and gardener. His home in Charlottesville is the only private residence protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Jefferson and another Virginia President, James Madison, organized the Democratic-Republic Party to oppose the Federalist Party . There is so much to learn about Jefferson, that a tour of his home is important, but also grounding. Touring Monticello with my husband a “double Hoo” and our older daughter, also a Wahoo, (nickname for UVA students and alums) was eye opening. This historic site evinces so much greatness, but was built on the backs of slaves. It left me in awe of the accomplishments of the time, but also heartsick at the inhuman treatment of the enslaved. Three tours happen each hour on the hour–the home tour, the slave tour, and the garden tour.

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The most recent addition to Donald Trump’s library.

Donald Trump–businessman, real estate mogul, hotelier, reality tv show host, author, and now Republican Party presidential candidate–is running for the very same office that was once held by Jefferson. While it may seem improbable and almost inappropriate to make comparisons to the two men as statesmen, it is a natural progression to compare their two homes while staying at the Albermarle Estate and visiting Monticello.

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When entering the Trump estate and winery, I was directed through an automated secure gate. Oh, the irony! The estate is surround by an impressive brick wall. The Trump winery, well known locally as the former Kluge winery and estate, is now part of a separate portfolio within the Trump hotel brand, as a bed and breakfast. Trump winery is the largest wine producer in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Located just down the road from Monticello, this winery is in the heart of a wine-making region which is also famous for being the home of past presidents. Staying at the Albermarle Estate is logistically perfect for a wine trek in this region. At first glance, this estate is dramatically larger than that of his neighbor, Jefferson’s Monticello. Albermarle Estate includes a wine making facility, tasting room, meeting rooms, and even a little chapel on a massive 1300 acre estate. Having toured Monticello prior to checking in at the Trump Estate, I was impressed with the scale and design of this once famous private mansion. TJ preferred to use 10 foot wooden fences , to deter deer, around his property with intermittent use of ornamental hedges and fruit trees, to make beautiful, functional partitions on his property. At UVA, TJ also used red brick to make the famous Serpentine Wall.
Jefferson graduated from the College of William and Mary. He could speak and read in seven languages. TJ’s library at Monticello has been meticulously recreated by donations. His original library is maintained at the Library of Congress. While the collection of books housed in his original bed room and study is impressive, it is limited to just a few book shelves. Trump on the other hand, has a YUUGE library (sorry, I can’t help myself). It, too, is a curated collection of first editions, law books, and of course, an entire shelf of his own works. He even included his daughter Ivanka’s book. It would have been impossible to find a book by one of Jeffersons daughters, as only men were allowed to be educated and attend universities at the time. TJ’s daughters, particularly Martha, were involved in the operation of his estate while Jefferson was away serving as ambassador to France, Vice President, and President. Trump’s daughter is also in the family business and is currently redesigning the spas at his hotels.

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I am excited to visit the new spa that Ivanka developing in Washington, D.C..

Tj was a lover of the finer things in life. He once sent a trusted slave to France to train in the art of French cooking–for eight years! He also received a slave as a gift from a friend that was a skilled cider maker, to improve the quality of the cider produced at Monticello. Jefferson ‘s home has two kitchens: One where preparation and cooking took place, close to the kitchen garden, and second just to plate the food and present it in impeccable fashion to the many distinguished (and ordinary) guests of Monticello.


Jefferson was constantly hosting guests at Monticello. It was custom to never turn away any travelers that showed up announced or unannounced. It was a custom of the time to stay with friends, friends of friends, family, and even strangers. All were made welcome. Guests would sometimes stay for weeks on end. This is where I believe Jefferson would have made use of Trump, as a hotelier and neighbor. I often wondered why Jefferson built a second summer home, Poplar Forest, not far away, in Bedford, Virginia. I now know it must have been to escape the constant onslaught of house guests at Monticello. I don’t doubt that TJ would have also traded his hard apple cider for some Trump wine. Obviously, the Neo-Georgian design of the Albermarle estate echoes that of Monticello, so I believe Jefferson may have at least been flattered by the mansion, even though it is nearly six times the size of his home.

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The pool house has a pool house!

I stayed in the pool house at the Trump Albermarle Estate. My room was actually named after President Harrison. It was surreal to page through Harrison’s biography. The book jacket summed up his presidency well. Harrison’s run for office was “full of drama and comedy.” “Harrison entered the national stage as an overblown Indian fighter. Harrison actually did his fighting by pen, negotiating the tribes of the American Midwest out of millions of acres of land. His presidential campaign, an extravaganza of parades, songs, dances, and ball rolling, was all about a humble solider in a plain log cabin who bore little resemblance to the actual candidate. But voters loved it and the 1840 election had a record turn out that still stands today.” Harrison is most famous for his brief time in office. He died just a month after his inauguration in 1841. (Gail Collins on William Henry Harrison.) Sound like anyone we know? Is a Twitter rant the new poison pen?

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The Albermarle Estate pool house includes a few guest rooms, a state of the art gym, a spa treatment room, sauna, and provides easy access to an outdoor hot tub and of course, the pool. Multiple salons, a billiard room, a card room, and a home theater complete with any Netflix program or internet movie you might want. The popcorn machine and all the candy you can eat made for the perfect conditions to Netflix and chill. His celebrity gallery in the movie theater is priceless. Only one movie poster, Saturday Night Fever. I’m guessing it must be the Donald’s favorite. The inn also features Donald Trump’s favorite sporting teams, golf memorabilia, and of course, magazine covers of himself. The estate also has a disco ball, but I will let you discover where that is on your own.

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We were able to dine at the Albermarle Estate for breakfast Sunday morning. (They only serve breakfast, for now). Large windows look out onto the formal fountains and gardens. Due to a very strong wind storm, my breakfast was cooked without electricity! The estate lost power in the very early hours of Sunday morning. A shower or recharging my precious iPhone was not happening for me. Sorry, no food pics. At TJ’s house, they did not allow photographs to be taken inside. I wanted to capture the irony of both men having yellow living rooms.  A trip to the “necessary room,” while dark, was at least not outdoors as at Monticello. This wrinkle in our stay did not dampen our enjoyment of the property. While we were inconvenienced a bit, it definitely fit with the ironic, historic weekend we were having. The scale of this estate is impressive.

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Prior to breakfast, I was able to enjoy a 90 minute Swedish massage in the spa. I had requested my services the day before and Michael, the manager, was able to accommodate my last-minute booking for my desired time. I was beyond pleased with my skilled therapist, Bridgette. The single spa room, was large and well lit, thankfully. If we had had functioning electricity, it would have been a heated table. With no music, I enjoyed a fun chat with my therapist about all things spa-related, Trump, local knowledge of restaurants and wineries, and my family adventures over the weekend. Bridgette is lovely.


I don’t recall seeing a church on the property of Monticello, however the Trump estate has a gorgeous chapel used for weddings. I was not told of any special denomination, but it was obvious it was a Christian church with traditional white cladding and a white steeple. Destination wedding guests will love that they can take over this estate by booking the ten guest rooms. The property, rooms, winery, gardens, and chapel make for a picturesque bespoke wedding venue. Catering would be arranged with an off-site vendor. Being able to toast a special day with the delicious Trump sparking wine is a bonus.

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Trump wines are actually highly rated. The 2008 Rose blend is rated at 90 by Cellar Tracker.

My husband and I enjoyed time visiting our daughters over the weekend in Charlottesville. Our oldest is a fourth-year at UVA and the younger is a sophmore at VCU, in Richmond. Together, they chose to stay on campus for some late night fun with friends, while Mike and I were able to unwind from our long day of sightseeing. As a family, we spent some time sipping wine by the pool and getting caught up. Later, after the girls left, we spent some time reading in the library, and checking in on the golf tournament. Late night, we watched the Amy Winehouse documentary in the theater, which we had to ourselves. Michael made us popcorn and we hit the all-you-care to eat candy bar hard. We typically stay on the Downtown Mall when we visit C’ville, but this was a nice change of pace, and a quiet, private place to spend time with the kids.

 

What to know before you go:
Due to the size of this estate, it is easy to forget that this is not a hotel. Breakfast is served in the dining room. There is no room service, and lunch and dinner are on your own.
The location of this winery cannot be understated. Blenheim (Dave Matthews’ winery) is right next door. Nearly a dozen more wineries are on the same road.
While trekking to the other wineries is a piece of cake, driving 15-20 minutes back into town on 2-lane roads for lunch and dinner could be tricky if you have been drinking wine.
A Trump tasting room is on property and open from 11am-5pm daily. It includes a souvenir Riedel glass, which of course has the Trump logo on it. It also has a limited selection of cheeses, charcuterie, and picnic lunches. Special events at Trump are scheduled on holidays and Thomas Jeffesron’s birthday (April 13th), and the Fourth of July, the day TJ died.

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Michie Tavern is also on the same road and is a historic site with tours as well. Famous for their fried chicken and BBQ, the line will likely be out the door. It moves quickly and we enjoyed our family style meal there.
Monticello is a must see, and just a few minutes down the road. It has a cafe and also offers grab-and-go food, perfect for a picnic or enjoyed back at the estate. A beautiful gift shop offers a nice opportunity for retail therapy.
This is a kid-friendly property only if your child is over 12. Due to the fragile nature of the artwork, furnishings, glass, and overall adult vibe, young children are discouraged from visiting. It was perfect for my college age kids.

Factoid: Thomas Jeffersons, highly regarded as one of our greatest presidents, spent much of his time during his second presidential term dealing with domestic issues, including the trial of former vice president Aaron Burr for the murder of political rival, Alexander Hamilton, in a famous duel. In 1807 Jefferson wrote the Trade Embargo Act. It was meant to normalize trade while England and France were at war and “retrieve our lost honor and bring the mad King back to his senses”(Make America Great Again? lol). Jefferson also spent time removing Indian tribes from the newly organized Louisiana Territory. He also penned the Slave Trade Act 1807 which prohibited new slave import into the United States. It is interesting to note that law did not stop slaves from trickling in to the U.S.

Factoid: Billionaire John Kluge built this 23,000 square foot mansion in the 1980s. His third wife, Patricia Kluge, originally listed this estate for sale at 100 million dollars. The 1300 acre estate includes 200 acres of French vinifera grapes planted in 1999. Trump purchased this property from his friend, Patricia Kludge for 6.5 million in 2011 and she stayed on for one year working for Donald. Eric Trump, Donald’s son, now manages the winery and inn, visiting monthly via helicopter.

Factoid: Thomas Jefferson brokered the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The territory, consisting of 828,000 square miles (or what is now 15 states and two Canadian territories), was bought for 11.2 million, less the forgiveness of French debt of 3.7 million for a total of 15 million dollars.

I’m sorry. The irony is just so thick.

Wow! This was a lot to learn in less than 48 hours. I would recommend a long weekend in order to see and do more in this rich, historic, wine-soaked area. Learning from history is important. Learning by experience brings history to life. Visiting this property during this election cycle was a trip!
Famous American poet Robert Frost penned the poem “Mending the Wall,” in his book North of Boston (1914). In this poem the narrator, a New England farmer, contacts his neighbor to rebuild a stone wall between their two farms. As they both build the wall, the narrator questions the purpose of the wall. The neighbor replied not once, but twice, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

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Iconic serpentine wall on The University of Virginia,  designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Photo credit:By Karen BlahaFlickr: Daffodils and serpentine wall, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12911111

 

Names and places change, but the same arguments remain.

 

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I have also stayed at Trump Doral,  Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Coral Gables, Florida. I loved it. I guess this Presidential  election is adding a ironic vibe to what is a great Inn.

 

I was not given any special treatment at this property other than being a paying guest. I will return as we did have fun, despite a little inconvenience without electricity Sunday morning. I found the property to be exquisitely furnished, comfortable, and private. Look for additions to the spa soon, and potentially a golf course in the more remote future.

You might also enjoy checking out my favorite spa service of 2015 

 

How to make a gingerbread treehouse

Gingerbread houses are a labor of love. I am a huge fan of baking, so when my friend, Beth, offered to teach me how to bake and build a gingerbread house, I was thrilled. I knew it would be a challenge, but I had no idea how much actually goes into building such a magical project. I learned a lot from my friend. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Golden Eagle Treehouse at Primland Resort
Golden Eagle Treehouse at Primland Resort

Meadows of Dan, Virginia

A meditation in gingerbread

Gingerbread houses are a labor of love. I am a huge fan of baking, so when my friend, Beth, offered to teach me how to bake and build a gingerbread house, I was thrilled. I knew it would be a challenge, but I had no idea how much actually goes into building such a magical project. I learned a lot from my friend. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Keep Scale in mind. I opted to build what I thought would be a pretty simple pattern for a cute little treehouse. If you want to spend more time decorating than baking, keep it simple.

IMG_9030Have a plan. Ginger bread house patterns can be copied and cut out from templates in books. My friend uses one or two different templates and makes the same couple of houses every year but decorates them differently. I however was not thrilled with my choice of standard home (nothing normal for me!), so naturally I had to make my own template. This adds a considerable amount of time to the project, but hey, why not? When you invest this much time is baking and building, you better love what you are going to make. I actually drew my plan out a couple of times to get the proper scale I was looking for.

IMG_9017I wanted to create a natural-looking house that is a copy of an actual treehouse that I have stayed in many times. When picking a design, be sure to think out about how you want the gingerbread to look. Will this be a candy-crusted house with lots of frosting to simulate snow? Do you want something that looks like a fairy tale house? What color do you want the house? Will you actually be able to see the cookie part, or will it be coated with frosting or other decorations? I knew my house would be rustic and not covered in frosting. I actually made a second batch of dough as the first batch was too dark. I was making a treehouse, so dark brown did not cut it. Light and dark corn syrup can be mixed to get the right color. If going for a brick look, red food coloring could also be used.

IMG_9025Consider your base. Will you need to move this once it is built? I knew I was going to travel with mine in a car, so I chose a thick piece of wood. I inverted a foam cooler on top of the wood to simulate the edge of the mountain just like the real treehouse. Other options could be a cutting board, foam core, or even a table-top piece of glass. To make a gingerbread house really pop, the setting is almost as important as the house. Will you want a yard? Trees? Fences? All of these little touches can really make a house really special. These also take time so consider your available time when picking the scene.

Structural supports are important considerations. How heavy will the roof be if it is coated with frosting and candy? There are many cute ideas to cover a roof. Candies, cereal, frosting, cookies, and fondant are all great choices. If a slab of gingerbread will be coated with frosting and cookies or candies, the thickness of the slab needs to be considered not only to hold the sugary roofing material, but also the walls need to be able to support the weight. There are several tricks to hold together walls. I used royal icing and allowed the pieces to dry together over night before adding additional decorations, and in my case, that was frosting with Cinnamon Toast Crunch to simulate shake shingles.

Dry time is not exciting, but very important and should be considered in the overall project plan. Also, the actual cookie dough should be made ahead of the day of baking to allow it to cool in the refrigerator. It is important to work with cool dough when rolling out the dough and cutting the pattern. I used an additional day to let the cookie pattern pieces completely cool and dry out.

IMG_9159Did you say Dremel? I had no idea that you could cut cookies without them crumbling with a Dremel tool. This can be done only after a day or two of leaving the cookies to air out. This tool worked great to help make the roof and walls have the proper angles needed. Trimming warm cookies with a sharp knife, right out of the oven, is also a good options. Rounded cookies don’t stick together with frosting as well as straight edged cookies. Thankfully, Beth had the Dremel with a wheel blade, which was perfect for cutting the cookies.

IMG_9203I used a shoe box to hold the walls at angles, and set the roof overnight with royal icing. Once the frosting was hard the next day, I was able to put the house together. If you are planning to do a more advanced project with cutaways and a decorated interior, some of these walls may have decorations on them. I chose to have windows made of melted Life Savers, and I used the royal icing to glue those in before adding the roof. Attaching the house to the base with icing also helps keep the house from sliding if you will be transporting it, even if it is just to another room. Make considerations for lighting. Will you add a battery-operated tea candle like I did to have the house glow? Keep this in mind when cutting doors and windows.

IMG_9188Now, the most fun part. With a collection of candies I had purchased from both specialty candy stores and craft stores, I had what I needed on hand. I did the candy shopping the same day I drew out my blueprint and templates. Royal icing can be made thick and then thinned out with water for various applications. Thick frosting for the wall and roof joints, thin icing for decorating the yard. I had several batches of white icing, then thinned it out and added food coloring for different applications. I made grey icing with McCormick’s black food coloring to cover the entire cooler where I didn’t use other colors like green and brown. I did not want my joints to show with white as I knew the house would not be covered in candy, so I tinted the icing the same color as my gingerbread. It was easy to use this tinted spackle to even out walls or the base.

Since I was going for a natural-looking treehouse, I needed to have a tree or several trees and bushes around the house to create a natural setting. I thought I would use actual greens and some fake greens. Since this was a winter scene, I chose to use grape stems. I trimmed the stems in the shape of bushes, then dipped them in milk chocolate to simulate leafless bushes. For the tree, I used pipe cleaners and wrapped the tree with fondant. This was the hardest part of the project and it definitely could use a lot of improvement. It was my first time working with fondant (maybe my last, LOL). The deck and supports for the treehouse were made of pretzels.

The more details the better when it comes to gingerbread houses. The treehouse I made has a hiking trail in the woods just under it, so I used gold covered chocolate rocks to simulate the path. I also purchased little chocolate rocks and I made large boulders out of dates. The front side of the treehouse is facing the 4th green of the gorgeous Highland golf course. I took the liberty of removing one of the sand traps as I am a golfer and I hate that particular trap! For the putting surface of the green, I used green tinted icing, thinned out then sanded the green with tinted green sugar. I used coconut dyed green and chopped to simulate the second cut of the  putting green. I toasted coconut to simulate the fescue that is light brown on the golf course this time of year.

Attention to  the smallest details is what makes a gingerbread house magical. I loved the process of thinking through the project, spending time with my friend, and making my gingerbread home with with a loving intention. I knew I would be taking it to the actual resort for Christmas. I have spent many holidays at this resort, and the staff always spoils me rotten when I visit. I wanted to return some love during my Christmas stay. They are working hard though out holiday season, so I wanted to show them my appreciation!

 

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I do not have any agreements with Primland. I am a regular guest and I consider this resort my second home. This is my life.

 

 

 

Stand-up Paddle Boarding on the Blue Ridge Parkway

I am fortunate to live in a gorgeous part of Virginia. While I travel regularly, I would be remiss not to take advatage of some of the wellness activities that are just outside my door. I met my river guide, James, at Explore Park, mile marker 115 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The park is just a fifteen-minute drive from downtown Roanoke, Va.  Explore Park is a jumping off point for many outdoor activities including hiking, mountain biking, fishing, boating and now stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) thanks to the folks at Roanoke Mountain Adventure. It’s worth taking a look at the calendar of events at Explore Park– there are museum exhibits, live exhibits showcasing historic Virginia themes, and now one of the hottest outdoor activities, stand-up paddleboarding.

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I called Roanoke Mountain Adventures, a local SUP outfitter, and booked a private lesson to learn the techniques needed to enjoy this sport. Like all water sports, it is important to enjoy SUP with a friend for safety. James Revercomb, the owner and a guide is my SUP friend today. Group classes fill up quickly, and with the peak heat of the summer, I did not want to postpone my opportunity to get in on this perfect summertime activity. I love being on the water and out in nature, so I thought this sport would be right up my alley.

James and I got to know each other on land, and then he unloaded the equipment we would be using. Since I am familar with canoeing and kayaking, we were able to make quick time going over the fundamentals, and move quickly to the equipment that is new to me, the paddleboard and the oar. The board we are using today is an inflatable 10 foot 8 inch paddleboard with a fairly wide width of 32 inches. The bottom of the board has three hard fins like a surf board. It is very lightweight and can actually be deflated, rolled up, and put in a small car, like the convertible that I drove today.  These boards are well made and can hold up to the day-to-day stress of multiple rentals and novice paddlers. He stocks boards in different widths and heights, and most boards can hold up to 250 lbs without a problem. Although the board is inflatable, it is extremely strudy and had no real give once fully inflated. This is also the same board he uses for the very popular Stand-up Paddle Yoga classes that he hosts.

Stand-up Paddle board and Oar
Stand-up Paddle board and Oar

One of the first things I noticed is that the paddle is adjustable to the person’s height. It also has a bend. It is bright yellow on the bottom. The yellow paddle helped me identify how deep my strokes were, which is key for good paddling technique. James went over the techniques needed to get in without falling off, on my knees and steady myself. We also went over several different strokes needed for this wide calm portion of the Roanoke River that we would be paddling on. We focused on paddling straight, which can be done by paddling on one side with the proper technique. Turning and stopping were also on the list.

Easy access to launch my paddlboard
Easy access to launch my paddlboard

Once on the water, I steadied myself at first on my knees, but I was standing up within a minute. Now, standing upright on the water, we went through the same strokes that we had done on the land. James made certain I felt safe and comfortable with all the strokes before heading out into the open river. He had given me the option of a fanny pack type of life vest or a traditional one. I was so glad I had chosen to go with the waist-belt life vest, as I had no trouble manuvering my paddle or body as I think I would have with a traditional life vest. I had all the right gear for this activity.

Stand up Paddle board lesson on the Roanoke River
Stand up Paddle board lesson on the Roanoke River

We spent the most of the morning paddling. He set up an inflatable buoy for a practice point, and I worked on my turns. As an experienced guide and lover of nature, he pointed out a gorgeous blue heron to me, and several other birds including a osprey carrying a small fish. We did have a small boat pass by, but the wake was no problem for the wide paddleboard.  By that point, I had already mastered one-side paddling. He mentioned that he has gear for fishing off of the paddleboard. He also said some people like to lie down for a nap. Hmmm, maybe I will get my husband out here!

What to know before you go:  Call ahead and make appointments for peak times, especially holidays and weekends. He has a few launching places to choose from. I chose the Explore Park for its natural beauty and convenience to downtown. James recommends wearing moisture-wicking clothing, or even a bathing suit. Water shoes are not needed. I wore flip flops and left them on the shore. He will have a dry bag for your phone or anything else you think you might need. He can host groups of up to a dozen people, which would reduce the cost per person. They also rent kayaks, tubes, and bikes. He might have just talked me into a mountain biking lesson.

I loved SUP.   I plan on going back for a kayak lesson as well.  Check his calendar for SUP yoga classes as well.

What are you waiting for?

I was not given any special treatment other than being a paying guest of Roanoke Mountain Adventures. This is my life.

Primland Roasted Atlantic Salmon with Spinach and Horseradish Crust

Chef Thompson tops salmon with sautéed spinach
Chef Thompson tops salmon with sautéed spinach

A recipe from the kitchens of Primland Resort

Meadows of Dan, Virginia

Courtesy of Executive Chef Gunnar Thompson

Roasted Atlantic Salmon with Spinach and Horseradish Crust

Serves 4

4 filets of Salmon, skinned and bones removed

Spinach and Horseradish Crust:

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tbl butter

1 shallot, minced

5oz. spinach

1 tbl prepared horseradish

1/4 cup cream

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a baking dish with oil. Season salmon filets with salt and pepper. Place in baking dish.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add butter and once it foams, add shallots and garlic. Cook until fragrant. Add Spinach and stir to wilt. Add cream and horseradish. Cook to glaze spinach. Remove from heat. Season with salt, pepper and Worcestershire to taste.

Top each salmon filet with the spinach. Place in oven and bake until fish is cooked and flakes easily with a fork or temperature of 135 degrees. Plate each portion and serve with a lemon wedge.

Salmon with horseradish crusted spinach and fingerling potatos
Salmon with horseradish crusted spinach and fingerling potatos

Wellness cooking class at Primland

Wellness cooking class with my hubby at Primland
Wellness cooking class with my hubby at Primland

I can’t think of a better place to usher in spring than Primland. I booked my stay in a Fairway Cottage adjacent to another friend, John King, who is also a dedicated fan of this resort. John suggested we should celebrate the spring solstice, his new year, in style. Our shared passion for organic gourmet cuisine and love of nature is enough to bring together the most unlikely of friends. Originally, from California, We met John at Primland on New Year’s Eve. He is eccentric hippie with long gray hair, beard, and a very casual sense of style. While John, who could be mistaken for an Indian, was out exploring some of the 12,000 acres Primland has to offer and barefoot running on the golf course (not kidding), Mike and I took in a different aspect of the lodge, the kitchen. Mike and I have spent many evenings in the upper kitchen, just off Elements dining room, where the Chef’s Table is located. It is always an amazing spectacle and treat to enjoy the nine courses of food and wine that the chefs and sommelier thoughtfully prepare.  I thought it would be great to try to reenergize our healthy eating and cooking habits on this “new year,” since according to my wise friend, it was such a powerful day to do so. Primland offers its cooking school on the third Saturday of every month.

Chef Gunnar Thompson has prepared many impressive multi-course meals for us in the three years he has lead the culinary team at Primland. I would describe his cooking style as classic French as France is where he trained, but with a nod to local recipes and ingredients. Interesting note about him personally, Gunnar is a vegetarian.  As a former vegan (for a short time), I can really appreciate his cooking style. His dishes tend to have a vibrancy and texture that only comes from someone who can make vegetables stand on their own. With that said, he is also working at a world-class hunting lodge, and he has the ability to beautifully prep and prepare wild game from the resort such as venison, pheasant, turkey, and chukkar. Wild game cooking classes have also been offered in the past, but today’s class is on seafood preparation. Seafood can be a fairly tricky thing for many cooks to prepare. Gunnar told us in class that cooking fish perfectly is actually harder than cooking a steak properly. I believe it! I grew up in Florida and I love seafood, but I still have much to learn. I was also excited to learn how he sources some of the very best seafood in the world for such a remote inland property.

The class started promptly at 10am. First up, our game plan. We review our menu and recipes. Gunnar took us thru the menu that we would prepare with him, and then have the pleasure of eating at the end of class around 1pm. We will be making: Shrimp and Grits with low country sauce, Pan Seared Carolina Pink Snapper with Citrus and Sweet Pepper Relish, Boiled Lobster with Lemon-Herb Butter and  Roasted Atlantic Salmon with Spinach and Horseradish Crust. Gunnar then shows us the proper technique and tricks to source, clean, and cook shrimp. Next on the list, we discuss and handle two types of fish, red snapper and wild caught salmon. Gunnar shows us how to clean the two fish, but also tells us how to clean different types of fish in general, side swimmers and flat fish. We each take turns handling the fish and making cuts.  His tip for buying fish is to always buy whole fish with the head still on. Ask to press the fish and look to see if the scales stay on and the flesh is firm to the touch and that the flesh springs back. That would be a keeper. He said not to worry about the smell. It should smell like, well, a fish!

Chef Thompson shows us how to filet a salmon
Chef Thompson shows us how to filet a salmon

While some of us are filleting and boning the fish, and others are cleaning shrimp, we move on the some of the toppings, sauces and side dishes. We used the shells from the shrimp to make a stock that we will also use for our shrimp and grits. We rough cut some vegetables and added a few tomatoes. According to Gunnar, “Seafood stock should always look like shrimp colored stock and the tomatoes help give it that color.” He says he almost never makes fish stock and prefers a shrimp stock for seafood dishes.  By using fresh, or at least whole frozen, shrimp at our homes with the shells still on, we will get a better tasting shrimp and be able to get a great stock from the shells. He cautioned us not to overcook the stock! Twenty to 25 minutes should extract the flavor, and any more than that would make it taste bitter. We will strain off the shells and veggies, that is why peeling the veggies in not important. His pro tip is to give the stock a whirl in a blender or food processor before straining to get even more flavor.  This stock could also be frozen and used later as needed. Nice coarse-ground grits like he uses take about forty minutes to cook, and this stock can be added at the end for flavor so it will not add any more time in the kitchen.

No gourmet seafood class would be complete without a tutorial on lobsters. While we continue to chop veggies and section the oranges for our salmon, Gunnar takes us through the ins and outs of sourcing, cooking, cleaning and even sexing a lobster. Yeah, that’s right. If you get to pick one from the tank, one wants to pick the female lobster as they are sweeter (of course!). He showed us how to tell by way of the more delicate legs. We learned how to steam, boil or grill lobsters.

We begin to prep the herbed butter for our lobsters. Gunnar shows us how to pick the herbs, zest the limes, and blend with the butter, giving us tips along the way. We will use this butter in a couple of the dishes. It was easy and made a huge difference in the taste of the dish. Ok, you might be thinking BUTTER? I thought you said this was wellness cooking? Well, his take on wellness is pretty simple. Take the very best locally sourced organic ingredients available, and combine them with proteins that are high in omega fatty acids like salmon and other sustainable fish. He also only uses grass-fed beef.  Use portion control, and a variety of cooking techniques to add flavor without adding tons of fat like making your own shrimp stock. What we ended up with was a very colorful, delicious lunch that was beautiful to look at, smelled incredible, and was delicious to taste. It left me thinking it was not diet food at all.  I really enjoyed spending time in the kitchen with my husband. We had a lot of laughs. We got inspired, learned some cool tips and short cuts, but most of all it didn’t feel like a damn diet. This is living!

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Inspired Mountain Magic at Primland

Primland, inspired mountain magic
Primland, rated a top 25 spa in the world.

My Primland obsession began in September of 2010. It has been exactly four years since my first visit to my favorite place. With every returning visit I am inspired by the people who make this magical mountain retreat come to life. My husband I and had heard about this amazing five-star resort, located in Meadows of Dan, Virginia, a 90-minute drive from our Roanoke home. I had not read anything about this resort until a friend of mine, Joey Beck, at Bella Magazine, urged me to “run, not walk” to this place. She knew I would love the spa and she was right!

This part of Virginia is very rural. Getting to the resort was a short trek. What happened after check in was so magical, that we rebooked for the following weekend while we were still on property!!! I vividly remember sitting in our robes on the balcony of #29 (still one of my favorite rooms) enjoying an excellent breakfast, as we watching a huge grounds crew, manicure the gorgeous golf course for hours. We could not believe we did not see a single golfer until almost noon on a Saturday! We spent the better part of the morning alternating between the balcony and the bed. We were enjoying some serious high thread count therapy in this deluxe suite. It baffled us that something so massive, so ultra lux, and so well staffed was not teaming with guests. In short, it was heavenly. Here is the magic– we were not alone! One of the wonders of this property is the feeling of having it all to yourself, even when it is booked.

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My first treatment in the spa was the same body treatment I requested on my latest visit, the Magic Lake Float. This treatment was so unique, it blew my mind! Let me explain. It is not uncommon to have a massage paired with a bath soak. What is unique about this combination is the Soft Pack tub used in the spa at Primland. The water in the tub is sealed and pressurized with a membrane over top of the tub water. On my latest visit, I chose the milk and honey option for my Magic Lake Float. My therapist this visit is Brenda. She is also my same therapist from my very first visit. Brenda lovingly applies milk and honey combined with Montana oil product to my entire body on a massage table in long strokes with her warm hands. Now covered in a thick white slather, Brenda helps me over to the Soft Pack bath tub. While seated on the side of the tub, she finishes applying more luxurious goop to my hard to reach bits and pieces, like the bottoms of my feet. Brenda helps me get settled on the top of the tub while still keeping me partially covered to insure my privacy and comfort. Once lying comfortably on my back, Brenda pushes a button on the soft pack tub. I am slowly lowered into the perfect temperature of bath water. I am warm, but not wet. The heat of the tub water and the nutrient rich ingredients work wonders on my dry skin. All products used in this spa are natural, and inspired by Native American Medicine.

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The room lights are now lowered. The candlelight, sounds, and smells of the room come to the front of my mind. Brenda, again checks my level of comfort and proceeds to give me an excellent head, neck, hand and foot massage. Amazing! But wait, there is more!!! While I am floating in this warm cocoon, she then applies cold marble stones to my pressure points on my hands, wrists, and feet. Whoa! The contrast of the warm tub and the cool stones is amazing. Brenda then wraps a heated towel under my neck and gently supports my weight. She is stretching my head and neck relieving any pressure that might have been there. I am now being floated by her in the tub while getting a very helpful gentle stretch to my upper body and neck. Kids? What kids? Teenagers? I forgot all about them!
Once Brenda is satisfied with my relaxed state, she steps out and says “I will leave you for some quite time now.” Relax and enjoy.” I am now left alone to enjoy the solitude. I really tune into the Native American music. I smell sage. I watch the candle flicker. I just I float, and enjoy the moment. When Brenda returns she tells me that she has left a towel for me by the shower for the next step of this treatment. She also places a towel on the floor so I will not slip. With a push of a button, my body rises up to the surface of the tub. The membrane now firm and supports me like a table.  I am instructed to shower off the preparation and return to the massage table in the same room. Brenda reminds me to take my time in the shower, and return to the massage table lying face down. Several minutes pass and I rinse off the milk and honey in the gorgeous, turquoise- tiled, rain shower. I was definitely moving slowly.I rinsed off, and enjoyed the steam. I also contemplated why it didn’t occur to me sooner to install a smooth river stone floor in my shower at home.

Once I towel off and get settled on the massage table, Brenda begins to work her magic on me, again. There is no chance that she is going to leave any knots in any of my muscles. She continues to give me a therapeutic massage. Magic Lake Float is listed as a swedish massage, but Brenda knows what I like. I prefer a little deeper massage than swedish, but not quit a deep-tissue massage. Brenda reminds me of my preference and adjusts the treatment to suit me, I don’t even have to ask!

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The fanning of eagles’ feathers and a chime remind me that this service is coming to an end, just as they invited me to relax and mentally check in at the beginning of my treatment. Typically, it is pretty hard to get up off the table after a good massage. Sometimes you feel a little woozy, dreamy, or sleepy after a spa treatment. After a long rest in my dreamy state, I am now able to read my animal medicine card that I picked at the beginning of the treatment. I can now meditate on the animal-inspired medicine from my card and its meaning from a book they provide. I just rest, sip tea, and enjoy the view of the golf course and a butterfly garden.

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Each visit to this magical place continues to make me daydream. Every visit a new facet of this gem is revealed to me as I explore all the activities and accommodations. I have been over a dozens of times and I have never not learned something new or not experienced something extraordinary. Many of these experiences inspired me enough to try to recreate Primland at my own home (that would be another blog post!). I continue to be inspired by the bespoke design of the Lodge, my time in nature, new activities I learn, and meals I have eaten at the chef’s table. I realize that I can never copy what is available to me here. It is not just the expansive land, beautiful scenery, and world-class activities. It is the people, too!  The people who guide me through Primland are amazing. I always feel inspired by their intuitive service and attention to detail. When I return home, I am inspired to apply a little mountain magic for my family in my own home.

I will now give you some of my favorite ways to experience Primland to the fullest…

I play golf and the Highland Golf Course is gorgeous and perfectly conditioned! I like to play nine on one day and the second nine on another day. That way, I have more time for other stuff like spending the day at the spa and lounging by pool. Recent renovations to the Primland golf course have moved up three tee boxes for the forward tees (#2, #3, and #9) and have made the course much more playable for ladies. I love to take pictures of the stunning mountains and nature while my husband is searching for his golf ball 🙂

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I love the tree houses and the fairway cottages. I have stayed in all of them. My favorite was the Golden Eagle with its view of the Dan River gorge…until they built the other two tree houses, Barn Owl and Cooper’s Hawk. They provide a little more privacy, yet still amazing views. Don’t forget to take your putter to your treehouse or fairway cottage. Those accommodations all have access to private putting greens. Barefoot putting in the moonlight with beverages is so fun! I love to watch birds fly below us from the  treehouse deck. Breakfast delivered to you in your treehouse is a must!

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The chefs table is mandatory for any guest that is a foodie. I prefer to spend a little extra to insure we have the table to ourselves. Three days’ notice must be given for this custom, seasonal experience. Three levels of wine pairing are available as well. If you don’t know Karl, the sommelier, you have not eaten properly at Primland, in my humble opinion. He is the best sommelier I have ever come across, and a conversation with him about your preferences will deliver you to the land of bliss with old favorites and new ones that you are probably not familiar with. I have learned so much about wine from him. He is truly a gem! He also does liquor tastings. I have really enjoyed bourbon and moonshine tastings as well (Not on the same visit! Don’t judge!!!)

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The staff will drive you if you ask. One cannot do nine flights of wine at the chef’s table and expect to be able to drive back to your house or cottage afterwards. I dont want to name any names, but trust me, even in a golf cart, driving after that many flights is a very bad idea (golf carts are given to fairway cottage guests). I have also arranged for them to drive us to and from Floydfest, a music festival in July, just 20 minutes away. They are always happy to accommodate.

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Every activity is exceptionally well planned and provides the highest level of professional training and equipment. I had a great golf lesson with Brian, the head PGA pro, and I still use one of his chipping tips on every round I play.

I now use a start chart app on my iPhone after an inspiring star tour we enjoyed. I now see the night sky in a differently and I can identify many constellations and planets.

I learned to shoot a shotgun at Primland. My first time shooting any gun ever, and I even broke several clays.

complimentary tea is served in the main hall each day at 4pm. All the fixings for smores are also set out every evening for your enjoyment.

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I learned to ride ATV’s, but I have to admit, I just wanted an excuse to see more of the property (ladies, they provide coveralls and boots to make our lives easier).

My husband and I took a cooking class on anniversary visit. We learned how to make hand-dipped chocolates with a chef while pairing (drinking) wine and eating lots of chocolates…good times!

We have spent hours walking the extensive trails on this property and we are far from seeing all of them. We have also taken a guided hike with a naturalist to help understand many of the native plants and animals that make up this massive 12,000 acre nature preserve.

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The spa was named in the Top 25 spas in the WORLD by Travel and Leisure readers. Are you really just going to book “a massage” after what I shared here? The Shenandoah, Daughter of the Stars facial is an amazing experience and it deserves a post of its own.

So many activities and places to explore are already laid out for you, but I would encourage you to come up with your own fun ideas too. I went through a low-carb phase (thankfully that has passed), and arranged a three course “healthy low-carb” meal delivered to our tree house for a romantic, sunset dinner on the deck.

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This resort’s goal is to go above and beyond. My goal is to push the limits 🙂 Have you visited Primland? Let me know if I missed one of your favorite activities, I still have many left to try.

No special consideration was given to me other than being a paying guest at this resort. This is my life.