By Carleton Varney- Special to the Palm Beach Daily News
I was thinking recently about a trip my family and I took from Palm Beach to New York, with an overnight stay in Savannah, Georgia. We then crossed into South Carolina for a visit to Charleston before heading to Middleburg, Virginia, which is about an hour away from our next destination, Washington, D.C., and then it was on to New York.
Should plans for such a trip be on your itinerary, a stop in Middleburg at the Salamander Resort & Spa — which has a full equestrian center — is a must. Surely all those equestrian folks from Palm Beach will visit what is surely one of the best spas I’ve ever encountered.
Be sure to have breakfast in resort’s Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill. The monkey bread with orange cream-cheese glaze is a winner. The restaurant is named for the previous owners of the land on which the resort was built — the late Pamela Harriman and her late husband, former New York Gov. W. Averell Harriman.
Today the property is owned and operated by the philanthropist and businesswoman Shelia Johnson, a woman of remarkable energy and style who co-founded the entertainment network BET. With longtime ties to Wellington, she might be recalled in Palm Beach for opening Market Salamander more than a decade ago in the space that had been occupied for years by Herbert’s Lafayette Market on North County Road. The market closed after a couple of years and the space today is occupied by Amici Market.
Johnson also is the owner or partner in several Washington-based sports teams, the NBA’s Washington Wizards, the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and the NHL’s Washington Capitals.
Spending an evening with her was such a treat for me and my design associate Brinsley Matthews. We delighted at hearing about her days as a school teacher and about her musical adventures with her students while visiting with Queen Noor of Jordan.
Salamander Hotels & Resorts, Johnson’s hospitality empire, has a number of properties. In Charleston, the Hotel Bennett operates in what was once a library building, directly on Marion Square. In Florida, there’s The Henderson in Destin and Innisbrook in Palm Harbor. And Jamaica offers the Half Moon in Montego Bay.
Johnson is part of today’s wave of female stars of the hospitality industry. I think of the late Texan Caroline Rose Hunt, whose Rosewood Hotels helped pave the way with world-class properties that could be counted on for style — The Carlyle in New York City and, in Dallas, The Mansion on Turtle Creek and The Crescent.
Today, Shelia Johnson as CEO of Salamander Resorts & Resorts is carrying out a similar mission, creating for her guests memorable experiences at extraordinary destinations.