The countryside surrounding Washington has long been revered and beloved as the heart of hunt and horse country, and the area’s bourgeoning wine market only enhances the rustic charm of its historic culture in realizing Thomas Jefferson’s long-sought-after dream of winemaking in the region. From world-class dining to unparalleled antiquing and with a wealth of award-winning resorts to turn into temporary holiday homes, the Virginia and Maryland countryside has quietly become one of the premier holiday destinations on the East Coast.
Here is a list of top regional holiday getaways and events. From Christmas in Middleburg, to an intimate retreat of glass (so to speak), there is plenty to do this holiday season in the country.
Colonial Williamsburg is a regional mainstay, a town whose appeal is equally attributed to history and beauty. The holiday decorations are a huge attraction, as well as the historic grounds of the College of William and Mary, which is in a state of quiet repose while the students are away over winter break.
Through Dec. 31 Colonial Williamsburg celebrates the holiday season throughout its historic streets as well as in their hotels, taverns, museums and shops. Single candles light each window and more than five miles of pine roping adorn the streets, with a custom-made wreath on each door. Bring along a cup of hot apple cider and enjoy one of the daily Christmas Decorations Walking Tours. Here, you’ll have an up-close guided tour of buildings during Williamburg’s holiday splendor.
Daily children’s activities are hosted throughout the season, including a guided Children’s Orientation Walk that offers first hand view of the 18th-century holiday experience from a child’s perspective. Holiday Tea is also offered at the Williamsburg Inn and Breakfast with Santa Claus is offered at the Williamsburg Lodge on special dates during the holiday season. Be sure to check the calendar of events for details, and call for reservations for these special events (www.WilliamsburgVacations.com).
The Williamsburg Inn is a perfect home base. A two-night Holiday Decorations package includes a walking tour, lunch in a tavern, and admission to the colonial attractions. Add a day of unlimited golf for $99 per player. Available from Dec. 12 through Jan. 4.
If you want to avoid the holiday crush, book the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club’s 40th Anniversary Golf Package. The club’s Gold Course is ranked by Golf Digest as one of Robert Trent Jones, Sr.’s six “Must Play Masterpieces.” The package includes accommodations, two days of unlimited golf, a 40th-anniversary shirt, and a sleeve of balls.
St. Michaels, Md.
For a more temperate holiday experience, the town of St. Michaels is a solid bet. Christmas in St. Michaels is held annually the second weekend in December in historic St. Michaels, and for over 25 years, both ticketed and free events including the Tour of Homes, Holiday Gala, Breakfast with Santa and largest Holiday Parade on the Eastern Shore, have celebrated the arrival of the Christmas season. Proceeds from ticketed events and the sales of popular collectors ornaments have raised more than $1 million to directly benefit local non-profit organizations in our community. Events include a gingerbread house preview cocktail party, house tours, a holiday gala, Breakfast with Santa, and the famous Talbot Street Parade. Come early on Saturday morning to get a great spot along the parade route for the largest holiday parade on the Eastern Shore.
The 80-room Inn at Perry Cabin is a luxurious base, where the guest rooms are filled with antiques and beautiful fabrics. Christmas and New Year’s accommodations are available and include one night’s accommodation and a holiday dinner. Christmas dinner will feature butternut-squash soup with chestnuts, Chesapeake oysters poached in Champagne, oysters wrapped in smoked salmon with crème fraîche and caviar, roast goose with caramelized apples, baby Brussels sprouts and apple-smoked bacon, and linzer streusel tart with gingerbread ice cream. www.TourTalbot.com
The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, W.V.
The Greenbrier is at the top of any resort junkie’s list, tucked away in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia for more than 200 years. The resort offers almost every activity you can think of, including three golf courses, a spa, cooking classes and hot-air ballooning.
Your entire family can enjoy holiday traditions with Christmas at the Greenbrier, which includes visiting Santa, sipping hot chocolate by the fireplace, singing carols and ice-skating under the stars. Then, ring in the New Year in style with a glamorous gala while the children enjoy an evening full of fun just for them. Holiday activities include a Christmas lights tour by a Jeep-pulled trolley, cozy carriage rides, bunker tours of the resorts unique de-classified government fallout shelter, and an afternoon tea and concert. www.Greenbrier.com
The Inn at Willow Grove, Orange, Va.
Recently called “The most romantic place I’ve ever stayed” by the Washington Post and “One of the most beautiful jewels in Virginia” by Southern Bride Magazine, the Inn at Willow Grove is the perfect place for a holiday couples’ retreat. Recently renovated, the inn has 11 rooms and a gourmet restaurant, and the surrounding scenery combined with the beauty of the inn attracts guests throughout the year.
With heated floor tiles, soaking tubs and fireplaces, the accommodations are worth the trip alone. You might find yourself not wanting to leave the room. But should you want to explore, there are plenty of things to do. Guest favorites include horseback riding and wine tours to the various wineries in the area. Additionally, the can help arrange hot air balloon trips, civil rights and historic battlefield tours and even skydiving for the brave of heart.
Savage River Lodge, Frostburg, Md.
The only cross-country ski resort in Maryland, Savage River Lodge is a classic mountain retreat on 45 forested acres just west of Frostburg. The rustic-chic lodge is surrounded by 15 miles of cross-country ski trails, and a Nordic Center offers private and group lessons, as well as guided ski and snowshoe tours.
The lodge also features a restaurant, bar, library, and sitting areas on either side of the massive stone fireplace. Guests stay in two-story log cabins a short walk from the lodge, from where they unfurl every morning to homemade muffins and juice in a basket by their door. And as a special treat for your canine companion, the cabins are pet friendly.www.SavageRiverLodge.com
No Washington country holiday list would be complete without Christmas in Middleburg. Each December, more and more travelers make their way to Middleburg for its unparalleled holiday kick-off celebration. At 5 p.m., Dec. 6, the wonder begins with lighting of the Christmas tree and caroling, to ring in the weekend’s festivities. This quiet, moving ceremony of lights and song gets your spirit in the mood for Christmas.
Saturday is a full day of family festival activities. Saturday’s Breakfast with Santa at 8:30 a.m. is followed by the iconic Middleburg Hunt Review at 11 a.m., with riders on horseback and the pack of hounds coming down the main street.
After lunch, the hour-long Christmas Parade begins at 2 p.m., featuring foot beagle hunt clubs, polo clubs, animal affinity groups, community groups, reenactment bands, high school bands, and quite a myriad of others, with Santa on his coach drawn by matched Ayrshires closing the parade. This year’s parade will feature 85 entries, which makes for 955 persons in the parade with 740 animals. www.ChristmasInMiddleburg.org.