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Weekend Getaway: Airlie Retreat & Brunch

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There’s far little more pleasant than a fall getaway in Virginia. In late October, I hopped in the car with some girlfriends and headed South to Warrenton, Virginia. The reason? Airlie, a conference and resort center, had recently opened to the public—it was previously reserved for events and conferences—and invited us to have a visit.

The resort amasses 1,200 acres in the foothills of North Virginia, located just an hour outside Washington, DC. The campus is beautiful, with rolling hills, swan-filled lakes, and evergreen trees, changing shades just in time for our arrival.

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As there are all sorts of activities, the resort is perfect for families and the young at heart (that would be us). There are bicycles and golf carts for guests to cruise around to the various corners of the resort for skeet shooting, tennis, swimming, and more. It’s the perfect place for families, conferences and group retreats for mid-sized companies, or for Washingtonians looking to spend a weekend in Virginia hiking and drinking wine—but prefer a stay somewhere fun and affordable over a campsite.

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The resort is no Greenbrier, I’m afraid, as much of the decor and interior was vastly outdated and not exactly luxurious. It’s perfectly fine and perfectly affordable: the resort offers $150 weekend packages and family-friendly prices for a range of stays and activities. With that said, the rooms are clean and spacious, providing everything you need from fresh linens to beauty products—kudos on the makeup remover towelets in the bathrooms. The service is excellent, and there’s quite a lot to do. Airlie only recently opened to the public, having previously functioned as a conference center for retreats of all sorts.

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While the rooms are just so-so, some nooks of the main conference area—like the sitting room, are filled with antiques and perfect for cozy evenings by the fire.

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We arrived Friday evening, and Saturday began on a low note, with breakfast in the ballroom. Every possible surface in the grand ballroom was covered in mint green cloth—from the 1970s—and vastly in need of an update. It dawned on me that Airlie was strikingly reminiscent of the resort setting from the movie Dirty Dancing, which is both a good and a bad thing.

Our Saturday was spent hiking in the Shenandoah foothills, taking in the leaves and enjoying a picnic. (Details and brownie recipe, here). And we returned back for dinner in the Garden Bistro.

The Garden Bistro—and its chef—are the reason to visit Airlie. The food was phenomenal, both at dinner that evening and brunch the next morning. The chef is remarkable, and crafted a meal that was better than most I’ve had in Washington and New York.

On this particular evening, the Garden Bistro was serving its October menu, which was appropriately inspired by Octoberfest with Germanic and Russian influences. The menu was structured in three courses with dessert.

The wine list at the Garden Bistro is impressive, and we selected a bottle of Chablis that was top-notch. Dinner began with an amuse bouche of truffled popcorn, which is always a crowd pleaser.

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For our appetizers, Sophie selected the Borscht, a traditional Russian beet soup made with pickled cabbage, fennel, onions, and a potato-sour cream muse, with arugula.

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Meanwhile, Allison opted for the warm German potato salad, with tourné potato, slab bacon, caramelized cipollini onions, a local chicken heart, pickled carrot, chervil, and topped with a whole grain vinaigrette.

For my appetizer, I selected from the second course, going straight for the local Rockfish Gravlaks. I confess I didn’t know what Gravlaks meant at the time—it’s a raw, cured fish, essentially the Nordick version of a tartare—but it was the Rockfish that caught my eye. It was impeccable: fresh, flavorful, and beautifully prepared.

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Both the girls selected the salmon for their entrees and they were not disappointed. The salmon was served atop stewed root vegetables and October beans and topped with a Quail egg.

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Meanwhile, in an exercise of bravery, I ordered the local chicken Jagerschnitzel. Yes, a Jager schnitzel—made with Jager, as in the liquor. I was initially hesitant, but, as with the rest of our Garden Bistro experience, it was exceptional.

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The thin chicken breast was lightly fried, erved atop bacon and mushrooms with a side of mashed purple sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts. The entire thing was comforting yet light and flavorful yet healthy. One of the more unique, exceptional dishes I’ve had as of late.

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The desserts were equally stunning and gourmet. The German cake was deconstructed, served with coconut buttercream, an almond macaroon, and a local raspberry compoté.

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All of our eyes seized Fall Goat Cheesecake, with pomegranate soulis, apple cider-habanero chutney. Both desserts were heavenly—and we rolled to bed full on wine.

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We awoke and enjoyed the morning at Airlie, riding our bicycles to partake in a Sip n’ Paint, where we painted owls and drank rosé. Again, the amenities at the resort were a bit outdated, but we very much enjoyed the activity.

Then, we returned to a second blissful meal at the Garden Bistro. The bistro itself is an atrium, with sky blue walls and white accents. The space is beautiful, airy, and serene—utterly idyllic for brunch.

We were greeted by our same waitress from the evening prior, a bright, bubbly and adept young lady who could not be over the age of 20. She was incredibly sweet, and a great waitress, through both experiences. We twice considered inviting her to join us.

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Brunch began with buttery, fluffy house-baked biscuits, served with honey butter and raspberry preserves. These biscuits were out of this world—we asked for a second basket.

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There were also quite a few beverages on the table—coffees, impossibly sparkling mimosas, and an amuse bouche of pumpkin soup.

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We shared the fruit salad, which was carefully prepared with slices of grapes, kiwi, and strawberries as well as blackberries and pomegranate seeds. It was served with sweet, whipped goat cheese, which was an amazing addition.

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Sophie opted for the Salmon Benedict, which was perfectly prepared and beautifully plated. She says, “I liked the salmon so much the night before that I had it again, this time as a salmon benedict. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the salmon was once again a large, generous serving, making it the main focus of the dish, rather than the eggs and Hollandaise.”

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Allison selected the French toast, baked in house and covered in fresh berry compote of blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, accented with sprigs of mint and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Rather than syrup, the dish was served with a chocolate sauce.

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As usual, I ordered the steak and eggs. The dish was stunning—the steak was perched atop warm fingerling potatoes soaked in a tremendous gray, with a perfectly fried egg on top. The dish was served with a side of fresh, local veggies: Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, green beans, and beets. It was healthy and decadent at the same time—and the quality of the ingredients (and therefore the taste) was unbeatable.

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Following brunch, we took to skeet shooting—a first for yours truly. After a weekend with girlfriends, great food, and fun activities, we returned to Washington relaxed, refreshed, and contented.

The Bitches say: An aging resort, Airlie has a few kinks. The cuisine, service, and ambiance at the Garden Bistro warrant a resounding A+.

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  1. Thanks for sharing about Aerlie! My husband goes there for a retreat every year, but I might drag him back now that I know its open to public since he’s always raved about it!

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