Forbes Travel Guide has awarded Sheila Johnson’s Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg it’s coveted and rare Five-Star Rating, making it one of only two new properties in the United States to receive the honor this year.

Only 210 properties in the entire world are ranked Five-Star and only 79 in all the United States.

Excellence Throughout

General Manager Reggie Cooper stated his team has been preparing internally by setting their own high standards for years to achieve Five-Stars.  Formal training for new employees is rigorous and is backed by on-going coaching and review, including visits to the facility by the resort’s own “secret shoppers.”

Last year, Cooper said, he KNEW they had a good chance when a staff member greeted, what turned out to be a Forbes inspector, at the door and insisted on giving him his personal and very best attention.

Before the Five-Star announcement, Salamander Resort & Spa also was one of only three properties in the United States to be honored in Forbes’ guide to the “World’s Most Luxurious” list for both the spa AND hotel.

Getting the News

Salamander’s Founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, Sheila Johnson, got the news while she was in Milan in mid-January.

Prem Devadas, President of Salamander Hotels & Resorts called her and asked if she “could be ready for a call from Forbes” in the next hour or so.  Johnson requested that Reggie Cooper, Salamander Resort & Spa’s General Manager was on the call as well.

When the call came, Johnson said, the Forbes’ representative went on at length about quality of the resort while she, Devadas and Cooper waited for what seemed like hours (though probably only minutes) for whatever news was coming.

Spirits fell as Forbes told the team they were sorry, but the spa had “just missed” making the Five-Star level, though still ranked as one of the best spas in the world.

After a pause, Forbes then continued  they were pleased to annouce Salamander Resort & Spa has been awarded the Five-Star rating.

Celebrations followed but were limited for a time to members of the Executive Team as Forbes had insisted that the news be embargoed for five weeks, until February 20.  Thus there could not be a note, whisper, tweet, Facebook post, anything revealing the Five-Star rating until this past week. That may have been the HARDEST part of getting the news, according to Cooper.

Secrets of Success

Both Johnson and Cooper credited an extraordinary and devoted staff, without a moment’s hesitation, as the secret of their success.

Johnson noted the special contributions of Prem Devadas, now President of Salamander Hotels & Resorts. She said he shepherded the Salamander project through the toughest days of its early existence, transforming the Middleburg project from something foreign and strange in the eyes of those who knew and loved the town, to an admired and respected partner and full member of the greater Middleburg community.

Fate and a keen eye for talent, she said, gave her Reggie Cooper as General Manager.  His combination of experience, extraordinarily high standards, and easy grace made him perfect for Middleburg.

The managers and staff they sought out, recruited, trained and embrace reflect the best of both.  They, of course, credit Johnson.  They are all, of course, right.

Inspectors’ Highlights

Forbes’ inspectors were unstinting in their praise.

“It’s hard to be bored during a stay at Salamander Resort & Spa,” they wrote, citing the facility’s horse barns and trail rides, canopy tour, and 23,000 square foot spa.

“Although the entire resort is technically 340 acres,” they continued, “only 140 of those are cleared . . . leaving miles upon miles of hiking, biking and riding trails, not to mention: 50 wineries within an hour’s drive, the joys of strolling downtown Middleburg (only a seven minute walk away); luxurious rooms; fine restaurants; culinary classes and wine tastings.”

When it All Began

Sheila Johnson is known worldwide as the co-founder of BET, founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, founder of the Middleburg Film Festival; co-owner of the Washington Mystics, Washington Wizards, and Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals; musician; educator; mother and grandmother. One of the things that pleases her most, she continued, was that her late mother, lived to see Middleburg’s Salamander Resort & Spa open.