Shadow Mountain Escape Is For Lovers
This month’s Road Trip took us across Skyline Drive to Shadow Mountain Escape (SME), the dream and brainchild of owners Karen and Ralph Riddle. As stated on their website, SME is “An all season Romantic Couple’s Escape in authentic timber frame cabins located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia bordering the Shenandoah National Park.”
You will find Shadow Mountain about two miles on the Luray side of the Thornton Gap entrance to Skyline Drive on Jewell Hollow Road. The name “Shadow Mountain Escape” comes from the name of the tracts (Shadow Mountain tracts) of land that were originally subdivided within Jewell Hollow from large parcels that once belonged to several of the pioneering families of the county (the Jewell and Sours family among them). The Riddles added the term “Escape” to invoke a sense of the underlying purpose behind their effort. In an attempt to provide an environment conducive to happiness and fulfillment, they focused on exposing the beauty and spirit of the natural landscape and the remarkable life that flourishes there. The use of *Timber Frame construction in all of the buildings adds to that theme. Ralph wanted to create the “Old World” charm that comes from his German heritage so, after retiring from the Army, the couple spent several years living and discovering the wonders of the “Old World”. Many thousands of dollars were spent sourcing and importing authentic furnishings from family members and shops while on their trek.
All of the SME structures and landscapes were designed by Ralph who has a passion for design and history. He holds a degree from Virginia Tech in Landscape Architecture. The couple began their project in 1994 and first opened in 2002. The history of the project is fascinating and worth hearing but would take up too much room here. Be sure to ask him about the stone work and most importantly the “Gothic Tower” and Max and Moritz. He constructed it himself with stones from the property. It is impressive.
There are four cabins located on the fifteen acre property. In celebration of the abundant wild life, all of the cabins were given indigenous “bug names”. The SME Bear Dance Lodge was the first rental built on the property and the two cabins were named the Dragon Fly and Bumble Bee. The Butterfly loft was opened in 2003 and the final rental, the Ladybug, was completed in 2011.
For added adventure the couple incorporated “La Cantina” in the basement of the Bear Dance Lodge which was inspired by their many visits to Europe. Their intent was to capture the special atmosphere for their guests that they found only in the authentic settings of a German “Stube” or a Tuscan “Cantina”! Guests receive a private entry code upon check in. Conversely, the “Timber Frame Tower” tops off the Lodge and is open to all guests. The construction and history of the décor are worth looking into as well.
The accommodations are exceptional. After what you just read you might be thinking a very rustic decor…not so. Remember, the furnishings have all been hand-picked and the majority have been imported from Europe. We were lucky to score a night in the Ladybug. As stated earlier, it is the newest and smallest of SME’s charming timber frame (no nails) structures. Although the Ladybug’s design is inspired by “Old World” Europe, it incorporates an advanced climate control system and the highest quality materials. We will start at the top with the bedroom that is under the exposed timber frame roof. There is an Argentinian forged iron Artisan queen size bed, a small seating area with a balcony, a small TV (you probably won’t bother to turn it on) and an inviting bathroom and shower. An iron spiral staircase descends to the lower/main floor could be described as a large sitting room complete with two red leather wingback chairs. The room has a large antique oak cabinet which contains a small refrigerator and microwave.
There is a circular table in the middle of the room that sits between the chairs. The table was adorned with a silk flower arrangement, a delicious mini apple Bundt cake and Karen’s famous heart shaped brownies!
Every attention to detail is made at SME. There is also a wood burning stove for use during the colder months that is a delight. There is central heat and air if you don’t trust yourself with the fire. A Keurig coffee maker with complimentary K-Cups for that coffee fix is very handy in the mornings. When I first entered, my thought was ‘how small’ but when it comes to usage…it is perfect, especially when you are looking for the wood burning stove to heat the place on a cold winter night. Perfect. It needs to be mentioned here that the other three cabins are bigger than Ladybug and have full baths, fireplaces and full, furnished kitchens and grills for outdoor cooking. Each of them has a very distinct personality.
While many of their regulars come to hike in the Shenandoah, there is a ½ mile Nature Trail on the SME property. Very cleverly named “The Rabbit Chase” this ½ mile trek is marked with 25 iron “bunnies” pointing you in the right direction. The terrain is rough but flat and a major portion of it follows one of the creeks that run through the property. There are 25 markers that are outlined in a guide in your room that you can take and follow along with the descriptions of the flora and fauna as well as wild life you may encounter. My partner did the trek and said it was very relaxing but you need to have on decent footwear. Keep watch for the several Cairns (Stone Stacks) that guests have created along the stream. You are encouraged to add your own.
We were lucky enough to be invited to a private dinner with our hosts and another couple who are personal friends of the Riddle’s. We were socially distanced in the best way possible – in the courtyard beside their residence that just happens to be connected by decking to the Lady Bug. This area has one of the coolest wood burning stoves/fire features we have ever encountered. The atmosphere, the company, adult beverages and the good food (Ralph cooked the salmon in the stove) made for a fantastic evening. The courtyard is available until 9 pm to guests as is the Gothic Tower adjacent to the courtyard. If you are lucky and the Riddle’s are home, they may start a fire for you and Ralph might just treat you to an authentic German beverage.
Ralph and Karen are great folks and know what they are doing. Karen has made sure that the property exudes Romance. Couples can be totally by themselves or they can cavort with other guests if they like. There is a campfire for guests on Saturday nights complete with s’mores that are delivered to your door. They offer several packages that include food stuffs (Karen’s sweets are amazing) and wine but you are encouraged to bring provisions for meals if you don’t feel like leaving the property in search of an eatery.
Although SME is in a beautiful wooded area bordering the Shenandoah National Park, you are still only 20 minutes from attractions and things to do. On the east side of Thornton Gap and five miles down the mountain is the cool town of Sperryville. On the other side of the mountain is the town of Luray that not only has a number of restaurants and shops but also the spectacular Luray Caverns. The Caverns are worth a trip for sure. For a true SME adventure, consider taking the Blue Ridge Whiskey Wine Loop –discovershenandoah.com – that takes you to the areas hot spots including Copper Fox Distillery (see their ad in this issue) and the wineries, breweries and eateries that spot the countryside.
Noteworthy: Shadow Mountain Escape has been certified Virginia Green. They even have an on-site recycling center.
*What is Timber Framing? Timber framing is a distinctive style of building construction in which heavy timbers frame the structure instead of more slender dimensional lumber (for example, 2 x 6 in.). Timber framing was a building practice used throughout the world until roughly 1900 when the demand for cheap, fast housing brought dimensional lumber to the construction forefront. In the 1970’s, craftsmen revived the timber framing tradition in the United States and have ushered the design style into the modern era. Timber Framers Guild.
Shadow Mountain Escape
1132 Jewell Hollow Road