Maryland, Virginia and Washington, USA – Travel Review
Maryland, Virginia and Washington – Travel Review
A Capital Time in National Harbor
by Richard Jones
It’s not every day you get to shake hands with the President of the United States. Okay, it wasn’t the current leader. Or even one of the surviving former presidents. In fact, it was a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln. But still, a president all the same.
I was at National Harbor, strolling down American Way, home to the sculptures of Lincoln and others. Before my trip to Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC, I didn’t expect to encounter a president – well, not in the flesh anyway.
However, I realised the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Donald Trump, was probably going to play a small part in my trip, as he continues to crop up in many conversations a year on from his election victory. But it’s not just the political landscape that has changed in the US’s Capital Region over the past 12 months – the area itself is undergoing considerable transformation.
“Haven for foodies”
I was a guest at MGM National Harbor, the $1.4billion entertainment venue that has brought Las Vegas glamour to the shores of the Potomac since opening in December 2016. From the second I set foot in the place I was reminded of Vegas, in particular the 5* Aria resort on the Strip – there is high-end art hung throughout, and despite its scale, the place feels light and airy. It even smells like a Vegas mega hotel (but without the stale smoke).
Although thousands flock to MGM National Harbor each day predominantly for the gaming, you’d be a fool to waste all your time on the sensory-overloading casino floor. For a start, it’s is a haven for foodies, and during my stay I dined at all three of the resort’s flagship restaurants.
I began at Fish By José Andrés, which with its nautical theme and views of the spectacular Potomac Plaza fountains, makes you forget you’re anywhere near a casino. Starting with an oyster and gin and tonic shooter, I had a taster menu featuring Virginia middle-neck clams, a Louisiana shrimp cocktail and Maryland crab cake.
Meanwhile, located in The District area, Voltaggio Brothers Steak House is celebrity siblings Bryan and Michael’s first joint venture. The plush space is designed to look and feel like a living room, complete with personal belongings from the Voltaggio family’s rural home, while the cuisine was sensational. I had a lightly seasoned prime filet mignon, cooked to perfection, with white cheddar-topped Bloomsdale spinach.
The brothers’ Timeline Cocktail list is also a delight – my favourite was the 1920 Queens Park Swizzle, a predecessor to the Mojito made from a concoction of rums, Velvet Falernum, lime juice, mint and bitters. Finally, located just off the Conservatory, sleek pan-Asian restaurant Ginger is not headed by a celebrity chef, but has built up the best reputation of all. I had a lunch of Vietnamese spring rolls and half a Cantonese duck with plum sauce, cashews and Chinese pickles.
MGM National Harbor’s in-room dining menu is designed by James Beard Award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson, and instead of a buffet-style dining hall akin to Vegas, the resort has the National Market, housing the likes of Shake Shack and Starbucks. There was a high-profile boxing bout taking place on the Saturday night, and I watched it on the big screens in Felt, as the bartender rolled out a mixicology cart and created a cocktail in front of my seat.
Just outside the casino is Tap, a sports-lover’s heaven, decorated with framed jerseys and other sports memorabilia. In what must have looked like a scene from Man Vs Food, I took on the challenge of getting through a cheese and spicy beef nacho mountain washed down with a few craft beers.
Despite flying into Dulles in luxury courtesy of British Airways, the effects of jet lag (and over indulgence) are unavoidable, so I booked myself in at the resort’s world-class spa. After a steam, sauna and swim, I arrived for a 80-minute Sensational Fusion Signature Massage that featured a hot water foot treatment followed by a harmonising massage targeting my aches and pains.
Although you can easily spend your full break cocooned in the luxurious MGM property, there is plenty to see and do in the National Harbor area. The Tanger Outlets are just a five-minute walk up Oxon Hill, while down the bike trail, and adjacent to Woodrow Wilson Bridge, is National Harbor itself – a waterfront development of smart condos, quaint shops and quirky restaurants.
I jumped on a Potomac RiverBoat Company water taxi to historic Alexandria in Virginia and took a ride on the Capital Wheel before sitting down for some afternoon seafood at Redstone Grill.
Following a few days at the MGM, I left Maryland behind and headed into DC to stay at another very special hotel. Originally built in 1917, the W Washington DC on 15th Street reopened its doors in 2009 after extensive refurbishment.
Hosting everyone from presidents to politicians, celebrities to CEOs, socialites to superstars, this was where Elvis Presley met with President Nixon to ask if he could become a federal agent.
After a spot of relaxation in my appropriately named Fantastic Suite, I ascended to its iconic rooftop lounge, POV, where I sipped on a Strawberry Lemonade cocktail and a chomped down on a hanger steak salad while watching the sun set over the White House.
For first-time visitors to DC, by far the easiest and most fun way to see the city is on a Segway tour. Our Bike and Roll DC guide Bill took us through the Segway basics before leading our small group up to the National Mall – a two-mile-long area of green space that contains many of Washington’s key landmarks.
To the east there is the Capitol Building, site of the inauguration and where US Congress meets. Roughly in the middle of the Mall stands 555ft-high marble obelisk the Washington Monument, while at the other end there is the Lincoln Memorial temple and the Reflecting Pool, which you may remember from Forrest Gump.
On my last morning, I had breakfast at Old Ebbitt Grill around the corner from the hotel before hopping on a mountain bike and pedalling over to Arlington, Virginia. Coming across the Potomac at Key Bridge, I cycled south on the Mount Vernon Trail, along the river, passing Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon before reaching the Four Mile Run Trail.
This took me into Shirlington, where I had a spot of lunch at Busboys and Poets. During the ride back, I heard sirens and saw flashing blue lights coming down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House.
“Perhaps this was Mr Trump on his way home?” I thought. Regardless, it is still likely to be the closest I will ever get to the 45th President – unless they build a statue in his memory one day.
But I’d say the odds of that happening right now are greater than winning the jackpot on a slot machine in the MGM casino.
Richard Jones flew to Washington Dulles with British Airways (britishairways.com) who offer flights from London Heathrow from £686 return including taxes/fees and carrier charges.
He was a guest at MGM National Harbor (mgmnationalharbor.com) where rooms start from £140 per night on a room-only basis.
The W Washington DC Hotel (wwashingtondc.com) has rooms from £290 per night.
For more information on holidays in Maryland, Washington DC and Virginia, please visit capitalregionusa.co.uk