Country Rustic Elegance at Airlie Center

Whitney and Shawn Connelly began their search for the perfect wedding venue with specific requirements in mind. “We wanted a place where we could have a formal wedding, but still be relaxed enough for everybody to have fun,” explains Whitney. The couple also needed a place where they could host multiple events. “Airlie had everything we wanted. Our family and friends stayed at Airlie; we had our rehearsal dinner, wedding ceremony and reception there; and the next day, we had a breakfast for guests who stayed the night,” Whitney says. “It takes the guesswork out of everything when it’s all done in one place.”


Photo By Mike Lesnick

Airlie Center is a luxury resort that manages to be vintage and modern at the same time. Formerly a working farm, Airlie was transformed into a conference center in 1956, where heads of state, business people and scientists could meet in a distraction free environment. In the last few years, the conference center opened to leisure guests and has since transitioned to a full-service resort. A few miles from the charming town of Warrenton, Airlie is one hour from Washington D.C. and 33 miles from Dulles Airport, making it an ideal wedding venue for both D.C. Area residents and out-of-town guests. The Airlie property is surrounded by 1,200 acres of natural preserve, so it feels like a village in the country. Once you’ve arrived, you won’t need your car until you leave.

Through the revitalization of historic buildings, like the silo, post office, stables, lodge and the Swan Pub, Airlie has seven different housing units and multiple sites to host weddings year-round.  “It’s a full service hospitality facility,” notes Carol Smith, Airlie’s director of sales and marketing. Smith says bringing a wedding group together, and making a whole weekend out of it, is what’s trending in the marketplace. “Families are celebrating for more than one day—the rehearsal dinner, groomsmen playing golf, bridesmaids taking the bride to a nearby winery—Airlie serves a multi-day event quite well,” Carol concludes.

Bridal consultant Amanda Smith, owner of White Pumpkin Weddings in Alexandria, often directs her clients to visit Airlie. “I think it has that wow factor. Driving down that winding driveway is just beautiful, and you get a sense of relaxation when you enter. They’re getting away, but everything is there for them.”

Airlie has a number of sites for rehearsal dinners, ceremonies and receptions, and for every Plan A, they have a workable and almost equally spectacular Plan B. Many couples choose to have their wedding in the garden, and then move to the 365-degree open-air pavilion, with its scenic views and dimmable chandeliers. “It looks like a set Ralph Lauren designed,” describes Airlie’s catering manager Tara Henson.

There are several picturesque sites where the bridal party can set up a Pinterest-worthy shot—Airlie’s Spanish Steps at the Lodge, the banks of Lake Stanley with swans swimming in the background, and Airlie’s new “LOVE” sign, which debuted on Earth Day in conjunction with the Virginia Tourism Bureau. Virginia’s motto “Virginia is for Lovers” comes alive with the use of recyclable materials: letters are made from empty wine bottles, the O is a giant tractor tire, and the V is made out of vines.

The Connelly’s say they were “blown away by the food” at Airlie. Chef Jeff Witte hosts group tastings so the couples can sample some of his signature dishes, but he’s also open to input from the bridal party. “He allowed us to create our own menu, but stayed within our budget, which was not outlandish. At our three course reception, we served filet and lobster tail. We ate three meals at Airlie, and every single meal was so good.”


Photo By Mike Lesnick

Airlie’s food is superb, and part of why it’s so exceptional is that their produce and meats come from thirty nearby farms and Airlie’s own garden. “It’s trendy to say ‘buy local,’ or ‘farm-to-table,’ but Airlie’s been doing that for 25 years,” says Carol Smith. “We aren’t working off a set menu. The farms are so close that chefs go pick it out themselves, and we don’t have to pass the expense onto the customer.” Airlie even offers a gourmet-on-demand menu that guests can order while fishing at the lake or playing at the volleyball court. Riding the complimentary bikes and bringing along a picnic basket is another popular activity for Airlie guests, along with archery, tennis, swimming and skeet shooting.

Airlie’s catering managers work closely with couples, striving to meet their expectations before and during the wedding. Bridal consultant Amanda Smith says the staff is known for taking care of the little things—like shuttling mobility-challenged guests around, providing blankets when it gets cool, and moving the food service quickly. They’ve brought out Adirondack chairs and tall lanterns by the lake. One wedding had a cigar tent. “At Airlie you have all that space to spread out, and the food is always amazing,” Smith adds. “I ask clients what they picture for their wedding, and if they want an all-inclusive, country-rustic elegance in a getaway space, Airlie comes to the top of the list.” 

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