The serene and luxurious retreat in the mountains lives up to all the hype
Looking out the window onto the winding road through the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee leading to Blackberry Farm, the views seems to be getting more green by the minute over the 200 mile drive from Nashville. After less than 24 hours in Music City , where our fleeting time was spent exploring the charming Country Music Hall of Fame (Elvis’ solid-gold piano and Dolly Parton’s coat of many colors? Yes, please!), sipping a local whiskey in the fully stocked vintage music room at the delightfully over-the-top Urban Cowboy B&B, brunching at the delicious outpost of the Charleston-based Husk, and bowling well into the night at the happening Pinewood Social, a bar-meets-swimming-pool-meets-boccie-court-and-bowling-alley (it works, I promise), we were ready for the peace and quiet of farm life.
I became fascinated with Blackberry Farm after reading about Mary Celeste Beall in a New York Times profile (August 9, 2016). A striking mother of five, she had just taken over running the grand property, a hotel and culinary destination, in the Smokys right after her husband, Sam Beall, died in a skiing accident. Soon after we’d arrived at the farm, it was clear that Sam’s spirit, a charismatic foodie with a true zest for life, was ever present in the place he helped create with his parents, who bought the property in 1976 as the family’s private retreat and then turned it into a six-room guest inn, and then into the 68-room masterpiece, and arguably one of the best hotels in the country, that it is today.
We checked in and were seamlessly whisked away to our Holly Glade Cottage. It was a spacious suite with a sitting area, wood-burning fireplace, and a plush king-size bed that looked out to a vast hardwood forest. Interiors were polished yet warm. There are many accommodation options, including multi-bedroom homes. Our first order of business was getting the lay of the land. While many of the guests opt for renting a golf cart ($80 a day) to better explore the sprawling 4,200 acres, we set out by foot. Everything was picturesque—the rolling hills that led to hiking trails, the farm’s beloved and fully stocked garden, a pond with a wooden boathouse that looked set for a location in a Nicholas Sparks movie.
There are more than nine miles of trails for hiking, and it might have been the highlight of my husband’s trip when we bumped into Dallas Cowboys star tight end Jason Witten and his vacationing family on one of the trails . Celebrity sightings are a norm at the farm—Kelly Clarkson rented it out for her wedding in 2016 and visits yearly; Kacey Musgraves just had a concert at its on-site music venue, Bramble Hall; and chef Eric Ripert will be cooking for a wine-and-food event at the hotel this month.
After our hike, we shared a delicious craft beer made by Blackberry’s Brewery on the porch of our cottage. It was a perfect pairing with our welcome gift of house-made crackers and pimento cheese (served in a mason jar, of course). We didn’t find a single detail that wasn’t thought of during our stay. Then it was time to dress for dinner (literally). Jackets are required for men. We were chauffeured across the property to the 200-year-old Barn, a James Beard Award-winning restaurant, for a multi-course feast that delivered with every bite.
Before we had children and thanks to my work as a style and travel writer, we were lucky to experience many unforgettable hotels: We took in the mountain and ocean views at the breathtaking Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, California; trekked through the canyons of southern Utah around the Amangiri, which felt like the stunning end of the earth; and watched the stars around a campfire with interesting new friends from around the world at the serene and stylish mountain retreat near Telluride, Colorado, Dunton Hot Springs. I wanted to scope out Blackberry Farm to see if it was a place that would be fun and comfortable for kids too. My answer is a resounding yes! Here’s why:
• Summer is the best time to bring children to the farm. Those who are four and older can sign up for Camp Blackberry, where counselors create tailor-made adventures in culinary pursuits, fine arts, and more. The Youth Discovery program is for kids 10 and older and runs to acrylic-painting lessons, ceramics 101, and even stream ecology.
• There are custom activities for families to do together as well. Just one example is a 90-minute session called “A Working Farm,” in which you’ll tour the farmstead; meet sheep, chickens, pigs, and the like; gather eggs; and learn more about the farm’s production of artisanal cheeses and meats.
• On-site babysitting services are available if, say, you want an adults-only dinner at The Barn, but children are welcome for all meals at the light-filled 1930s farmhouse.
Think grilled Peking duck breast, brown butter snapper, and the most delicious marinated watermelon served with coriander, shallots, and pecans. We opted for a half-moon booth on the outside of the dining room for people-watching into the candlelit dining room. A tour of the jaw-dropping wine cellar on the floor below The Barn, which has more than 9,000 bottles on display, was worth the visit.
From wake surfing and cycling to archery and horseback riding, days at Blackberry Farm can be filled in many ways. My husband chose fly-fishing on the bubbling Hesse Creek, which runs through the property. Like everything else at Blackberry Farm, even the small fly-fishing headquarters is utterly charming. A ramshackle reclaimed-wood cabin (Orvis-endorsed), it comes stocked with gear and handsome plaid accents. I headed to the Wellhouse Spa, which carries products from my favorite au naturel line, Tata Harper, who lives on a pastoral farm of her own in Vermont. The swimming pool lies just outside the doors of the spa and is elevated to give views over the land, providing the ultimate setting for a day of leisure.
It was easy to fall into the peaceful rhythm of farm life, so packing up to leave such a thoughtfully curated retreat in the majestic Smoky Mountains wasn’t easy. The staff’s attention to detail carried through even after we drove out of the farm’s well-appointed gates. Since we’d left before lunch was served, the valet had put two picnic lunches into our car, which we decided to enjoy by one of the gorgeous rivers in the neighboring national park. The hype of this special place is real, and it took one weekend to know that what the Bealls have created at Blackberry Farm is pure magic.
Read more from the People Issue | December 2017