Destination Hotels: Blackberry Farm
Where: Walland, Tennessee; 865-984-8166, blackberryfarm.com
Rate: $795 per night
We recommend: an anniversary trip
Curled up in a rocking chair atop the grassy hill behind Blackberry Farm’s Main House as the sun cracks above the Great Smoky Mountains—making them smolder in the early-morning light—you begin to understand why so many travelers are willing to part with a paycheck to spend the weekend at the heralded East Tennessee resort. The 4,200-acre property’s hospitality and culinary prowess are spoken of in whispered awe among the luxury travel set, bewitched by the elevated take on the simple joys of rural life. Return to your room after dinner to the crackle-and-pop of a wood-burning fire lit for you and a fridge already stocked with your favorite wine.
At least half of the guests are here specifically for the food. Blackberry Farm was purchased in 1976 by Sam Beall III, known as Sandy, the founder of Ruby Tuesday restaurants. His son Sam, trained at the Culinary Institute of America and such California cooking cathedrals as Cowgirl Creamery and The French Laundry, transformed the once-humble inn into a four-star destination—and one of America’s most discerning small hotels. Two acclaimed restaurants, The Dogwood and The Barn, serve “foothills cuisine.” In multi-course meals, chefs Sarah Steffan and Cassidee Dabney marry fine-dining technique with dishes and ingredients native to the Smokies. Thomas Keller and David Chang have done guest stints in the kitchen. The leather-bound wine list at The Barn is three inches thick and 10,000 bottles strong. (It changes daily. The Farm’s full collection reaches upward of 160,000.) Seven to 10 sommeliers are on duty at any given time. Want to try a glass of that intriguing Lebanese cabernet sold only by the bottle? Just ask—thanks to the regularity of paired dinners at The Barn, you might luck out with an already-open bottle.
Pay attention throughout your time on the Farm. Nearly everything you experience, from the fields to the woods, influences the food. Porters whisk you from one destination to the other in a golf cart, but get the lay of the land anyway on the Farmstead Tasting Tour, which reveals the heart of Blackberry Farm’s field-to-fork ethos. You’ll meet East Friesian sheep, Devonshire hogs, bobwhite quail, Welsh Harrington ducks, Rhode Island Red chickens, and a particularly friendly pair of New England turkeys. You’ll sip award-winning lagers and snack on aged sheep’s-milk cheese and seasonal jams at the Larder. But the puppies steal the show. Blackberry Farm breeds three litters of Italian, truffle-hunting Lagotto Romagnolo pups each year, and there’s a four-year waiting list for one.
At the new Wellhouse spa, a cup of the dandelion tea and a window seat in the Meadow Lounge await. If you’re after more than a rubdown, the spa’s Deep Healing Woods field trips explore the Japanese art of forest bathing—yoga, meditation, and other fitness pursuits fully immersed in nature.
But food is Blackberry Farm’s love language. Jars of pimento cheese and platters of crackers in your room upon arrival say “welcome,” housemade oatmeal cream pies bid you “good afternoon” in the lobby just when you think you couldn’t possibly eat again (yet you do), fireside fixings for s’mores wish you “goodnight,” and to-go boxed lunches fondly communicate “goodbye.” You’ll be planning your return trip by the second bite.
ACE THIS TRIP
Explore: Ask your server or sommelier at The Barn for a private tour of the underground, European-style wine tunnel, which was completed in 2016 and stretches from the restaurant to the inn’s recently completed event space.
Upgrade: Accommodations at Blackberry Farm are scattered around the premises, some in the Main House and guest house and others freestanding. Hill Cottages are enchanting homes with theater surround sound in the living room and private use of a golf cart.
What’s new: Blackberry Mountain, a brand-new 5,200-acre wellness resort with two new restaurants (one with 360-degree views of the Smokies), is slated to open in 2019. Reservations require a three-night minimum.