Mountain Majesty

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It’s like discovering a pearl in the wilderness,” says a Versace-clad woman to her dinner companions while I sip a glass of Cabernet and savor a bit of eavesdropping at Blackberry Farm. It is the perfect description. 

Few would expect such refinement in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in east Tennessee. Don’t bother looking for a sign on the main road to guide you to a place where chic and sheep coincide—gawkers are discouraged. In fact, the average tourist has never heard of this rural retreat and that suits Blackberry Farm just fine. They don’t advertise.

Instead, word-of-mouth, articles in high-end publications, top rankings on nearly every “best resort” list plus awards from the James Beard Foundation and Wine Spectator feed the momentum. Hollywood celebs (rumor has it Oprah and Martha Stewart stayed here), West Coast techies and others in the know frequent this bucolic resort/spa/gourmet getaway for exceptional and very private R&R. 

Even the word “resort” feels wrong. “Experience” is a better description. With only 69 rooms and cottages on 4,200 acres (plus an additional 5,000 acres of private wilderness for fox hunting, horseback riding, fly-fishing or hiking) this Relais & Chateaux working farm and gastronomic mecca offers perks that are far from the usual golf or skiing choices (they don’t have either).

They do have a dairy, creamery, charcuterie and brewery plus a master cheesemaker, beekeeper, chocolatier and preservationist who oversees the jam making. Jams also are sold on the farm as well as to fancy food emporiums through- out the U.S. (The blueberry is to die for.)

All vegetables served are grown on the farm and only heirloom seeds are used. Milk from the sheep is used to make their yogurt and cheeses. A butcher and baker are on staff and, odds are, a candlestick maker is here somewhere, too. The sommelier and his team oversee a 221-page wine list representing 175,000 bottles including rare vintages such as a $8,500 bottle of Montrachet.

The farm is even cultivating truffles.

To hunt for them—assuming they materialize, there are no guarantees for this 10-year project—Blackberry is breeding rare Lagotto Romagnolo dogs imported from Italy. Fall in love with a puppy? They are for sale—$6,000 each, trained with commands given exclusively in Italian, of course. Untrained, the price is halved.

Privately owned and managed by the Beall family since the early ’70s, Blackberry Farm employs a staff of 375 to care for its pampered guests. Room rates include three glorious meals each day and begin at $795; cottage suites from $1,495. For families or groups of friends needing four or five bedrooms, a new Garden House collection includes a main house with a full kitchen so the chef can create private dining experiences plus two charming cottages clustered nearby.

When the Blackberry’s new spa, The Wellhouse, opened I talked my hubby into a three-night stay. On arrival, our car is whisked away. (Our cottage comes with its own golf cart.) If we want a lift, a fleet of new Lexus cars is available, with or without a driver.

From the outside, our brown wood-framed cottage appears unremarkable.

Inside we find all the bells and whistles of a luxury hotel—soaring 17-foot ceiling in the living/bedroom, polished wood floors topped with eclectic furnishings, Frette linens and robes plus a pantry stocked with complimentary snacks. The bathroom is big enough for a family reunion. (With heated floors, natch.)

Despite the temptation to hang out in the fancy digs, we head outdoors, winding our way through pastures dotted with horses and a dozen piglets following their mom. We discover a crystal-clear trout stream, a tranquil lake and we linger at the boathouse before putting a canoe to use. While there are plenty of activities—yoga, fly-fishing, horseback riding and archery for starters—there is something to be said for doing nothing. The only thing on my ‘to do’ list is visiting the spa, which specializes in incorporating wellness and beauty rituals inspired by the region’s mountains, forests and other natural elements.

Face down on the massage table, my dings and dents are tweaked as hot, moist herbal poultices are pressed into my aching muscles. The delicious scent is a combination of ginger, mint, lemon verbena and sage taken straight from the farm’s own garden. I make a mental note to try the Sheep’s Milk, Lavender and Wildflower Honey Pedicure on my next visit, but after 90 minutes of detoxifying bliss, I’m ready for something else hedonistic: dinner! 

“Good evening,” says the tall young man who swoops down upon us, ready to fulfill our every wish. I’m having trouble focusing on menu choices. Instead, I’m fixated on the room, a splendid turn-of-the-century barn with high ceilings and massive beams.

I place the snowy white antique linen napkin on my lap and scan the French china and sterling silver. Given the game plan we anticipate a hoity-toity menu. While there is plenty of haute cuisine, the forward-thinking chef creatively combines fancier fare with southern foothills food. And, he doesn’t take himself too seriously —Guinea Hen Croquettes with White Truffle Sauce are served on a piece of tree bark. My husband’s paté is served on slate at the same time my Swiss Chard Salad is presented on fancy gold-rimmed china.   

Dinner may be the star each day, but breakfast and lunch aren’t far behind. Both are served in a room you would expect to find in a private country estate. In our cozy banquette, surrounded by the owners’ impressive art collection and
antique furnishings, we decide that the most beautiful art (and there’s plenty of it) is the daily vista of fog hanging over the Smokies as viewed from the sprawling stone terrace.

By day three, we’re accustomed to being spoiled. At checkout, a perky young man appears with two boxed lunches for our trip home. Even those aren’t ordinary—turkey sandwiches with scallion mayo on rosemary flatbread, containers of radish and stewed-apple salad and the most extraordinary chocolate chip cookies on the planet. A perfect parting gift for a perfect weekend. blackberryfarm.com

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