The most luxe of locations aren’t always found in metropolitan high-rises or on tropical islands. In fact, one of the most renowned resorts in the United States is very much one with nature, constructed away from the stereotypical cities and beaches of other vacationers. Go ahead and judge this book by its cover; the beautiful setting speaks volumes for what a lovely time you’ll have at Blackberry Farm.
If you have never been to Eastern Tennessee, all of your senses are in for a treat this time of year when the flowers in bloom fill the air with alluring smells, the green rolling hills pierce the sight, the taste of the season’s farm fresh produce appeases yearning bellies, and the sounds of the chirping spring birds wake you from your slumber. Blackberry Farm sets the stage to allow all of these senses to be indulged. This 4,200 acre estate is surreptitiously masked under that layer of morning mist you see in those seemingly staged postcards of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Underneath you will find a bucolic hideaway that has established itself as a premier luxury, farm-to-table resort, the #1 Resort in North America, in fact, according to Travel + Leisure last year. Food & Wine says, “From the moment we arrived at the Inn at Blackberry Farm, I felt as though I was visiting a friend’s stylish but relaxed country home,” while Country Inns Magazine calls it the “Ritz-Carlton in the woods.”
Florida and Dave Laiser were taken by this spot back in the 1930s, so much so that they decided to set down roots. As the legend goes, Florida caught her silk stockings on a blackberry bush and the name Blackberry Farm stuck. The Beall Family later turned the property into a six room inn during the 1970s. Their son, Sam, grew up at Blackberry but left to learn the tools of the gastronomic trade at California Culinary Academy. After apprenticeships at farms, wineries and restaurants including the reknowned kitchen and garden at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, Beall couldn’t help but return to Blackberry Farm, where he is now proprietor and lives with his family.
Beall authored theBlackberry Farm Cookbook, which features seductive food photography and recipes that combine traditional Appalachian with New South cuisine. Baked into the mixture of these recipes are stories that bring texture to the history of Eastern Tennessee terroir. There is, indeed, a rich wisdom in the history of this land, starting with the Cherokees and the Appalachians who learned what would grow best on and be foraged from this fertile ground.
The Blackberry Farmstead provides an abundance of goods: Fresh fruits and vegetables from the heirloom gardens and orchards which are canned by their own preservationist, wild flower honey from bees cared for by their own beekeeper, cheese made from the milk of their East Friesian sheep, bright yellow yolk fresh eggs from their own hens, and house-made charcuterie and sausages from their own pigs. Joe, Ben and Hoss, who of course are the guardian llamas that so kindly keep the sheep safe from predators, will greet you in the green pastures. Sustainability is not just to be found in the organic farming practices and humanely raised livestock; it’s incorporated into the vision of Blackberry itself, with conservation easements and recycling programs in place.
Strolling through Blackberry’s orchards, you will find Black walnut, persimmon, cherry, apple and crabapple trees, along with muscadine grape vines, blueberry, raspberry and blackberry bushes. But the most intriguing development is a recently planted hazelnut orchard established more for the purpose of harvesting black truffles from their roots when the saplings become mature than for the hazelnuts themselves.
The area’s strong agricultural folklore includes a focus on heirloom vegetables like pumpkins, gourds and cornstalks, a tradition which Blackberry works hard to keep alive by planting these heirloom varieties with classic names like Milk and Cider, White Hull Pink Tip, Old-Time Golden Stick and Cades Cove cutshort beans. The Farmstead’s heirloom gardens are run by Garden Manager Jeff Ross, and Master Gardener John Coykendall who comments, “Each of these seeds tells a story, and the fruit they bear is only the half of it. It turns out you can trace each one back to some very interesting people and places.”
The intoxicating cut flower garden supplies the beautiful arrangements found across the resort and will make you want to follow that old cliche of stopping to smell the roses. Here, however, you’ll be inhaling the wonderful fragrance of colorful treasures like Sunflowers, Coreopsis, Daffodils, Ironweed, Bee Balm, Butterfly Bush, Sedum and aromatic herbs like Purple Basil, Lavender and Salvia. Patrons are welcome to participate in farm activities and can purchase a little slice of Blackberry Farmstead heaven including jams, artisanal cheeses, dry mixes and salumis in the gift shop before heading back to reality.
Under the direction of Executive Chef Joseph Lenn, the FarmStead cornucopia is served up as what Blackberry has aptly named “Foothills Cuisine” at their restaurant. Beneath the gambreled roof of what was once an 18th century Amish bank barn, the in-house baker, cheese maker, forager, butcher, jam lady, chocolatier, sommelier and chefs are sure to find something to tantalize your palate. Spring is here in full force, with ramp and other seasonal delights infusing the dishes at The Barn, which was given the prestigious honor of being named a Relais Gourmand Restaurant. This is a title you can taste in the care put into every dish and meticulously chosen wine bottle stored down below in the livestock stalls-turned 8,000-square- foot wine cellar. This throwback barn building is also home to Blackberry’s Farm Kitchen, where cheese tastings, cook demonstrations and a series of visiting chefs and winemakers come to appease guests’ appetites.
Blackberry’s team of sommeliers led by Andy Chabot pride themselves on helping guests navigate the extensive wine menu and select a bottle that is perfect for the meal. For guests interested in wine for the first time, they can guide you through an unpretentious introduction via a selection of well over 170 half-bottles that offer the opportunity to design the perfect food and wine experience.
Blackberry Farm sommelier Andy Chabot
If you haven’t settled on a cozy Blackberry Estate Room or Cottage Suite, the Hill Cottages are the way to ride into Blackberry in style. Quite literally, you can ride up to the cottages in your personal golf cart, where you will be greeted by your personal concierge. If you are feeling like a homebody, laze next to the fireplace, unwind in your oversized soaking tub, rock on the front porch rockers while you take in the luscious view, or watch a movie with a theatre surround sound experience. Should the family be in tow, or if perhaps it’s a friends’ weekend, the Houses offer the added bonus of a private chef, while all the lavish accommodations boast cushy feather beds, soft robes, and a comforting yet modern farm chic interior design.
Blackberry seems to have conjured up activities to please folks of all ages and persuasions. The outdoorsmen can find satisfaction in their miles of hiking trails, camping, cycling and paddling adventures. The sportsmen will be pleased to choose from fly fishing on Heese Creek, sporting clays, fox hunting and the option of a customized Sporstman weekend planned just for them. Athletes can get their heart rate up with a certified trainer in a Blackberry Wellness Boot Camp series, or take a private yoga lesson, play tennis, swim some laps or enjoy a day of golfing on-site.
Blackberry Farm became an Orvis-endorsed fishing lodge in 2001
But if you are like some who go on vacation with a strict “I’m here to relax” policy, have no worries. There is plenty of time to pamper yourself at the Farmhouse Spa, and so many other activities that are nearly equally as relaxing. Laid-back afternoons can be spent playing badminton or croquet; participating in a leisurely bird watching walk, garden tour, or seed talk; or indulging in a carriage ride, guided horseback ride or even a joy ride on one of their custom co-motion bikes.
Let us not forget the little ones, who need their own entertainment (and let’s be honest, those parents might want some quiet time, too). Look no further than Camp Blackberry kids day camp activities; they include everything from scavenger hunts and cooking classes to crawfish hunting and egg gathering. This is one way Blackberry is “keeping it in the family,” as they say, and wisely training the next generation to want to come back for more – just as Sam Beall did over 30 years ago.
1471 West Millers Cove Road
Walland, Tenn. 37886