Just a short distance outside of Knoxville, the Great Smoky Mountains draw thousands of tourists each year who come to explore the terrain, take in the views and, in large numbers, gleefully descend upon the typical East Tennessee tourist traps found in towns like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. While visiting these commercialized spots is really the last thing I would ever want to do on a vacation, nearby is a destination that will always be on my list of favorite places.
Most people interested in luxury travel are familiar with the glorious setting of Blackberry Farm. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere, and certainly not what you would expect in the humble, rural town of Townsend, TN. It always feels like you’re entering an entirely different world when, after rounding multiple curves en route to the entrance, you begin seeing the immaculate white fence that tells you something ahead is different from the hodgepodge of old barns and small, aged houses that pepper the landscape leading to it.
From the first time I visited the Farm years ago, it was evident that no detail had been overlooked when orchestrating the ambiance, mission and service offered here. Our late friend Sam Beall was a mastermind when it came to hospitality. He brought his dreams to fruition on this beautiful property, so much so that it became an international destination for savvy travelers from all over. Our hearts were broken when Sam passed, at the age of 39, due to a tragic skiing accident in 2016. Despite a heavy heart, his widow Mary Celeste has managed to carry the torch forward while continuing to raise their five children. She’s a wonder and an inspiration, and it’s her determination to carry out Beall’s vision that continues to bring so much love and appreciation to the resort.
While visiting the Farm in early April, we found a moment to catch up and chat. Looking fresh and stylish in her casually elegant way, her energy and enthusiasm always leave me smiling and a bit envious of her effortlessly pulled-together look while running what is essentially a small army of highly-trained staff.
From the carefully appointed rooms to the special events, excursions and, of course, the culinary delights that define all things Blackberry, she manages to make sure perfection is experienced at every turn. That has now extended to the family’s latest venture, Blackberry Mountain, which is just a 20-minute scenic drive from the Farm. Already receiving incredible press, including an in-depth spread in the March edition of Town & Country magazine, the newest Blackberry retreat is the first property to receive a Relais & Châteaux designation before opening.
While the Mountain has much of the same allure as the Farm when it comes to the sprawling acreage, views and a focus on quality, the mission is slightly different in its emphasis. Here, all of the planning—from dining to activities and events—is centered around wellness. It is a luxury retreat just like its sister property, but more focused on helping guests thrive through their connection with nature and leave a bit healthier than when they arrived. An incredible spa and recreation area only hint at what you can experience, as every facet of the property has elements that appeal to the luxury wellness traveler. This is the place for active families, individuals and couples who want to learn or improve skills and mindfulness. Much of the formatting for these retreats come from Mary Celeste’s desire to live her best life. In the activities and surroundings, Blackberry Mountain gives guests a platform to do just that. While only open a short time, the property’s calendar is already filled with special guest artists, speakers, chefs and wellness and fitness experts to enhance the Mountain experience. Just a sweep through the calendar on the website (BlackberryMountain.com) shows how much planning has gone into creating the ideal environment to refresh, reboot and find peace of mind. The list of outdoor activities is endless and includes wellness-guru favorites like yoga (there’s even paddleboard yoga instruction) and biking, but also unique practices like forest bathing. With thousands of undeveloped acreage to explore, there is no shortage of ways to embrace a natural and healing experience.
When visiting, don’t expect some sort of strict regimen you might find at other health or fitness resorts. Here, the approach is softer and more subtle, combining wellness, joy and pampering with the luxury that’s so evident at Blackberry Farm. The two restaurants onsite focus on locally sourced ingredients with careful attention to seasonal menus. You won’t find much of the typical culprits like gluten, fats or additives in their creations, but you’ll discover a flow of insightfully-combined flavors using healthy, fresh ingredients to fuel your body for the fitness excursions.
When not participating in one of the activity options or enjoying an incredible meal after finding solace on a nature hike, there is equal serenity to be found in the accommodations. Like the Farm, the Mountain offers multiple cabins nestled in the woods along with bigger homes suited for larger groups. While the style here is a bit more rustic (think reclaimed barn wood walls, stone cottages and fireplaces), every luxurious amenity you would expect at a top-rated resort is carefully blended into the guest quarters. The bedding, furnishings, artwork and baths are beyond welcoming and each space is stocked with natural bath products and healthy versions of favorite snacks and beverages. With its peace and privacy, a stay here could be the solution to writer’s block for musicians and authors as well as a place to reflect for anyone seeking total serenity for a few nights. Staying in one of the well-appointed cabins could be a perfect vacation, even without the slew of other offerings onsite.
Whether you choose Blackberry Farm or Blackberry Mountain for your escape, there isn’t a wrong choice. You’ll be treated with the kind of Southern hospitality that’s carefully cultivated by the Bealls to extend to the entire staff on hand who guide, assist and suggest to travelers ways of fulfilling any vacation vision. Both properties have also become a popular destination for larger gatherings, where businesses or corporate groups can design an invigorating retreat that connects coworkers in a unique way. For individual travelers, I’d suggest planning a bit of time to visit and stay at both properties while in the area. Though similar in many ways, there are special aspects at each that offer varied ways to spend a bit of quality downtime embracing new things.
See the full spread of this article in our Spring/Summer issue here.