“Are you sure your GPS isn’t leading us astray?” asked SVV—who, truth be told, is not known for his sense of direction—as he drove the windy way off Highway 321 to what was supposedly our final destination for the weekend. “It’s been known to happen before.”
“No,” I said hesitantly. “It’s marked right here on Google Maps. See: Blackberry Farm in Tennessee.” But I wasn’t sure, to be honest. After all, from the moment we exited Highway 329 in Walland and started down West Millers Cove Road, it didn’t appear as if we were going anywhere in particular—well, except further into the countryside.
We passed small homes and farms, trucks and tractors. Then, out of nowhere, a white picket fence materialized from the twilight, and we began to see traces of farm life—and potential human life, too.
“Maybe this is it….” I trailed off as a modest sign announcing our arrival to Blackberry Farm greeted us to the left side of the road. And that’s how the rest of the weekend would be: understated, unexpected, and humble considering this is one of the most high-end resorts in the entire South, if not the country.
Having grown up in Tennessee and gone to college in Knoxville, I knew of Blackberry Farm from as early as my teen years. I had friends in East Tennessee who worked there during summer breaks; it just never occurred to me that I might someday wind up staying at “The Farm” for a weekend myself. It always seemed the holy grail of travel experiences, a status symbol, something you did once you finally “made it.” And ever since I moved back to the South and started covering regional travel for the likes of Southern Living and Nashville Lifestyles, I’ve had the chance to explore spots like this that weren’t previously on my radar as a kid.
According to the in-room literature, the 4,200-acre farm’s origins date back to 1939 when “Mrs. Florida Lasier of Chicago snagged her silk stockings on a wild blackberry bramble while exploring the idyllic Smoky Mountain foothills, and the name Blackberry Farm was born.” In 1976, it opened as a six-bedroom inn; today, the Relais & Châteaux property boasts 62 estate rooms, suites, and cottages, is lauded as one of the country’s most celebrated luxury escapes, and welcomes visitors from all over the world.
Truth be told, the rooms reminded me of plenty of other R&C properties in which I’d stayed. Don’t get me wrong; they are nice—an understatement; our Singing Brook Cottage was bigger than the NYC apartment I shared with two people—but it’s truly the grounds themselves that make this resort so spectacular.
Canoeing, kayaking, standup paddleboarding, mountain biking, hiking, concerts, seasonal festivals, and field after field of grounds perfect for horseback riding–there’s a little for every outdoor soul.
Each cottage comes with its own golf cart for getting around; you won’t use your car from the time you check into the resort. Although there are also valets on call should you not want to drive yourself—and I was a huge fan of how every last one we had hailed from a 30-mile radius, giving Blackberry a very distinct local feel.
Brand new to the Farm as of this summer is the 12,000-square-foot Wellhouse, comprising lounge space, fitness facilities, spa treatment rooms, and even a shop; the picture windows overlook the Smoky Mountain surrounds. Narrowing down which treatment, like the Appalachian Body Purification or the Deep Woods Muscle Recovery, you want can be challenging; The Wellhouse even has separate menus for men and children.
I went with an 80-minute massage and a yoga flow class, which turned into a private 60-minute session when I was the only one who showed up (OK with it). What I didn’t get to do was unwind in these custom-made swinging meditation beds that dropped down from the ceiling at the touch of a button—but that’s on my to-do list should I ever return.
Lavish meals are included in the price of the stay, from dinner on the night you check in to lunch on the day you check out. Breakfasts are served in the Main House, while a BBQ lunch spread is available on the lawn, and all dinners are taken in the Culinary Barn.
But wait, hold up a minute. I haven’t even told you the best part. Blackberry Farm boasts a Puppy Bar. That’s right, you read that correctly: You can drive right up and borrow a pup. OK, so technically it’s a kennel, but whatever; at any point during your stay, you can phone up the trainer and ask to go cuddle some truffle dogs! I know, right?
And it gets even better. If you’re lucky and one has recently given birth to a litter, you can snuggle some truffle puppies. (You’re ready to die by this point, I know.)
When we stumbled into the kennel, five bewitching Ewok lookalikes peered over the gate at us and started jumping up and down on their hind legs, wanting to be held. We gave them each a turn—and one of us may have not wanted to give them back (no prizes for guessing who). Unfortunately, they didn’t all sit still at once in order for me to take their picture.
Lagotto Romagnolo is a breed of hunting dog from northern Italy now used exclusively for seeking out truffles. Blackberry got its first, Tom, back in 2007. The Farm now has nine adults—six females and three males—and every year, three of the ladies give birth to litters. When I return to Blackberry Farm, I’m going to ask if they can make me a bed inside the kennel.
One of the pups, Pappy, from a litter earlier this year went home to live with Luke Bryan. They run around $3,000 apiece in price. I think I could spare that kind of change for a face like that.
But, puppies aside, the best part of the weekend in my opinion was not having cell service and just chilling out for a brief 48 hours, something neither of us do nearly enough. True, we had Wi-Fi on our laptops and got a little work done in the early mornings and later at night, but the days were reserved for pool time, reading, relaxing. Wash, rinse, repeat.
For us, getting to Blackberry is a relatively straightforward, direct three-hour drive from Nashville. Those coming from out of state will want to fly into the tiny Knoxville airport, which is no more than a half hour from Walland.
It’s no cheap retreat—full disclosure: I was on magazine assignment so we, indeed, were not footing the bill—but if you have a special occasion and are in Tennessee, Blackberry Farm is definitely a splurge worth making—especially if you’re not from ’round here and have never been to the Smokies—and I guarantee you’ll leave feeling like a million bucks.