Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas at Blackberry Farm
From the top of the slope, you view quiet splendor. In your white rocking chair, you can savor life deeply and count your blessings that you are at Blackberry Farm.
This relaxing destination in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains is a universe away from the thrum of traffic or bedlam of shopping. On the day of my visit, tendrils of fog crept across the slope where East Friesian sheep grazed on a butter-colored hill. Guests moseyed over to the horse barn and vegetable garden. Hearing bird calls while walking through this rural landscape proves to be one of life’s great mood-enhancers.
Many guests are repeat visitors to this resort near Walland. They come year after year, especially during the holidays when Blackberry Farm keeps traditions in place. The decorated tree in the Main House features colorful heirloom glass ornaments with antique toys around the base. A tree with red velvet ribbons and gingerbread men adds cheer to the Chestnut Cottage. The tree in the Barn, the fine dining restaurant, sparkles with mercury silver glass ornaments and clear lights. Live trees, clad in clear lights and planted in galvanized tubs, enliven guest rooms.
“We want Blackberry Farm to feel like home, or that you have been invited to a family member’s home,” says Brian Lee, long-time director of guest services. With ease born of experience, he explains hospitality comes natural to East Tennesseans. “We have a genuineness about us. We love to host friends and family and take care of people. It has naturally evolved into what we do today — which is great Southern hospitality.”
Blackberry Farm, a Relais & Chateaux resort, is best known as a food and wine destination. Guests run out of superlatives when they talk about their epicurean experience at the Barn. Executive chef Joseph Lenn, a James Beard Award winner, oversees a team that champions seasonal rusticity with vibrant, intense flavors that leap off the plate. Locally grown and sourced ingredients satisfy those pining for perfect farm-to-table pleasures.
Wine lovers, who select from a cellar holding more than 160,000 bottles of wine, can sit around quietly intoning about the aromas in the glass. They may be surprised to learn that Blackberry Farm also has its own artisan-crafted beer. Three different styles similar to beer from the Alsace region in France are brewed, hand-bottled and hand-corked on the property. “The beers pair well with stews or chili or roasted meats. They have very individual flavors from light to very dark,” says Brian.
During the holidays, cuisine served by the glow of candles stays with holiday favorites: hams, roasted turkeys, grits and garlic casserole, oyster casserole, chess pie and pumpkin pie. The chefs add a few new side dishes to keep the menu interesting, but overall, guests want to repeat the memory. Five tables are open to dining guests who are not staying overnight at the resort.
The all-inclusive, 62-room resort remains very busy year-round. Once the holidays have passed, guests seek the calm and solitude of winter and come for relaxation, renewal and recharging. Sumptuous guest rooms mix a feeling of pampered luxury with one of genuine comfort. Requests for spa treatments have outpaced current facilities, so a new, much larger spa and wellness center will open in May. “Blackberry is all about indulging so you really want to experience as much as possible,” says Brian.
Fox hunters ride the barren fields and gentle slopes of Three Sisters Mountain from November to March. The riders wear scarlet coats with gold buttons, buff breeches, black velvet hunt caps or black silk top hats, and brown field boots. “This year will be another busy season for us,” says Brian who describes a day begun with the blessing of the hounds, rides in the morning, and then a hunt breakfast held late in the afternoon. “That is a very typical Saturday.”
Opportunities for horseback riding, carriage riding, picnicking at the Boathouse, clay shooting, and mountain biking are also offered. Many guests spend the day simply tramping around the woods on this 4,200-acre property that adjoins the national park.
A cabin at the edge of Hesse Creek is a gathering spot for fly fishermen, especially those who love to tie flies seated by a wood-burning stove. A staff of eight professionals gives fly-fishing lessons by the stocked creek. “We have just shy of a mile’s worth of river on the property. It’s the perfect place to teach somebody,” says Alex Quick, fly fishing program manager, about the popular two-hour beginner lesson.
More seasoned fly-fishermen venture beyond the creek. “We take people inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park; we take people down the Clinch, Holston and Hiwassee rivers. We have 800 miles of trout water just outside our front door — within an hour or hour-and-a-half drive.”
As guests drive down West Millers Cove Road, few would guess an exclusive resort sits behind the white wooden fence. However, international travelers, such as billionaire, banker and philanthropist David Rockefeller, Sr., do travel this narrow country road. He stayed here while visiting Great Smoky Mountain National Park in May. Singer Kelly Clarkson married talent manager Brandon Blackstock here in October. In her tweet to fans, she called Blackberry Farm “the most beautiful place ever!”
Other hotels in the Smokies have holiday-themed accommodations, such as The Lodge at Buckberry Creek in Gatlinburg and The Inn at Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge. Opportunities for winter activities such as skiing and ice skating are available at Ober Gatlinburg.
Let me know in the comments where you’re headed for the holidays!