By Suzanne Johnson
From generation to generation, how one Tennessee family has redefined southern luxury in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Ican recall many breathtaking sights from my travels, but few remain as memorable as the one I saw at Blackberry Farm.
Leaving Blackberry Farm early one morning for a flight back to New York City, a breathtaking silhouette of a lone horse on the horizon, backlit against the brilliant rising sun, stopped us in our tracks. This beautiful horse, standing motionless and mighty on the graceful foothills of East Tennessee, took our breath away and reminded me of this poem:
“The highest and most beautiful things in life are not to be heard about, nor read about, nor seen but, if one will, are to be lived.”
I am no St. Francis of Assisi or Soren Kierkegaard, the author of that inspiring poem, but I also believe in the life-affirming connection between us and the natural world. To me, this horse represented the enduring benefits of my time in nature at Blackberry Farm, and I took it as a symbolic invitation “to come back soon.”
Whether you experience something like a Victor Fleming movie scene when departing Blackberry Farm or not, once you’ve experienced this internationally acclaimed, awardwinning resort, you long to return. Read the many articles published— speak to the many patrons—and you will find there are hundreds of reasons “to come back” to Blackberry Farm. And in 2019, the proprietors of Blackberry, the Beall family, gave us one more:
Blackberry Mountain is the wellness-focused companion property of Blackberry Farm, one of only four resorts in the world to receive the designation of Relais and Chateaux before opening. Dedicated to preservation and wellness through nature, Blackberry Mountain is located on 5,200 acres in the Chilhowee Mountain ridge, just 7 miles from Blackberry Farm. Hospitality reviewers have rated Blackberry Mountain as “the most holistic adventure-wellness set-up in the United States right now.”
Blackberry Mountain was the vision of Sam Beall, the son of the original owners, Kreis and Sandy, who stepped into the role of proprietor of Blackberry Farm in the early 2000s. Through his vision and commitment to excellence, Blackberry Farm grew into a world- renowned resort hotel garnering unprecedented industry praise. Mary Celeste Beall, Sam’s wife, helped in transforming Blackberry into the renowned food, wine and wellness destination that it is today.
Following Sam’s untimely passing in 2016, Mary Celeste became proprietor of both acclaimed resort hotels, and under her leadership, they carry on Sam’s legacy by honoring the great outdoors with an unwavering commitment to the land and dedication to the highest quality of excellence.
Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain are sister properties. As sisters, I would personify Blackberry Farm as the gracious, gourmet older sister with Southern charm and Blackberry Mountain as the more adventurous, curious and creative younger sister.
The programming for Blackberry Mountain 2020 has recently been announced by Mary Celeste as “A Year of Illuminated Perspective.” Mrs. Beall described how she and her team created the concept by sharing, “When choosing and developing a theme, we asked ourselves, ‘What is it that we want to convey to our guests to look inward and outward?’ We hope to inspire them to take a look at the world through a different lens.”
Throughout 2020 guests will be treated to a yearlong lineup of guided workshops, celebratory weekends and holidays reimagined, each programmed with an illuminated perspective in mind. Each season, both Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain will host a vast array of wellness and mindful healers, awardwinning chefs, sommeliers and beverage experts, athletes, musicians, artists and more, all with a unique and exceptional point of view.
At Blackberry Mountain, visiting personalities are abundant. Some examples include certified Kundalini Yoga Instructor Leigh Mallis, bestselling author Shauna Niequist, sommelier and creator of Ramona wines, Jordan Salcito, and ceramic artist Keith Kreeger. Parties are planned as well, co-hosted with awardwinning restaurateur Will Guidara and James Beard Foundation Awardwinning chef Christina Tosi, as well as a special event with the Ryan Seacrest Foundation with Ryan Seacrest and the Seacrest family.
Blackberry Mountain is a perfect getaway for family, friends or businesses, offering modern-day luxuries in an unencumbered natural environment with special offerings for “camp-goers” of all ages. Drawing inspiration from the ancient, majestic Smoky Mountains and from years of award-wining excellence in service, Blackberry Mountain offers a vast selection of spa and wellness options, artistic and athletic classes as well as outdoor and indoor activities. These services and activities are conducted in spaces elegantly and creatively designed to blend the natural landscape with modern and state-ofthe-art architecture. I might ask Mary Celeste and her team to add a class on architecture and design to learn how they created this magnificent property, indoors and out.
A short drive from the mountain, one can explore horseback riding through wooded trails and across streams at the foothills of the Smokies and get tips from their amazing equestrian team with private instruction. The fly fishing is year-round, and the seasonal water sports are abundant on the lakes, rivers and wetlands located close to the mountain. There are over 900 miles of hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, providing unlimited adventures, including expansive mountain vistas to relish and beautiful cascading waterfalls to marvel at. Hiking, biking, rock climbing, and trail running— you can do it all—are available, with 5,200 acres to explore. There is also the off-site Sports Club for individual precision sports like clay shooting and archery as well as an exciting game of paintball for the group. Group fitness classes offer uninterrupted views of the mountains in state-ofthe-art facilities that seamlessly blend into the natural landscape, offering relaxation to heart-pumping exercises, all equally great for the mind, body and spirit. Classes range from GRIT in the gym to aromatherapy yoga in the Yoga Loft, rhythm in the Spin Lab or stretchand-release class in the Movement Studio. From calming to inspiring, there is something for everyone.
The Blackberry Mountain Spa “Nest” is incredibly lux, offering restorative treatments to foster mind, body and spirit rejuvenation. Cradled in the heart of the Lodge, it offers unique wellness treatments and therapies to help guests pause, relax and recharge, such as individual Chakra Balancing sessions designed to align, balance and activate the seven energy centers. With the help of Dr. Jill Beasley, the on-property naturopathic doctor, guests can explore how Chakras have a direct impact on their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Dr. Jill also offers “In the Classroom,” a forum where one can discuss a specific health condition or topic related to medicine. One-on-one discussions are of the guests’ choosing related to the art and science of medicine, including Western and Eastern traditions, Chinese medicine, and other enduring and enriching practices.
Other services include Nervous System Reset, which helps restore balance to the nervous system through craniosacral therapy, qi gong tuina, tuning forks, myofascial release and chakra balancing as well as Aerial Sound Bath, Herbal Remedies and Creative Presence sessions, including a Meditative Watercolors experience, Mandala Stone Painting, Mindful Sculpting and Mala Making.
The Nest has a tranquility lounge, sauna, steam showers and a year-round heated pool with a scenic infinity edge.
Guests can take part in arts and crafts from hand-building ceramics, acrylic painting, sketching, basket making, and textile art classes. One can create her own piece of art inspired by the beauty and culture of the mountains. I really like the idea of being able to expand one’s creativity in a tangible way— yet another way to take this inspiring place home when you go. Also located at The Hub, you can play basketball and rock climb indoors as well as sign up for outdoor activities, including creekside meditation, sound healing, forest bathing, endurance climbs, bouldering and mountain biking, just to name a few.
At the top of the mountain, an old fire tower has been transformed into a restaurant that operates from sunrise to sunset. Chef Joel Werner, who had been at Blackberry Farm since 2015, oversees the dining menus that incorporate international techniques, taking a more worldly approach to the cuisine than the Farm. The restaurant provides awe-inspiring views along with awe-inspiring dishes that are innovative, fresh, and delicious. The flagship restaurant, Three Sisters, located in the Lodge, boasts a screened porch with sweeping views of the 5,200-acre property as well as the surrounding Smoky Mountains. Sunset’s a must!
All things mountain, there are 18 stone cottages offering sweeping views of the Smokies and featuring stacked stone archways, iron windows, reclaimed oak floors, white walls and lime-washed ceilings as well as outdoor patios, wood-burning fireplaces and soaking tubs. Six other cottages, called the Watchmen Cottages, are secluded, providing the ultimate luxury retreat with floor-toceiling windows built in a traditional log cabin style.
Daily guided walks up the mountain to breakfast can be hiked or enjoyed in one of the resort Lexus vehicles. Or you can take the golf cart issued upon check-in. Yes, they’ve thought of everything.
From Blackberry Mountain’s 2,800-foot elevation, a mist is known to roll in, the wisps hovering over the mountainscape that cannot be described, only experienced. This exceptional effort to preserve the natural wonder of the mountains while creating a serene escape with the highest measure of excellence away from the stresses of modern life—all in a private national park setting—is the ultimate place to reconnect with nature and yourself. It is certainly like a poem—a perfect example of where the highest and most beautiful things are to be lived… and enjoyed.