By Mark Ellwood
It was 1976 when Ruby Tuesday founder Sandy Beall stumbled on this 1930s-era farmstead. In the 4,200-acre property, a 45-minute drive south of Knoxville in the Great Smoky Mountains, the entrepreneur saw the chance to experiment with a new kind of high-end hospitality, opening a six-room gastronomic inn soon after. His focus as much on food as accommodation was pioneering, making him an early acolyte of the farm-to-table movement; the Blackberry Farm template has been emulated by countless other hotels, from South Africa’s Babylonstoren to the Inns of Aurora in upstate New York. Now a 68-room megaresort, it’s one of America’s finest properties.
Travel specialist Cari Gray of Malibu-based Gray & Co regularly sends clients there, often on full buyouts. “The Beall family were visionaries,” she says, “They were at the forefront of offering experiences, among the first in the country to do that.” Now, it’s typical for a luxury property to encourage guests to engage in the surroundings—again, there’s a debt owed to the Bealls for that. Roam the property to fly fish in the stream or paddleboard around a pond, perhaps roam the woodlands on a morning hike.
Many activities, of course, focus on food, arguably still the main draw for most guests—think cheese-making, beekeeping and brewing. One delightful bonus is the pack of Lagotto Romagnolo dogs, reared and trained by former elephant wrangler Jim Sanford: Tennessee is a rare truffle-hunting spot stateside, and these Italian dogs have the best nose to find them. In the right season, guests are welcome to tag along.
Food is served at The Barn, its James Beard-winning fine dining spot, or its newer, more casual alternative, The Dogwood—though Cari Gray says the standout is an amenity dish left in each room, filled with a sharp cheddar pimiento spread. “It’s amazing, and it goes with every cocktail under the sun.” Come here for holidays, too, as the family’s forte is celebrations, and it’s even built an outdoor auditorium for concerts and events onsite.
She adds that the location choice was canny in two ways: there’s a handy FBO for easy charter access in Knoxville, and a hospitality college in the city, too. “It’s a way of maintaining high service levels easily—the staff are very keen, and very young and who get very good training. That’s one of the keys to their success.” The best rooms to book, per Gray, as the Hill Cottages which she calls “very spacious, each with its own identity and just by reception.”
All images courtesy of Blackberry Farm
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