Sojourner Afield

Famed Blackberry Farm Opens up a Sister Property

Blackberry Mountain, the new luxe resort in Tennessee, champions the art of retreating into nature.

By Amanda M. Faison August 1, 2019 Published in the Midsummer/Fall 2019 issue of Aspen Sojourner

The Firetower restaurant atop Blackberry Mountain

Joel Werner, executive chef of Blackberry Mountain resort’s Firetower restaurant, never tires of the scenery. “I get to watch the clouds dance on the mountains all day long,” he says. 

Indeed, the restaurant, built around a restored 1940s watchtower, offers a view that spans from the North Carolina mountains to the foothills of Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains and into Kentucky. 

Blackberry Mountain, which debuted in February, sits just 7 miles from its legendary sister resort, the Relais & Châteaux–accredited Blackberry Farm. Whereas the farm steeps guests in the fine ways of country living, the mountain spread—with 18 cottages, six mountaintop cabins, and four houses—immerses them in the great outdoors. 

One of the resort’s Stone Cottages

Plans for Blackberry Mountain began in earnest a decade ago, when the Beall family—Sam and his wife, Mary Celeste, along with Sam’s parents, Sandy and Kreis—purchased 5,200 acres, including the 2,800-foot peak. Of utmost importance was protecting the land and views—the mountain is what you see when looking out from the farm’s veranda. To date, the Bealls have placed 2,800 of those acres into conservation. “We feel the land would have been in the [Great Smoky Mountains National Park] if, back in the day, the government had the resources,” says Mary Celeste. With the acquisition also came the opportunity to craft a guest experience entirely different than that of the farm’s—one that’s more wild, rustic, and adventure-focused. 

To do this, the Bealls, who also run Blackberry Farm, took their time and leaned into their heritage as conservationists, naturalists, and explorers. Sam and Sandy hiked, camped, and rode horses, learning every inch of the mountain’s topography. The result? A destination for outdoor exploration that rings with authenticity. Sam, who was killed in a skiing accident in 2016, never got to see the final version of Blackberry Mountain, but his sensibility and dedication to hospitality are very much present.

Sam and Mary Celeste’s own adventures inspired some of the experiences the resort now offers. For example, guests can check in at the midmountain lodge, leave their luggage, and hike to their cabin at the top of the mountain. “It’s really a play on a Mount LeConte [a high peak in the national park] experience we love as a family,” Mary Celeste says. “It’s about earning your lunch or your dinner.” 

But she’s quick to point out that not every activity is strenuous. For every four-hour mountain-bike ride or rock-climbing session, guests could opt instead for a gentle hike to an outdoor yoga platform or guided meditation at the state-of-the-art recreation center. There’s also journaling and quiet walks and cardio drumming. “We’ve given people the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone,” says Mary Celeste.

Executive Chef Joel Werner oversees the Firetower’s seasonal fare.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Blackberry experience without superb food and wine. In addition to the Firetower, guests can enjoy the cooking of Executive Chef Josh Feathers at the Three Sisters restaurant and adjacent Whippoorwill Lounge in the midmountain lodge. “[Chef] Joel likes to brag that he has the best view,” says Feathers with a smile. “But you get to the lodge first.” 

Both Feathers’ and Werner’s menus highlight food as nourishment and connection. “We want to provide healthful, wellness-minded options without taking away from indulgence,” Feathers says. “We still have a great steak and a burger, but we have just as many vegetables highlighted as proteins.” Dishes also have a global focus, for example, using spices (think Aleppo pepper and saffron and garam masala) that invigorate both flavors and the senses. 

Meanwhile, a tightly curated approach defines the wine list. “A big wine list can sometimes feel like a weight,” says Director of Food and Beverage Andy Chabot. “At the mountain, we can connect you to the wine’s story. [A pairing] can just be food and wine, or it can be something you really connect to.”

The resort’s roster of guided adventures and activities encourages immersion in nature, but guests don’t have to do anything to appreciate the quiet connection that comes with a sense of place—of being in the wilds of Tennessee, of feeling enveloped by the Smokies, of staying in cabins or cottages that are built from the land and stone. The magic of Blackberry Mountain is this: The accommodations are luxurious, but they highlight, rather than detract from, the natural experience. “It’s about letting go and taking it back to the basics,” Mary Celeste says. “But I love that we can do that and keep it comfortable.” 

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