Mr Smith’s chest puffs up as we snake our way past the Southern staple of country life – the white picket fence – and we glide alongside wheatgrass green meadows towards the wooden sign that tells us we’re entering Blackberry Farm. Men are men here, as if time has stood still and the advent of metrosexuality and effeminate grooming had never happened. Here the Y-chromosomed work the land in overalls, chew tobacco on tractors and dig their cowboy boots into the sides of their stallions.
The Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, or ‘the Smokies’ as they are affectionately called by the genteel folk of America’s South, offer the vacationing couple testosterone and a time-out. The chance to enjoy the outdoors and get your hands dirty, while recovering in the ubiquitous five star comfort of an Aveda-scented, deep-filled bath on a heated marble floor.
Now, Mr Smith likes to consider himself a manly man, so this is just his kind of place. Cottages are scattered throughout the 4,200 acres of flora- and fauna-filled grounds; here visitors are all heartily warmed by log fires and before he’s unpacked, my trainee huntsman is out in the surrounding forest, searching for logs and gathering twigs (I'm not sure why, as there was plenty of wood in the fireplace already). As the fire roars, and I slip into my toasty robe and slippers to investigate the mini-bar (which comes complete with complimentary chocolate ice-cream bars and old-style ginger pop!), he’s off again, this time to find the farm’s head gardener to ask about growing vegetables back at our old Kentucky home. There’s something in the fresh mountain air here that fills you with purpose: me to relax (there ‘s a spa if you need extra help) and Mr Smith to provide. It’s a wonderful side effect on a trip that could have just been about eating too much while staring out at the stunning vista.
He returns (after a lesson in legumes and a shot of moonshine) with green fingers and flushed cheeks. Despite the beauty of the farm, he can’t wait to get home and get started. Within hours of being here, he’s inspired to the point of bursting. To say this is merely attractive is a massive understatement. Any woman in love should set her man free on a farm to up his sexiness factor a few notches. I fear I might have to wrestle his newly acquired wooden hiking stick out of his hand as he settles into our Princess and the Pea-high four-poster bed, but he relinquishes it quite easily, exhausted from the walking/planning/cycling/fire-building/manliness of the day. He pops a locally made chocolate truffle into his mouth and passes out in a heap of well-deserved snores, competing only with the sound of our crackling fire, as the stars take their role as the sole lanterns of the night.
The next day, we are forcefully awoken by the farm’s timekeeper: a cock-full of doodle-doo and desperate for us to get up and make the most of our day. Mr Smith’s ego is a little bruised when, after two hours of fly fishing in the farm’s Hesse Creek, he fails to catch a single rainbow trout but I assure him he looks very handsome in his waist-high waders and he soon recovers. Lunch is being served in front of the main house, so we stroll hand in hand through clover, listening to the buzzing bees and the babbling brooks, feeling almost childlike. There is something about living in such close proximity to nature that takes years off even the most frazzled forehead. I am once again a carefree teen, crabbing on the Norfolk coast with my little brothers, enjoying the sun on my face and the wild winds whipping my hair into a tangle.
As an English girl who has lived in the land of Country Music and Bourbon for 18 months, I can heartily recommend putting ‘some South in your mouth’, as my friends in the Bluegrass State say. Nowhere should this be more enthusiastically encouraged than here at Blackberry Farm. It’s not just that the cornbread is served warm and crumbles as you coat it with freshly churned butter, or that the shrimp ‘n’ grits are spicy enough to make you guzzle your freshly squeezed lemonade with abandon. No, at Blackberry Farm it’s more than just the earthy flavours and awesome textures. We enjoyed each element of each meal because it was put together by passionate artisans who flourish in this landscape, producing ingredients so alive and crisp you have to gobble everything up quick before it jumps off your plate.
The dishes are described by the hotel team as being part of a ‘Foothills Cuisine’ movement, refined – thanks to the expert chefs – yet rugged due to the indigenous natural harvest of the region and the farmers who work their land with love and a hearty appetite. This down-home, country cooking comes at a high price, which might seem shocking for such a simple set-up. But this is peasant food to perfection – and remember, eating organic is rarely cheap. And you shouldn’t get any nasty surprises on the bill at the end of your stay as this is an upscale all-inclusive where your dining and lots of the activities are covered with your room rate. Since opening in 1976 as a six-room inn, the hotel has grown tenfold, now not only offering simple Southern hospitality, but also this gourmet restaurant, as well as a wine cellar big enough to make a sommelier dizzy.
My favourite eating experience? When the jam lady met the cheesemaker on my plate and I indulged in the juiciest strawberry spread, which I nudged over a creamy sheep's cheese and piping-hot wheat bread. It didn’t hurt that as I drifted into a foodie’s Shangri-La, my feet toyed in the cool grass beneath the picnic table and ponies challenged each other to galloping competitions beyond the hill. I could understand their burst of life. I challenge anyone not to want to run wild in such a place as Blackberry Farm.
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Smith extra at Blackberry Farm
A private picnic lunch for two either beside the creek or in the Yallarhammer Pavilion