Wellness together at Blackberry Farm in the Tennessee Foothills
Recently, my husband, business partner and title-champ BFF, Jason, and I had the opportunity to participate in a 3-day retreat at the exquisite Blackberry Farm in the endless green escape nestled next to the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.
Known for its intimate luxury, this Relais & Chateaux and Wine Spectator awarded property, housing the 2nd largest private wine collection in the U.S., is where we made some special discoveries in the connection to nature, our bodies and each other.
Here are 5 transformative lessons I gained from our time at Blackberry Farm.
- LISTEN to the forest, BREATHE with the forest. Blackberry Farm’s property rests on 9,200 acres, much of it pristine and protected forest that touches the Great Smoky Mountains national parklands. Soon after our arrival, we were off to a hike into the forest along a private trail that would lead to a wooden platform where we could practice some outdoor yoga. Hope, the name of our lovely hike guide that day (and also quite wonderfully the sentiment we felt from breathing the fresh air), stopped us about 3 minutes into the walk and instructed us to close our eyes and listen to the forest breathe for a few moments. She then had us breathe with the forest for a few breaths. What an incredibly powerful sense of still and connection, our first of many with nature and the surrounding property at Blackberry Farm. Now whenever we hike, we take an opportunity to do this wherever we are. It brings us into the present moment, the current surroundings, and we always remember this first experience that frames part of our active life at home and on the road.
- Do PLANKS daily! Yup, during our yoga retreat, we learned and practiced many postures, poses and techniques. Our guest instructor, Natasha Rizopoulos, led us in a variety of classes that had us bending, opening, and twisting. We flowed and breathed and paused (occasionally). I was reintroduced to muscles I had forgotten (or ones I may have never met) and made significant progress in strength, flexibility and balance in 3 short days. The focus of each class changed, but one thing we always did were planks on the forearms. And she gave us our homework—meaning everyday homework forever—and one of five one-minute daily activities was a plank on the forearms. Simple instructions, simple time commitment, and trust me, it does get simpler to do with practice and consistency. And the best part? It helps in ways that you wouldn’t imagine: stability, straighter posture, and feeling power from the center.
- Rock, Swing and Sway. The feeling of being freed from gravity, even for a moment, is intoxicating. And moving effortlessly through space with a light breeze on your body wakens all those nerve endings on your skin. There’s just so many gentle invitations to enjoy the property, to sit and chat or just ponder that I found myself just rocking away soon after arrival. ROCKING. It started with the rocking out on large wooden rockers on the veranda of the Main House, getting happily lost in our thoughts as we took in the expansive green vista of the Chilhowee mountains and the foothills of the Great Smokies. SWINGING. On the second day, while wandering the paths across the grounds, we spotted a beautiful wooden swing on a giant tree. We headed straight for it through the grass and we took turns swinging. . .leaning back and swinging forward, drawing in my legs at the top of the arc and releasing to the pull of gravity with legs and arms extended to sweep smoothly back toward the earth. That feeling brings you right back to childhood and frees the mind with each pass along the pendulum. SWAYING. And then—the hidden gem—there were the swinging spa beds in the Wellhouse, the ultimate tranquility. Descending from the ceiling on thick ropes in a peaceful, private room were four beautifully cushioned, comfy, sheeted and blanketed spa beds to enjoy quietly before or after using the spa. Soft natural light enters the window and the beds gently sway about two feet off the floor. Somehow it felt both solid and also weightless at the same time. And little did I know when I first entered that this had been our yoga studio that morning, now transformed into this place of restful Zen, as the beds were designed to lower and rise from the ceiling above. (Yes, I did make a return visit to this room on other occasions!) Now I look for everday occasions to rock, swing and sway the stress away.
- Spend time with animals in nature. Amanda, the Director of Wellness, signed us up for Natural Horsemanship with the magnificent equestrian team and equally magnificent horses. Truly something outside of our norm for activities (falling squarely under the category of ‘try something new’), we spent a few hours one morning learning about nonverbal communication and how to respect the relationship between human and horse. I learned how to move together with the horse, get him to ‘join up’ with me and ultimately walk together alongside without a lead. The uniqueness of that experience has stayed with me, and I’ve come to pause and reflect a bit differently about how much we do (and can) communicate with each other and with animals in often unspoken ways. Oh, by the way, we also spent time with the resident truffle dogs (boy, are they cute!), chickens and sheep, along with the Blackberry Farm family dog, Briton, a few kittens and the farm cat that roamed the property grounds keeping tabs on all of us.
- Eat well and always ask the sommelier for his or her recos, especially if it’s an acclaimed James Beard Award winning locale. Of course, eating well—both beautiful, delicious food and for wellness—is something we already enjoy thoroughly. But when you couple that with access to the farmer (and his team) and the garden right on property from where much of the menu is grown and a wine cellar that is award winning and more than 9,000 bottles strong with expertise to match it, well, it really doesn’t get any better. Add to that some of dining settings like we experienced during our stay, and you have a full sensory fête. One evening we dined in an historic restaurant aptly named, The Barn, a turn of the century barn that was moved to Blackberry Farm and restored to its original beauty. One lunch was spent passing bountifully filled family-style platters around an oversized stylish picnic table as we dined alfresco right next to the vegetable garden. Another evening: a private meal in the open-air Yallarhammar grand gazebo complete with stone fireplace and musicians to set the celebratory tone. No detail was overlooked: food, drink, linens, table settings, and décor. All we had to do is bring our pleasant-best company and enjoy eating and drinking well. And we reveled in knowing where our food came from and enjoying—by the hands of an incredibly talented culinary team led by Chefs Josh Feathers and Cassiddee Dabney—what they call Foothills Cuisine, focusing on local ingredients prepared delicately, elegantly and with Southern hospitality tastefulness. The take-home: you can make any dining occasion and setting special with simple touches and attending to the small details around delicious food and drink.
These and many more moments with meaning were experienced at Blackberry Farm during a short, but glorious stay. When you are instantly wrapped into a full environment and culture that’s welcoming you in like a big embracing hug, you can’t help but settle in and start to breathe with the forest. And then you find that even a few short days can be transformative.
Blackberry Farm is located in Walland, Tennessee, located about 45 minutes south of Knoxville airport. www.blackberryfarm.com
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