Blackberry Farm is a place close to many people’s hearts. Located on a hilly estate in a rural part of Tennessee that borders the majestic Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it is one of those properties that is truly an escape. Much of that is due to the vision of its owner, Mary Celeste Beall, who took the helm of the distinguished property after the tragic death of her husband, Sam, in 2016. Her kind-heartedness and thoughtful consideration toward all her guests represents unparalleled hospitality at its best.
The scenic Blackberry Farm land was purchased in 1976 by husband-and-wife team Sandy and Kreis Beall as a setting for their family home. Eventually they opened to the public as a small country inn and, in 2002, their son Sam took over its management. Mary Celeste has succeeded in upholding her and her husband’s aspiration of creating a haven for people to slow down and unwind amid the estate’s peaceful surroundings.
Read on as Mary Celeste talks to us about her role as owner of Blackberry Farm, her travel memories and the excitement around the debut of Blackberry Mountain.
Since the very sad passing of your husband, how do you and your family plan to preserve the legacy of exceptionally refined Southern hospitality that Sam inspired?
We wake up each day with the same goals Sam and I did for years, to create an experience that is steeped in gracious service, remarkable stories, exceptional quality, authentic connections and thoughtful details. We want guests to experience this place and the people that make it so special.
What has been the most demanding — and the most rewarding — part of being the proprietor?
The most rewarding part is working with a team of incredible professionals that love what they do every day. When I first took on this role, I knew that we would be successful because of the faith I had in each of the team members at Blackberry Farm. The most demanding aspect is to make sure I give as much time as I can to the farm and the guests. We put so much of ourselves into what we do and into each decision we make, and I want to do so much!
What is the singular experience Blackberry Farm provides? What do you think distinguishes the property from its competitors?
Our team of artisans, gardeners, sommeliers, beekeepers, chefs, fly fishermen, spa therapists, hiking guides and equestrians all work together to create a magical experience for our guests that is authentic to this region. We combine the very best in quality with real connection through the people and the stories that come with each adventure and experience.
What is your favorite feature of Blackberry Farm?
Bramble Hall is one of our newest additions, and it holds all of our concert series, from intimate songwriter rounds to a full band show in the amphitheater. It creates a special experience that you simply cannot find anywhere else in the world with Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in an intimate setting.
What is your dream travel destination and why?
Anywhere with my family! Sam and I traveled with the children all over this country and beyond, and I find that same desire to continue to explore the world with them by my side. It is the best way to connect with one another and see the world in a new light.
What is the one experience you always seek out in a vacation?
We always look for three things. First is a great place for adventure. From trying a new sport like surfing to hiking or sport fishing, having an active day is always important. I want to make sure my children and I understand the culture of a place and its people. Next, is a great place for food. Just as their father always did, I want to make sure we find a place that has authentic cuisine at exceptional quality. Lastly, we look for something that expands our horizons — so it might be an art museum, a cultural landmark or an event. I want to make sure my children and I stay grounded to where we’ve been and have a deep understanding of how we got there.
What can you not travel without?
What can make or break a trip for you?
Having traveled quite a bit, I’ve learned to go with the flow. You never know what might happen, so I think you just have to be ready for the joys and the disappointments that come with traveling.
What is your favorite travel memory?
I have so many; it’s very hard to pick one. Once, Sam and I were in Italy, and we had an incredible lunch at a tiny osteria in Portofino. After lunch, we discovered an artist we loved. We met his daughter, spent the afternoon with her and decided to stay an extra night. Where did we go for dinner? Back to the spot we had loved for lunch and had another incredible meal! It was one of those days that evolved so naturally.
If you could be transported to one place at any time in the past, where would it be and why?
I’ve always been fascinated by the Roaring ’20s. The energy of the arts and music and jubilant nature of that period is intriguing. My grandmother was a young woman living in Paris at that time, and I would have loved to be in Paris with her then.
In your experience, what is the best amenity or service a hotel can offer for families traveling with children?
Making the children feel special is always a highlight. It’s great to see their faces light up with joy when they are recognized with a small gesture like a note from the management or a treat at turndown.
Are you noticing a change in guest expectations?
Our guests are traveling to Tennessee, and I think they aren’t sure what to expect. It is our goal to show how really special this area can be. You can find luxury in any part of the world, but guests today want something authentic and immersive. Lucky for us, that’s what we have always strived to create.
We are very excited about the announcement of your new property, Blackberry Mountain. When were the plans for this expansion conceived and what was the inspiration behind it?
It all started more than 10 years ago in an effort to protect a beautiful piece of land, and it grew into an opportunity to preserve a way of enjoying life. We have always encouraged our children and friends to go outside, to explore and to challenge themselves, and this property does just that.
How will it differ from Blackberry Farm?
At Blackberry Farm we share a well-balanced, curated lifestyle steeped in farm tradition and celebrated wine and food. At Blackberry Mountain, we will encourage an active and wellness-minded experience while also offering an authentic and inspired food and beverage menu. Although Blackberry Farm offers an incredible outdoor experience, the Blackberry Mountain setting encourages one to get out and explore. Guests can choose to step outside their door and on to hiking paths that lead to discovery and adventure.
Can you tell us a little bit about Blackberry Farm’s philanthropic endeavors?
We created the Blackberry Farm Foundation in 2012 and have so far raised nearly $1 million and awarded 15 grants totaling more than $700,000 to local charities including the Boys & Girls Club and a youth career development program at a nearby high school.
What are your aspirations for Blackberry Farm?
I want Blackberry Farm to be the place that people can escape to and reconnect with themselves, their traveling partners, family and hopefully new friends. I want Blackberry Farm to continue to surprise and delight.
To learn more about the Blackberry Farm Foundation and to get involved, visit www.blackberryfarm.com/foundation.