Disclaimer - I love Blackberry Farm. Like an Alabama fan loves Bear Bryant, or a French teenager loves her first Hermes scarf, or a 16 year old loves his first car. This place truly holds a special place in my heart. OK. Now to the review.
This was my third time visiting BBF in as many years. Overall, it was a wonderful stay, but our stay was plagued by a number of bizarre incidents, which I can only chalk up to the fact that the resort, like many luxury properties across the world, is coping with higher costs and probably flat to lower demand.
Accommodations: We stayed in Bluebird, one of the Holly Glade cottages. It is generously sized, with a King bed, nice sitting area, closet, and enormous bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub and walk in shower. The highs: the bed is very comfortable, the cottage is private, with the windows overlooking the woods, and double sinks mean that my husband and I aren't fighting for counter space. The lows: sheets a little worn, you couldn't access the safe unless you moved the luggage racks, and closed the closet door while you were in the closet, and not enough towels on the first day (4 large towels and 2 washcloths -- no handtowels). We also couldn't get the thermostat to behave. Overall, 4/5 -- way better than your average bear.
Amenities: This is where BBF is really showing signs of cutting back. The pantry snacks, which are included in your stay, have noticeably decreased. Some classics, like the Haagen Daaz bars and Route 11 chips are still around, but favorite ginger ale, Fever Tree, was nowhere to be found. The snacks in our room generally weren't replenished on a daily basis. The wifi was easily accessible in the main buildings but spotty at best in our cottage. Thankfully, we didn't need access to the outside world. When we actually got our nightly chocolates/cookies, they were DELECTABLE, but this only happened one night out of three. They still stock your room with Aveda products, but we ran out of shampoo and had to request more instead of it magically appearing during the twice-daily housekeeping service. The pool is clean and well-kept and offers an unbeatable view of the foothills of the Smokies. We also enjoyed being able to take a golf-cart for a 90minute jaunt out to the pavilions for a picnic lunch. Overall 4/5 -- most high-end resorts still make you pay for Wifi and sodas. Little things like this matter. Seriously.
Food: My husband and I may be the only ones who PREFER the main house dining to the Barn. Sorry Chef Lenn, your food is amazing, but there is no substitute for Eggs Appalacha or Singing Brook mac n' cheese. Let's not be ridiculous here, all the food is divine. Chef Lenn did an outstanding job on the Skate and Poussin Saturday's lunch was served picnic style on the patio of the Main House. I feel this is where BBF truly shines -- most, if not all, of the veggies came straight from the garden, and they taste nothing like even what you get from your CSA share or the farmer's market. William just about made himself sick on the beans and short ribs. Whoever is the pastry chef, please keep him or her happy. You cannot help but smile when the server sets down the prettiest (and tastiest) presentation of sour cream ice cream and meringue you've ever seen. We had boxed lunches on 2 days -- they really need to call it something else, because the amount of thought that goes into assembling these things is nothing like the lunch you took to school as a child. Overall 5/5 -- the entire culinary team is passionate about their work, and it shows. Don't forget to request the recipe cards -- they will email you most recipes for things you have particularly enjoyed.
Activities: Part of the sticker shock of visiting BBF is the outrageous price of some of the activities. You just then have to put into context what you get for the money. This go-around, we chose horseback riding and shooting as our activities. Our instructor for the field and stream ride was Mary. I chose an English saddle while William rode the most comfortable western saddle you've ever seen -- seriously, it had MEMORY FOAM. The F&S ride is probably the BEST way to see the entire property. Mary was friendly and knowledgeable about BBF history and interesting trivia bits. I highly recommend it. On day 2, we went shooting with Bob. PHENOMENAL. The shooting range is about 30mins from the main property and is nestled back in the woods. Bob gave us a safety briefing, outfitted us with a shoulder pad, glasses, and ear plugs, and away we went, Beretta (EEK!) shotguns in hand, to shoot some clay targets. I have zero experience with shooting, but William said the course was definitely not easy and was very well-kept in comparison to other places he's been. Bob is a natural instructor and made me feel very at-ease with my gun. Overall 5/5. Worth every penny.
Service: I saved the complicated bit for last. This was perhaps the most surprising aspect of our trip. So, here goes. The property is looking somewhat shopworn - the Guest House needs to be painted, baseboards are dusty, and our sheets were approaching threadbare status. Lately, it has been difficult to a) get someone on the phone and b) have a phone call returned. That being said, once you actually get a concierge or reservations rep on the phone, the person is generally very friendly and helpful. I don't think "no" is really in the staff's vocabulary unless you are being unreasonable or hateful. We never had to wait for a car to take us to dinner or back to the Oak Cottage -- LX 570s are plentiful around BBF. However, on the day of our departure, we waited around 10 minutes for someone to come help us with our luggage. Housekeeping keeps the rooms spotless, though there needs to be better communication with them about guests' activities. Our riding trip was at 10:30 - we came back to the room at 9:45 after eating breakfast, and our room was being cleaned. I'd have thought the team would have known not to come by until 10:30 or later -- it was a little unnerving having to wait until our room was finished to be able to change for our activity and being a couple of minutes late as a result. The servers at the Main House and the Barn are very friendly, but it takes forever to have someone first greet you, and then the intermittent "check-ins" when they refill your class - our wine/water/tea glasses stayed empty for some time as we waited for even a sight of our servers some times. At Saturday's lunch, I (apparently loudly) lamented to my husband that I would not get my singing brook mac 'n' cheese since the lunch was family style -- 5 minutes after we sat down with our plates, one of the managers came to our table with a giant bowl of the tasty pasta. When I said "thank you" like a kid at Christmas, he joked and said, "didn't you know the walls have ears here?" Overall 4/5 -- overall service was great, but the wait time for help, either while dining, or with other requests, was a little too long for our tastes.