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Blackberry Farm guests grow healthy with fresh food and exercise

Tennessee's Blackberry Farm helps guests grow healthier with its activities and award-winning food

Blackberry Farm sits on the border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited in the national park system.

Outside the park's boundaries you'll find towns with the attendant attractions — the Ripley's Believe It or Not museum in Gatlinburg or the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge.

But Blackberry Farm, set on 4,200 acres of working farmland, is a shelter from that commercial storm. Its estate rooms, cottages, guest suites and luxury houses are spread across the property, and each room comes with a golf cart that guests can use to navigate the grounds.

In February, a friend and I stayed in the two-master-suite Singing Brook Cottage, which was spacious and decorated with a Provence-meets-Manhattan sensibility (armchairs, linen throw pillows and vintage photos).

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We had just spent four days in Nashville listening to music, eating fried food and seeing friends. Now it was time to atone for our sins, eat healthful food and exercise, so we drove the three hours to Blackberry. (Knoxville is much closer to the farm — about a 25-minute drive.)

Wellness is emphasized at Blackberry Farm, which is why people return year after year to recalibrate themselves with spa, gym and outdoor activities such as fly-fishing, horseback riding and biking.

Besides yoga and meditation classes, you can find spa treatments, including a Cherokee-style two-handed massage and an apple stem-cell age-defying facial.

The Deep Healing Woods program is based on studies from Japan that show that "forest bathing," or spending time among trees, accelerates healing, increases mental focus and fights stress.

That part might not surprise you, but this might: Forest trees are said give off phytoncides, or scents, that increase the good immune cells in our bodies that kill off the bad, cancer-causing cells. Blackberry Farm will take you deep into untouched woods to meditate, do yoga and hike.

If you are curious about the science behind some of these activities, the Wellhouse, Blackberry Farm's wellness center, offers Lifestyle Lectures, which explain why the woods are good for you or the theory behind aromatherapy or why you should juice.

Blackberry Farm is considered a gastronomic destination within culinary circles. The food is what owner Sam Beall calls "foothills cuisine." That means farm-grown ingredients, a soupçon of Appalachian tradition (okra, red peas, chickweed and lots of pork products) coupled with the hefty influence of global fine dining.

Blackberry Farm sources most of its ingredients locally, much of it grown just feet from its kitchen. It also produces cheeses, preserves, charcuterie, honey and chocolate, and it butchers its own meats.

Fine dining takes place in the Barn (a James Beard Award winner), and more casual fare at the Dogwood, in the main house. I chose the Barn, literally a huge, stylishly renovated barn for our first night of what I would call stylish comfort food.

For aficionados, Blackberry Farm hosts cooking schools and epicurean events with guest celebrity chefs such as Alain Ducasse. There are also daily cooking demonstrations, where a chef or "food artisan" — the cheese maker, the preservationist (pickles and jams, not art) or the butcher prepares a three-course midday meal.

I'm not much of a foodie, so I headed to the Wellhouse for a private TRX class, something I had always wanted to try (TRX is a workout using hanging straps invented by a Navy SEAL, but I needed instruction to save embarrassment and injury).

I followed this exhausting but fruitful exercise with an indulgent Healing Herbs & Flowers massage. My TRX-clenched muscles were slowly released and then treated with heated herbal poultices.

We reluctantly left Blackberry Farm, but decided that for our mental and physical well-being we ought to return here annually.

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If you go

THE BEST WAY TO BLACKBERRY FARM

From LAX, Delta, American, United and US Airways offer connecting service (change of planes) to Knoxville, Tenn. Restricted round-trip fares from $462, including taxes and fees. It's about a 25-minute drive to the farm.

Blackberry Farm, (800) 557-8864, http://www.blackberryfarm.com. Doubles from $745 a night with a two-night minimum. Includes all meals from dinner on day of arrival through lunch on day of departure, all snacks and nonalcoholic beverages.

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