I love hotels. Ever since I started working in the travel industry, I’ve kept a running wish list of every U.S. hotel I want to visit. First, there was Big Sur, California’s Post Ranch Inn, where I got married. Then, Amangiri in Utah, which made all of my minimalist and desert dreams come true. At The Beverly Hills Hotel, I learned that some properties are so incredible, every staff member greets you by name. And earlier this year, I finally checked off Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm – a 70-room rural retreat in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains that’s always been at the top of my list. My expectations were very high, and I’m happy to report they were exceeded. I took in all of the world-class service, renowned food and wine, beautiful farmland, diverse activities and adventures, and high-style accommodations during my recent four-day stay – here, a few of my favorite moments in photos.

Blackberry Farm - Singing Brook Cottage Suite
Bourbon Red digs. (Korena Bolding Sinnett)

Stay awhile.
Activities at Blackberry Farm revolve around the outdoors – hiking, horseback riding, fly-fishing, to name a few. But the accommodations give you plenty of reason to relax after you’re finished adventuring. We stayed in Bourbon Red, one of the hotel’s Singing Brook Cottage Suites, which comes with a sitting area, a private covered porch, and a fully-stocked (complimentary) minibar. Pro tip: Don’t miss the Häagen-Daz ice cream bars.

Horses and lamb on the farm.
New friends on the farm. (Korena Bolding Sinnett)

Make new (farm animal) friends.
I recommend the hotel’s Farmstead tour, where you’ll spend time with all of the resident farm animals and famous Lagotto Romagnolo dogs. You’ll also get a behind-the-scenes peek at how Blackberry Farm’s own house cheeses, meats, preserves, and beer are produced. (Ask to see the whiskey cellar, too.) A favorite memory: A staff member noted that I loved the horses during the tour, and came to find me one morning to give me a bag of veggie treats that I could feed to one of the equine residents.

John Coykendall, Blackberry Farm
John Coykendall and his aesthetically pleasing garden shed. (Korena Bolding Sinnett)

Spend time with master gardener John.
John Coykendall is a national treasure. Blackberry Farm’s master gardener has spent years collecting and preserving rare heirloom seeds, and he’ll gladly spend as much time as you’d like showing and teaching you about all of them. I visited him on more than one occasion during my stay. He even brought in his sketchbooks to show me how he sketches and documents his vegetables. His artwork appears on some of the china at Blackberry Farm, and his garden shed is a sight to behold. It photographed like a Dutch master painting.

Go explore (with your camera).
There’s always something organized to do here, but exploring on your own is encouraged as well. For the best light, take a pre-dawn walk to the boathouse. While you’re out, look for the tiny chapel, the fly-fishing cabin, and the babbling stream. There’s a frameworthy moment around every corner.

The Barn at Blackbery Farm
The Barn at Blackberry Farm. (Korena Bolding Sinnett)

Save room for dessert.
Eat, drink, repeat was my motto at Blackberry Farm. Yes, you can have the world’s finest regional “foothills” cuisine here, but they also make it easy to be healthy. At lunch, I loved that the first menu items listed for each course were both dairy- and gluten-free. The salads were some of my favorites … but so was the fried chicken. For fine dining, The Barn was exquisite – there’s a reason it has won James Beard Awards for outstanding service and wine program. Next-level service note: I raved about the Sea Island pea-and-garlic hummus and crudité one day at lunch. Before I departed, my server handed me a to-go bag of it because she “knew I would want a snack later in the afternoon.” I was beyond delighted and impressed.

Virtuoso travelers receive a welcome amenity, breakfast daily, and a $100 spa credit.