From plantations to presidential retreats to private islands, the Southern states have no shortage of upscale places to relax and recreate for a weekend, a week or even a whole month.
Some of the most luxurious are converted private estates, such as the sprawling Biltmore Estate or long-private Kiawah Island, where the public can now partake in the ocean surf, mountain breezes or gorgeous views, the enjoyment of which once required a special invitation,
Other Southern resorts, such as the Lodge at Mount Magazine and Blackberry Farm, were created to bring nature to the masses in a highly curated fashion. And some of the South’s most notable resorts, like the Greenbrier, have been fashionable for so long that it’s rare to find even a member of high society, let alone a president, who hasn’t visited there.
Inn at Blackberry Farm
The building that houses the Inn at Blackberry Farm was still a private home when current owners Kreis and Sandy Beall purchased it in 1976.
“Kreis, the female owner, who is still part of the design team, really got the vision of turning the property into an inn and a worldly resort where people could come to relax but also indulge culinarily,” said Ashley Glander, assistant director of group sales at the inn.
Sandy Beall had previously founded the Ruby Tuesday restaurant chain, and the family experience in food and beverage evolved with the purchase of Blackberry Farm. Sam, the founders’ son, trained at the French Laundry, the Ritz-Carlton and renowned California wineries and cheesemakers before returning to take over operation of Blackberry Farm. On Friday and Saturday nights, you’ll still often find him in the dining room acting as sommelier for the Wine Spectator-lauded wine list.
Groups can easily fill up a weekend without leaving Blackberry. The shooting clay course can accommodate 50 to 60 people at a time, and the group sales office has also created outdoor adventure courses that allow groups to experience the entire property while brushing up on outdoor skills like building a fire without matches and foraging for unusual foods.
When the weather is appropriate, cooking demonstrations begin in the garden, picking some of the items the chef will use in the demo.
“We can even do the demonstration with a garden specialist over an open fire in the building,” Glander said.
Blackberry Farm is in the midst of several additions. In early 2015, the total room count will rise to 69, with several duplex cottages and four three-bedroom homes that can accommodate private dinners. A new spa and wellness center will open in mid-May.
Lodge at Mount Magazine
“The original Mount Magazine lodge, from the area’s time as a resort community where people would come to get away from the mosquitoes and the heat, burned down in 1971,” said Heidi Ryan, director of sales and marketing for the lodge. “It took till 2006 to get the funding to build the current lodge. For 35 years, there was really nothing up here.”
Homesteaders first took to the area in the 1800s and were followed after the Civil War by tourists, many looking for a romantic wedding location. But the Great Depression brought tourism in the area to a halt. Franklin D. Roosevelt transferred the land to the Forest Service, which still runs the local activities today.
“Interpreters on staff, along with the activities director, prepare programs for groups like guided hikes, mountain biking and trail biking,” said Ryan. “We can also do stargazing, scavenger hunts and team-building activities and games.”
Outside the activities immediately connected to the lodge and state park, Ryan recommends that groups explore the life of a modern-day monk at Subiaco Academy.
“It was built by monks in the 1800s, and it’s still run by monks today. They give tours of the grounds and cathedral and will take you on a tour of a day in the life of a monk. They’re clever and witty, and it’s pretty fun.”
At the lodge, groups can choose a private dining room in the conference center, but most prefer the main dining room, the Bear’s Den, which has sweeping views of the surrounding mountains.
Because of the lodge’s vantage point for taking in the changing foliage, fall is the business time to visit, and booking should be made six months to a year in advance to secure a spot.