Like a mise en scène for a book with a happy ending, with a postcard-perfect downtown, Tennessee’s Silver LEED-certified town of Franklin beckons just a stone’s throw (or a short Uber drive) from humming Nashville. A horse of a different color (and yes there are emerald-hued meadows peppered with Tennessee Walkers and other glorious equines on the town’s verges), Franklin might be what Nashville once was in its heyday: an understated trove of creativity and musical tour de force.
A historic place, home to myriad musicians, a hotspot rife with understated egos, open mike venues looking for the next Taylor Swift (or just in place to hear anybody sing), savvy galleries, restaurants, bars and boutiques, historical Franklin exudes an unpretentious, albeit upscale vibe. It’s a town that knows exactly who it is, embracing its troubled, centuries-old past as a learning tool, and moving into its future with a bold commitment to sustainability and inclusiveness.
Not surprisingly, in that fertile milieu, Southall Farm & Inn, a five-star hotel and working farm (not your grandpa’s working farm, mind you) has opened to great (and yes) earthy fanfare. A few minutes from Main Street, the 325-acre bucolic paradise corrals a haven of orchards, bee hives, fields of heritage crops, gardens and greenhouses.
A man-made, mirror-like lake reflects the sky (as well as your spirit), while new-built, elegantly homespun, chicly sustainable structures dot the retreat. They hold the main building, restaurants, spa and the hideaway’s 62 guest rooms. Sixteen secluded cottages nestle in the woods along trails that wind up the mountains, which edge the farm. A covered bridge, a circuitous burbling creek, a thousand apple trees, canoes and a pool complete the picture.
Airy, spacious, luxurious and modern, every single one of the 62 rooms and 16 cottages achieves the oft-attempted goal of bringing the outdoors in. Huge windows present views that seem like nature’s kiss, but botanical-themed custom wallpaper, fabrics and captivating local art continue the motif.
The cottages, the retreat’s version of a suite, simply follow suit but on a larger scale—and they have porches for sundowning. Don’t miss a well-deserved soak in the immense tubs, a treat after an active day foraging with the chef, playing beekeeper or hurling an axe toward a target. Frette linens, Natura Bisse products, architecture by 906 Studio Architects, landscapes by CSDG, interiors implemented and imagined by IndiDesign and a spa by Segerberg Spa Consulting work in unison for spectacular results throughout.
“Get the lettuce dish,” said more than one person to me when they heard I was headed to Southall. Let me just say that I am forever likely to order the “lettuce” dish as I’m a salad aficionado—but this was no ordinary bowl of raw vegetables. Created with a panoply of hydroponic lettuces grown indoors on the farm (read: the best lettuce of your life), Sojourner’s (the all day restaurant) Southall Salad (which might be subject to seasonal change) was a work of art: roots lettuces, sorghum vinaigrette and a mountain of crunchy seeds.
But that was just the beginning. Under the tutelage of Executive Chef, Andrew Klamar Sojourner serves breakfast (house-smoked meats, smoothies, biscuits, grits), lunch (Carrot Toast or a Country Cuban sandwich) and dinner (smoked trout dip, heirloom tomatoes, grilled half chicken). It’s all sublime.
In January, an even more gastronomic—and farm foraged— restaurant, aptly dubbed January, opens in a snazzy space with jaw-dropping views. Intimate, it will be like a trek through the farm, a foray through multiple courses—quite like gobbling up Southall one bite at a time.
The resort itself serves as a wellness destination—just by existing. One whiff of the fresh air outside and the sage-y aura within and you’re intoxicated with nature’s allure. Birds chirp, stars twinkle in a dark sky, the sunset blasts a psychedelic orange light through the trees. But, the actual dedicated spa simply takes things further. Guests can partake of complimentary sound baths and yoga, soak in a mineral pool (infused with 60 essential minerals from South African salts), and linger in the Himalayan sauna.
State-of-the-art facilities include a truly delicious gym and a yoga room. Herbs from the garden feature in some treatments and teas, but Seed to Skin and Naturopathica also tempt guests. Don’t miss forest bathing or a tea ceremony. You’ll be transported.
Perhaps the most important point to make about Southall Farm & Inn is that this is not another member of the great pretender club of sustainable hotels. This, dear readers, reigns as the real deal, truly a place where the dirt gets metaphorically between your toes, a place where (to bungle Edgar’s quote from King Lear) things come “full circle.”
At Southall, seeds become plants that grow in the fields. They’re harvested, spun into recipes, cooked, and bestowed to guests upon plates crafted by a ceramicist from clay found when digging the hole for the lake. Guests eat the bounty, which becomes the fuel they use to hike Southall’s abundant trails, bike around the lake, swim in the pool and partake of various activities from axe throwing to an on-site rope and aerial course.
Naturally, food waste from the kitchen turns to compost, then fertilizer for the gardens—and the process begins again. For the spa, a selection of the farm’s herbs and edible plants become soothing teas or ingredients for treatments. Honey from the bees garnish cocktails and smoothies in the bar . . . and so it goes.
You could sit by the pool. But get yourself off property to explore Franklin, a most delightful town, with plenty to do, hear, see and learn about. Nevertheless, back at the farm, save time for Southall’s tremendous array of activities from culinary courses to canoeing to beekeeping to meditation. Ride bikes, do falconry, fly fish, gambol like a kid or read a book in a comfy chair by a fire. If you want to pivot to a new you, this is your destination.
[See also: The Best Luxury Ranches in the US]