Kentucky: A Trot in the Country
The horse farms and rolling hills make for a delightfully genteel road trip—but it's a lot more fun to ogle Corvettes and spar against the Greatest.
First, there's drinking. Actually, first there's a tour--andthen there's drinking. After flying into Louisville from our respective cities, my friend Cathy and I gun it east to Versailles to visit theWoodford Reserve, one of the distilleries on Kentucky's Bourbon Trail. (Others include Maker's Mark, Jim Beam, and Wild Turkey.)
During the 75-minute tour, our group peers into a 7,500-gallon vat of bubbling gold liquid--a mash of fermenting corn, rye, and barley--and inhales the honeyish aroma in the warehouse where the bourbon is aged in charred white-oak barrels. At the end, everyone gets a half-ounce shot of small-batch bourbon to taste. We're taught how to sip like professionals, alternating sips of bourbon with water to douse the fire on our tongues so we can better taste the flavors of pepper, nuts, and caramel.
To soak up the alcohol, we go for a gut-buster of a lunch atMelissa's Cottage Caféon South Main Street. I can't resist ordering the Hot Brown, a signature Kentucky dish. Found all over the state, it's an open-face roast turkey sandwich that's been smothered with bacon, tomatoes, and a thick layer of cheese sauce, and baked. I'm overwhelmed by the size of the plate--it's the length of a football--and melted cheese is bubbling over the edges.
After lunch, we drive over emerald hills to the 1,200-acreKentucky Horse Park, just outside Lexington. The park is a bonanza for horse enthusiasts, with two equine museums and various horse shows. It's also a retirement home of sorts for famous racehorses, such as Cigar, who won nearly $10 million in the mid-1990s. Near the grave of legendary Thoroughbred Man o' War, posts are set up 28 feet apart to illustrate how far the horse once leaped. A grade-schooler gamely tries to match the feat.
Too late for the twice-daily parades of more than a dozen breeds, we seek some consolation in the gift shop. A shelf of Breyer model horses prompts Cathy to recall Silky Sullivan, her childhood toy horse. Inspecting a soap dish that looks like a saddle, she proclaims, "This is the best gift shop ever!"
We've reserved a pair of rooms atThe Inn at Shaker Villagein the country's largest restored Shaker settlement. The community was built in Harrodsburg in the 19th century by the idealistic Protestant sect, which practiced celibacy, even after marriage. (It relied on converts to survive, but there are only a handful of Shakers left today.) At dinner in theTrustees' Office Dining Room, piles of Southern fried chicken, pickled watermelon rinds, and lemon pie--baked with slices of lemon in it, peel and all--are served on candlelit, reproduction Shaker tables. The more than 80 guest rooms and cottages on the grounds are decorated in the simple Shaker style, with added modern amenities like Tempur-Pedic mattresses--a major improvement over the corn-husk mattresses that the Shakers once used.
- The Inn at Shaker Village 3501 Lexington Rd., Harrodsburg, 800/734-5611, shakervillageky.org, from $85
- Melissa's Cottage Café167 S. Main St., Versailles, 859/879-6204, Hot Brown $11
- Trustees' Office Dining RoomThe Inn at Shaker Village, 3501 Lexington Rd., Harrodsburg, 800/734-5611, chicken $19
- Woodford Reserve Distillery 7855 McCracken Pike, Versailles, 859/879-1812, woodfordreserve.com, tour and tasting $5
- Kentucky Horse Park4089 Iron Works Pkwy., Lexington, 800/678-8813, kyhorsepark.com, $9 in winter, $15 in summer
Cathy and I start the day with a mountain of carbs--doughnuts and sugar twists atHadorn's Bakery, a family-owned institution in Bardstown that's been around since 1935. We bring some of the pastries with us in the car, rolling up the windows to trap the intoxicating aromas inside.
Since we're in Kentucky, I really want to see the place where Abraham Lincoln was born, the log cabin in the woods we all learn about in school. But the 16-by-20-foot cabin at theLincoln Boyhood Homeat Knob Creek isn't Lincoln's home at all--it's a reconstruction of the home of one of his childhood friends. A park ranger explains that nobody knows what happened to Lincoln's real boyhood home. I feel cheated until he says that Lincoln's familydidlease the 30-acre plot.
We hightail it over toMammoth Cave National Parkfor a tour of part of the world's most extensive cave system, which stretches for about 365 miles. Cathy freaks out over the insects on the walls until the guide tells us they're just crickets. Along the way, a little girl asks whether there are any eyeless fish in the cave. Sure enough, some of the shrimp and crayfish living in the dark cave rivers are blind.