Lexington, Kentucky: The Story of Bluegrass Country
Founded in 1775 and named for the first battleground of the Revolutionary War, Lexington, by 1820, was one of the largest, wealthiest and most cultured towns west of the Alleghenies.
Lexington’s blessing comes about naturally, from the rock up. Kentucky’s central bluegrass region is incredibly beautiful, with long vistas of impeccably manicured pastures edged, mile after mile, with post and rail fencing. The “bluegrass” that grows on the limestone bedrock is loaded with calcium, and it builds unusually strong bones in horses. Kentuckian’s also say that the limestone lends an especially smooth taste to their bourbon whisky. And so, Lexington’s sweetness and strength come, quite literally, from the earth and make of bluegrass country one of the world’s preeminent horse breeding regions and the passion point for bourbon drinkers.
DO fly in to Louisville or Cincinnati
DO pick up a car and drive yourself to Lexington. There are lots of discoveries to be made along the road
DO visit Ashford Stud, the US home of Coolmore and home to some of the best sires in America
DO visit Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, one of the oldest Shaker communities in America
DO savor a mint julep along with a Hot Brown and a slice of Derby Pie
DO marvel at the Rathskeller, faced in Rookwood Pottery, in Louisville’s Seebach Hotel
Gratz Park Inn
The only boutique hotel located in Lexington’s historic district.
Located in the historic Fayette National Bank Building that has been transformed by renowned architecture and interior design firm Deborah Berke Partners (Deborah Berke is dean of Yale School of Architecture). Rooms and suites are spacious with high ceilings, contemporary furnishings, and large windows.
Shaker Village Inn
Much more than a traditional hotel, guest rooms, suites and private cottages—each offering distinct character—are located in 13 restored Shaker buildings. Rooms are comfortably appointed with Shaker reproduction furniture, original hardwood floors and spectacular countryside views. http://shakervillageky.org/the-inn/
In Louisville, an old-world, grand hotel with stories galore to tell. Loved by F. Scott Fitzgerald (he featured it in The Great Gatsby), and Al Capone had tunnels in and out of it to facilitate his organized crime operation. The subterranean grotto ballroom, the Rathskeller, is the only surviving room in the world completely faced with Rookwood pottery. http://www.seelbachhilton.com/
Come to see the horses at the many beautiful and renowned horse farms – 150 in Lexington/Fayette County alone – that can be visited. But these are working farms, so you can’t just drop in. Join a group tour or hire a private guide who can customize your visit. If you are going to visit only one farm, go to Ashford Stud, home to Triple Crown Winner, American Pharoah, who, if you are lucky, you may see enjoying his privileged life. http://coolmore.com/america/farm-tours/
It’s American’s only native spirit. Kentucky bourbon whiskey is made from a mash containing at least 51% corn, but its smooth taste is credited, once again, to that subsoil limestone which plays such a central role in bluegrass country. Distilleries are steeped in tradition; tour one of the five historic distilleries of the Lexington region such as Woodford Reserve, to learn about the history of the region and of the libation, to smell its heady aromas and taste this “water of life”. If you want to delve in to Whiskey production, seek out the makers of small batch bourbons such as Blue Grass Distillers on West Sixth Street. http://www.woodfordreserve.com/
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
Home to the third largest Shaker community in America between 1805 and 1910, during its 105 year history the Pleasant Hill Shakers constructed more than 260 structures on the property, 34 of which survive today. Explore the Historic Center, trek in to the Preserve, 3,000 acres of native prairies, woodlands, and streams that are being conserved, and dine at the Farm on seed to table delicious fare after visiting the orchards, gardens and barnyard.
– quilting, woodworking, glass making can be found both in Lexington itself and in nearby communities. Visit The Kentucky Folk Arts Center with one of the finest collections of folk art in the country.
– There are a number of historic sites, battlefields, homes and gardens. Mary Todd Lincoln hails from Lexington and her house can be visited as well as Henry Clay’s 19th century Ashland Estate.
– locally grown and beloved, if you miss the Bluegrass Festival in June, don’t worry. There are a variety of venues where you can sip your bourbon and tap your foot: Wednesday night head to Performance Hall at ArtsPlace for Red Barn Radio’s live recording; Monday night’s outdoor concert and jam session; Autumn Friday evenings in Winchester at The Leeds Center; Tuesday afternoons at Akemon’s Barber Shop in Paris.
It’s the first Saturday of May and, for $60 a ticket, you can join 140,000 spectators at Churchill Downs in Louisville. If this is a bit overwhelming for you, think of visiting Kentucky Horse Park, a 1,200-acre farm complex devoted to all breeds of horses and containing memorabilia from the great Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Big Red and Man o’ War among others.
TO EAT & DRINK IN AND AROUND LEXINGTON
Dudley´s On Short
Table Three Ten
Whose design is as good as its food
Informal steak house
Mark Wombles’ beloved restaurant in Midway KY, 30 minutes from Lexington. As the name suggests, the focus is on local, simple and delicious