Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lexington beyond the pastures

You don't have to be horse crazy to fall in love with Lexington, KY, and the charming towns surrounding it.

The scenery is idyllic. Gently rolling hills and day-glo green pastures are divided by white or brown horse fencing and spotted with impressive homes, many antebellum, and barns with spires.  The up and down curving country roads lined with stacked stone fences will have sports car drivers salivating and Anglophiles with a case of deja-vu. You've just enough time to get up to speed before reaching another, Oh, look at that moment.

Non-equestrian activities range from spending a day in a Shaker village to sipping your way along the Bourbon Trail.

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is America's largest restored Shaker community. April through October costumed interpreters and crafts people bring the original back to life, complete with horse and wagon rides. May through October, you can take a ride on a riverboat.

Tip: There are a dozen hiking trails ranging from 1-mile to 6-mile loops, easy to strenuous, if you feel up to it. Otherwise, tour, shop, eat, even stay overnight. The seed-to-table restaurant is a destination must-do for many locals.

Historic homes abound, including 
Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate;
Latrobe's Pope Villa, one of the few remaining examples by an architect of the U. S. Capitol;
Mary Todd Lincoln House, the nation's first shrine to a First Lady;
Waveland State Historic Site, a Greek Revival built by a grand-nephew of Daniel Boone.

Warning: When it's historic, you are going to encounter stairs with no alternatives.

Bourbon Trail. Kentucky produces more than 95 percent of the world's bourbon, the adult beverage that statesman Henry Clay used for "lubricating the wheels of government."

The eight historic distilleries - Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, Four Roses, Maker's Mark, Heaven Hill, Tom Moore and Jim Beam - that make up the trail are in the Lexington Bluegrass area. Both Buffalo Trace and Woodford are local favorites. All offer tours and tastings, many require reservations and all have gift shops and historic photographs and memorabilia.

Warning: Hills and stairs are a given but a few, such as Heaven Hill in Bardstown makes a tour of the 50-acre property easier with a trolley.

Best of all, the drives between them will take you through some of the Bluegrass' most beautiful countryside. Even National Geographic says so.

Revolutionary and Civil War sites abound in these hills and dales if that's what pulls your gotta-go cord.

For book worms, Joseph-Beth Booksellers has been named by Publisher's Weekly as North America's best bookstore.

Where to eat. It will take a dozen visits of multiple days to try all the destination-worthy eateries in the area. I can personally recommend Dudley's on Short - although it's no longer on Short everyone still calls it that.  It's possibly the only place you'll find a "living" salad - they grow the greens hydroponically and cut per order. The bartender makes a truly classic and divine martini.

Anything Chef Ouita Michel prepares will be memorable. You can dine in a National Historic Register building at Holly Hill Inn, the restaurant she and her husband Chris developed.

In fact, you could spend a day with Ouita's inspirations. Have breakfast of lunch at her popular Wallace Station Deli - ham and brie panini was my fave - then spend the day touring and roaming the countryside until dinner at Holly Hill. Both are in Midway, a charming little railroad town that's worth a stop to shop in its boutiques.

Jonathan at Gratz Park in one of Lexington's historic hotels is famous for the refined regional fare of Chef Jonathan Lundy. The dining room is lovely but for a clubby, local atmosphere, try to snag a table in the bar. It can get a bit noisy but you'll have fun and perhaps make some new friends. Wherever you dine at Jonathan's, do not miss his homemade ice creams. Yumm.

And wherever you go, prepare for residents to treat you like a favorite new member of the family. Stay here more than 24 hours and you'll wish you were.

For all the information you need for a memorable stay, go to www.visitlex.com.


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