Kentucky Bluegrass Country Feature

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What Are the Top Experiences?

The Horses: In many ways, Kentucky is the Horse capital of the World. Not only does it have the largest number of horse farms, it is also, of course, the home of the Kentucky Derby, run the first Saturday in May at Louisville's Churchill Downs. As you might expect, America's longest continuously held sporting event is seeped in tradition, (the first Derby was in 1875), so if you're ever going to drink a mint julep, do it on Derby Day.

The History: Kentucky became a state in 1790, while Washington was president. It was an important area in the establishment of the United States west of the Appalachians and was hotly contested during the Civil War. Birthplace of both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, it was a slave state that never seceded from the Union. Both leaders had ties to the Bluegrass—Lincoln courted his wife in her Lexington home, and Davis attended Lexington's Transylvania University. Senator Henry Clay made his home in Lexington, as did his cousin, the colorful emancipationist and newspaper publisher, Cassius Marcellus Clay.

Food & Drink: There's much, much more to Kentucky cuisine than fried chicken. (Though the true, panfried version is one of America's great dishes.) Sample traditional favorites such as salty, smoke-cured country ham, flavorfully sweet Bibb lettuce, cheddar grits, panfried quail, and, in season, venison. The must-have dessert is bread pudding with bourbon sauce. Many restaurants serve a mix of the classic dishes and updates that incorporate regional delicacies. Think you don't like fried chicken livers? You may reassess when you encounter them bathed in a lemony cream sauce. More and more wineries are springing up on the sites of former tobacco farms; several are in the Bluegrass and offer tours, concerts, and tastings. And speaking of tastings, treat yourself to a snifter of really fine bourbon as an after-dinner drink. Virtually all of the region's better restaurants have extensive lists, and the staff can give you advice on selection.

Southern Hospitality: At the historic hotels and bed-and-breakfasts of Louisville, Lexington, and the countryside in between, you'll be greeted as a long-lost relative, not a mere guest. The emphasis on service is very apparent here. In many of the B&Bs (many of which overlook the horse farms), it's likely that you'll be sleeping in an antique bed. Breakfasts, cooked to order by the hosts, are so filling that you may need to skip lunch.

History You Can See

Kentucky was the 15th state and the first west of the Appalachians. General George Rogers Clark, who founded Louisville, was responsible for capturing the Northwest Territory from the British during the Revolutionary War. Frontiersman Daniel Boone traversed the state, and there are many historic markers in Kentucky about his activities. Driving around the countryside, you can come across many 18th and 19th century stone or brick buildings—even a few log cabins. Most of the historic home museums in the region are linked to important Civil War era figures, such as Lincoln and members of the Clay family.

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