When you think about Kentucky, what comes to mind? Bourbon? The Kentucky Derby? Lousiville Slugger bats? Before visiting last Labor Day weekend with my Mama and my sister, I didn't really think about Kentucky much at all. We found a travel Groupon getaway hotel deal that we jumped on for a very reasonable rate and decided that we would visit Lexington, KY.
I am so glad we did and am so excited to share our trip with you!
Lexington is only about five hours from Atlanta, so it's an easy long weekend trip with a drive that is pleasant from start to finish. You'll pass beautiful rolling hills, plant covered canyons, mountains, cities, and much more on your drive through the countryside.
Many retired race horses become studs (how's that for a retirement plan?!) and charge a fee to any mare interested in having his quick-footed foals. Stud fees are fascinating! Whether or not you're currently interested in horse racing or breeding (which I have to admit I was not before our visit) I highly recommend touring a local farm.
We did a little research and found a nearby farm that hosts tour groups for free and made our way over after having breakfast at a local farmer's market. Claiborne Farm is a must for your Lexington vacation! Be sure to call and make a reservation before stopping by, but you can put your credit card away.
They have knowledgable tour guides who are not just there for tours, they actually oversee mating and care of the horses so they have a wealth of knowledge and are not shy about answering even the most snicker-worthy questions.
Stud horses have a worth assigned to them based on their offspring's performance in races. For instance, the horse above is worth SIXTY MILLION DOLLARS! Below is what petting $60 million looks like. Thrilling!
These studs generally have many investors who co-own them and charge a range of fees for mating. This fella charges $150,000 per mating session! In other words, his kids race really, really well. While at Claiborne Farm you get to pet a few horses, watch them eat peppermints (extremely cute!), learn all about the horse business, and even see the graves of some of the most famous race horses of all time.
This entire tour was free. For me, Claiborne Farm was the highlight of the trip. It was educational, beautiful, and it included animal petting which is pretty much always the best part of a day. Tour guides appreciate tips, of course, and they definitely deserve them!
Horses aren't your thing? Good news, there's booze! One of the other famous Kentucky exports is bourbon. If you're looking for something else free to do, look for a distillery tour at one of the many local bourbon makers. Some charge a small fee, but Buffalo Trace Distillery offers a free tour that is incredibly interesting and includes a little taste of the good stuff at the end! You'll learn about the distilling process, the delicate balance of light and moisture allowed, and all about the bottling and years of aging required, plus why Pappy Van Winkle costs as much as your fanciest purse.
After the tour, each 21+ guest is given a taste of 3 different bourbons and a bourbon ball--YUM! After visiting the gift shop and stocking up on whiskey stones, bourbon balls, and Bourbon Cream, we walked around the property which is beautifully landscaped. Don't miss out on walking around the lodge or visiting the giant buffalo sculpture made from one large piece of wood.
If you're an early riser, one of the best kept secrets in Lexington is the practice race and breakfast at Keeneland. Keeneland is a thoroughbred racetrack in Lexington that is open to the public each morning for practice. This is a wonderful way to experience the power of these beautiful creatures up close and personal. Each morning, jockeys take their horses out for practice racing and to loosen their muscles with a nice jog. You can enjoy a cup of coffee while standing mere feet from massive horses speeding past. They start at a slow clip and eventually they'll be thundering past at such speed and with such booming sound that it will blow you away.
After you've had your fill or watching the practice, take a short walk to the cafe behind the race stalls where a very affordable full breakfast is served up daily. For about $6, you can get coffee, eggs, sausage, grits, and a biscuit.
We almost felt like we were getting away with something getting to enjoy so many wonderful pieces of Kentucky for such little money. Lexington has so much to offer. From horses, to bourbon, to a growing and vibrant food scene to the Mary Todd Lincoln House, you will not regret a long weekend trip to the Horse Capitol of the World!