Kentucky's Amazing Small Towns
Yes, the vibrant buzz of Kentucky's two largest cities, Lexington and Louisville, have plenty to offer just about anyone visiting the Commonwealth, but some of the state's small towns are well worth the time and effort for those looking for a taste of something a little different. Crafts, culture and cuisine are a big part of the draw, but there are plenty of surprises along the way too. As an added bonus, the incredible scenery of the byways that connect the towns makes driving a pleasure instead of a task.
This small town, some forty miles south of Lexington, with a population of only 13,000, is known as an artistic enclave on the edge of eastern Kentucky's mountain region. It's also the proud home of Berea College, an institution that's focused on the education of financially-disadvantaged students, many from the eastern Kentucky region.
The Kentucky Artisan Center
At exit 77 of Interstate 75, the Kentucky Artisan Center showcases and sells the best crafts and art produced in Kentucky. There's also an on-site cafe, open 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM daily, for the hungry traveler.
Just across the street from Berea College's main campus, College Square is a vibrant hub made up of shops, cafe's, restaurants and the stunning Boone Tavern Hotel. On the other end of the square, Papaleno's serves up delicious Italian dishes in a casual atmosphere. In between the two, the visitor can choose between a coffee shop, cafes and several shops.
Old Town Berea
Old Town is an assemblage of art galleries, crafts stores and old fashioned style eateries. After perusing galleries, workshops and stores, the visitor can look for a treat at the Old Town Fudge Factory.
Boone Tavern Lobby
This tiny town of about 8000 is best known for an inn, with a lauded culinary history, and its restored pioneer-era fort.
Tucked away just off the main drag, this one-time women's college continues to be one of the area's most popular hangouts. Visitors can choose between the Old Owl Tavern, The Owl's Nest or the main dining room for their dining and drinking pleasure. For whiskey lovers, Beaumont has one of the regions best offerings of premium and super premium bourbons.
Old Fort Harrod
The focal point of downtown Harrodsburg is the 15 acre grounds of the Old Fort Harrod State Park. The fully reconstructed fort is named after James Harrod, who led some of the first settlers into Kentucky, and established the fort as Kentucky's first permanent American settlement in the state. The buildings and artifacts inside the fort illuminate the way life was back at the beginning of the western migration of the early pioneers.
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
About seven miles northeast of town, Shaker Village of Pleasant hill is another restoration that allows visitors a glimpse of what life was like for the ill-fated Shaker religious sect. The Shakers believed in Spartan self reliance and hard work, and that's still evident today by the well-constructed buildings they left behind, and the functional furniture and crafts they originated. The Shaker architectural, clothing and furniture style was based on simplicity, with little if any adornment, that ended up inspiring an elegance all its own.
Tours of Shaker Village are available, as is lodging and dining. A night or two spent in the quiet atmosphere inside the village is a great way to disconnect from today's frantic world.
Just ten miles down Highway 150 from Harrodsburg, Danville is home to Centre College, one of the country's standout universities. It also has a vibrant downtown scene that includes a burgeoning craft beer culture.
Beer and Pizza
The Beer Engine has several of its own brews on tap alongside some popular national craft brands. Just a few steps away, on Main Street, The Hub is a popular student book store and coffee shop that's also a great place to watch downtown life go by. Across the street, Bluegrass Pizza and Pub is the go to place for pie and pint lover.
Just south of downtown, one of Kentucky's newest distilleries, Wilderness Trace, makes their bourbon using the sweet mash method instead of the more common sour mash method where part of the last batch is held over to be used in the next fermentation process. The start from scratch sweet mash method is used to give the bourbon a distinctively mellow flavor.
Wilderness Trail Distillery
This tiny town, smack in the middle of horse farm country, is just about fifteen miles west of Lexington, but it looks like a Norman Rockwell painting in motion. It also has more than its share of unique restaurants and shops.
Half the fun of a Midway visit is in getting there. Old Frankfort Pike, once the main road between Lexington and Kentucky's capital city Frankfort, is now one of the state's most scenic byways that runs along several pastoral horse farms and old church buildings. The tree-lined stretch between Midway and Frankfort has mile after mile of dry stone fences that date back to the nineteenth century.
For lunch, Wallace Station, on Old Frankfort Pike, or the Grey Goose downtown have a great casual vibe. For something a bit more formal, the Holly Hill Inn is a local favorite with a highly regarded wine list.
About ten miles southwest of Midway is Woodford Reserve, on one of Kentucky's most beautiful distillery settings. Stone warehouses, copper pot stills and a newly revamped visitors center combine to stimulate all the senses in the best way possible.
For anyone interested in how and where Kentucky bourbon gets made, this town of around 12,000 is home to two of the world's most well known distilleries.
Just south of town, the narrow and winding Bonds Mill Road meanders along pasture and hay fields until the seeming mirage of the stucco yellow mission style main buildings of Four Roses appears on the side of the road. After spending some time touring the distillery and its newly-expanded visitors center, the setting seems to be as natural as the bluegrass in the surrounding fields.
Just east of downtown, Wild Turkey distillery is perched high on the banks of the Kentucky River. The maker of the popular namesake 101-proof bourbon has also recently added a new, larger visitors center where the visitor can find the full range of Wild Turkey whiskeys including Forgiven, a unique rye and bourbon blend that originated as an unintended mixing of the two whiskeys just prior to bottling.
The Grey Goose and Woodford Reserve
Are you interested in visiting Kentucky's amazing small towns?
Four Roses Visitors Center
This small municipality bills itself as "The Bourbon Capital of the World", with no fewer than six distilleries within a twenty mile radius of downtown, the title is well deserved. It also has a great pedestrian-friendly downtown with an old fashioned drug store with a soda fountain.
Heaven Hill, producer of Evan Williams, is Bardstowns largest, and perhaps best known distillery, but Jim Beam, in nearby Clermont, is one of the world's biggest. Just down the road from Heaven Hill, Willet is part of the relatively new and smaller boutique craft distillery vanguard. On the west side of town, Barton's 1792 makes the very popular Ridgemont Reserve along with its Very Old Barton line. Loretto, a few miles south, is home to the iconic wed wax topped Maker's Mark bourbon. All of the distilleries offer tours for those who want an up close and personal look at how bourbon actually gets made.
In Bardstown, not surprisingly, food and bourbon go together in a big way. At 112 Xavier Drive, The Rickhouse is best known for its signature steaks. Patrons can choose from a wide selection of bourbons and wines, and it's a great place to eat at the bar too.
Downtown, the Old Talbott Tavern serves up popular Kentucky dishes like fried chicken and country ham, and next door, the Bourbon Bar has delicious pub fare that compliments the large variety of bourbons they offer.