Central Kentucky’s bluegrass country is one of America’s most genteel and elegant landscapes, spread over fifteen counties and 4,000 square miles and chockablock with Tara-style manor houses and classic white or black oak-plank fences.
It is also the undisputed international center of thoroughbred horse breeding. Horses live better here than most aristocracy, in cupola-topped barns and handsome stables that look more like French villas or deluxe hotels, with hand-forged gates, stained-glass windows, crystal chandeliers, and impeccable housekeeping.
Two of America’s most scenic byways, the Old Frankfort Pike and the Paris Pike, meander through the region under canopies of century-old trees and past more than 400 stately farms, their emerald fields dotted with mares and foals. Many of the grandest farms are home to past Derby winners (semi-retired four-legged gold mines now employed as fabulously well paid studs), and most are open for behind-the-scenes visits.
North of Lexington, the 1,000-acre Kentucky Horse Park, a working horse farm, educational theme park, and extensive horse museum, is perhaps the best place anywhere to get a feel for the American horse life. And while Louisville’s Churchill Downs may be the site of the storied Kentucky Derby, the Keeneland Race Course in Lexington is actually the South’s most beautiful. Show up in time to watch workout sessions from dawn to 10 A.M., and follow up with breakfast and gossip at the amiable Track Kitchen, a Keeneland tradition.
If horses in these parts are so pampered, shouldn’t visiting humans be as well? They are, at the red brick Greek-Revival Beaumont Inn, which began its career as a finishing school for young ladies in 1845. In the heart of bluegrass country, the plantation-style inn is justifiably known far and wide for its Kentucky country-ham dinners (hickory-smoked and cured for two years in the inn’s backyard ham house), served with biscuits, corn pudding, and armloads of Southern hospitality. Don’t leave the table without sampling the inn’s unforgettable four-layered General Robert E. Lee orange-lemon cake.