Originally, we did not plan on going through Kentucky, nor visiting the Bourbon Trail. However, with the Carolinas being questionable as to the road conditions after Hurricane Matthew, we make a quick decision to detour through the middle of the country instead. Our friends also played a role in this decision, as they loved their many visits to the area and highly recommended it, so we made our plans to stay in Bardstown, KY.
Bardstown is rated as one of the Best Small Towns in America and we fully recognized the appeal upon arrival. In order to get to our campground, we had to drive the truck and trailer through the center of downtown. As we circled the massive brick building that used to be the town hall and now serves as the visitor center, we caught peeks of the little side roads all lined with quaint shops and cafes. Basically, the entire town is on the National Historic Registry and every building has a story to tell.
Our campsite was only a few minutes from town and before we knew it, we were pulling into White Acres Campground, as read the dilapidated yellow sign at the entrance. White Acres was our second choice to My Old Kentucky Home State Park, which didn't have availability. Unfortunately, there aren't many great options for camping in the area and as one reviewer put it, "You're here for the bourbon.". So, we decided to make the best of it and pulled into one of the most unlevel spots we have had to date... In the dark. The rest of our stay at White Acres was actually pretty great. The manager was super friendly and helpful and even cleaned our outdoor rug every day. Our unlevel spot ended up being right next to a big lawn area under an oak tree where we set-up the picnic table and our outdoor chairs. At one point we decided that doing yoga in our nice yard space would be a good idea and we proceeded to become a spectacle to the rest of the campground. Note: southern RV'rs will look at you funny if you do yoga outside.
Our stay in Bourbon country mainly consisted of working in the morning and then taking off for an excursion in the afternoon. Our first adventure was to a distillery, of course. We chose Willet's Distillery, as it came highly recommended by everyone we had talked to about the bourbon trail so far. Willet's was a great experience. We learned just about everything there was to know about how to distill bourbon and Willet's has a deep sense of pride, as it is one of the few family run bourbon distilleries in the area. They are competing with the likes of Jim Beam and Woodford Reserve and are doing their best to provide a first class experience to everyone that comes in for a tour and taste.
Tip: Most, if not all, of the distilleries require reservations for tours and tastings. Make sure you call in advance to get a time. These are not like wineries where you can walk in and receive a tasting!
The next day, we decided to venture down to Lincoln's birthplace at Sinking Springs Farm. Along this trip, we have really enjoyed visiting all of the historic sites and this was another fun educational activity. The Beaux-Arts neo-classical Memorial Building is the real centerpiece at the site, as it sits grandly atop a hill just behind the visitor center. Inside is a replica of the original cabin in which Lincoln was born and I would encourage anyone to ask the ranger that sits post in the building to tell the story of why the cabin is a replica and not the original, as there is an interesting tale of corruption behind it. There are also hiking trails leading off from the historic sites, to see the entirety of the farm where Lincoln's parents lived when he was born.
Since one of our goals on this journey is to visit as many National Parks as possible, we couldn't pass up the chance to visit Mammoth Cave National Park, only an hour south of Bardstown. Tours of the cave are every hour or so and when we arrived, we made our reservation for the next tour and set off for a hike around the park. There are numerous hiking trails from the main visitor center and many of them connect with other trails and allow you to choose how far you want to go. The trail we chose meandered along next to the Green River, where riverboats used to ferry passengers to the area. Fall was still doing its work here and once again, we found ourselves in the multicolored scenery of another forest.
The cave tour we chose was only 2 hours and it basically took us about 50 yards inside the cave and out again. Worth it for the information from the ranger about the cave, but definitely not worth your time if you're looking for a true cave experience. Mammoth Cave does have some beautiful formations and interesting geological features, but I think we were both getting a little tired of viewing caves. Our sentiment was sort of along the lines of - you've seen one cave, you've seen them all. But the trip was certainly a fun way to spend an afternoon!
We had saved our most anticipated distillery visit for my personal favorite, Four Roses. It was the day of our meetiversary, the cheesily romantic term we use for the day we first met 6 years ago. To celebrate, we were going to the distillery and then up to the Holly Hill Inn for dinner.
Four Roses is a corporate owned distillery and while that was apparent in feel of the place, we couldn't have been happier with the tasting experience. Tours were not available due to construction, but our tasting guide was very knowledgeable and he led us through the various labels and bourbon types offered with a comedic flair that had everyone giggling uncontrollably towards the end. Although, that could have just been the bourbon...
Dinner at the Holly Hill Inn is a Bourbon Trail experience not to be missed. While we feel totally spoiled by the innovative culinary scene of Portland, the menu at HHI is true southern fine dining. The restaurant is on the main floor of a beautiful antebellum style mansion on the National Register of Historic Places. From the moment of arrival, the whole place reeks of romance. A giant oak tree hung with lit candles shades the entrance of the wide porch lined with white wicker furniture and white-linen clothed tables with boston ferns hanging around the perimeter. The interior dining space is like something out of a museum and the rooms have been left intact, so each space is its own little private dining experience.
We chose the chef's tasting menu (only $45!) and were amused at the traditional options offered. Everything we had was delicious, but there wasn't a drop of creativity. Even the chef's amuse-bouche was your standard devilled egg, complete with paprika and chives. So, we banished our Portland palates and simply enjoyed the wonderful dinner and southern romance.
Our stay on the Bourbon Trail was a truly memorable experience, but we were excited to be getting closer to our southern-most destination and had only one more stop to make before landing in Florida for the duration of the year - Nashville, Tennessee.