Central Kentucky is full of beautiful, historical, charming, whimsical and just plain quirky sites. You can experience high culture and haute cuisine or chat with the locals at a country grocery store while drinking an Ale-8-One and waiting for your sandwich to be made. You can go home with high-end antiques or some of the incomparable folk art the commonwealth is noted for.
Here's my list (admittedly subjective) of 10 of the best places to experience all that the Bluegrass has to offer.
■ Best place to experience the culture of the commonwealth: Kentucky Artisan Center, Berea. An outpost of Appalachia in the Bluegrass, this is the place to go for the ultimate in Kentucky arts and crafts — from blown glass and jewelry to woodwork and woolen goods. Visit: Kentuckyartisancenter.ky.gov.
■ Best place for a (scary) walking tour: Frankfort. You don't have to go all the way to London for its Jack the Ripper tour. You can be scared senseless on Frankfort's "Murder and Mayhem" Walking Tour (every Thursday in October) and learn about the 30 murders in the capital's downtown area from 1825 to 1909.
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■ Best place for bourbon tasting: Heaven Hill Distillery, Bardstown. There's no bad place to enjoy Kentucky's native spirit. For ambiance, however, you can't beat the tasting room at Heaven Hill's Bourbon Heritage Center. Visit: Heavenhill.com.
■ Best place to go for a glass of something that isn't bourbon: Jean Farris Winery, Lexington. Admittedly, Equus Run in Midway offers some pretty good vino in a cozy tasting room overlooking the vineyards, but what gives Jean Farris the edge is its stylish restaurant. New York's prestigious James Beard House doesn't invite just anybody to put on a dinner, as it did Jean Farris this year. Visit: Jeanfarris.com.
■ Best place to stop for a sandwich: Jot 'em Down Store, Lexington. Forget about those high-end delis and pricey sandwich shops; this country grocery is the place to go for a burger hot off the grill or baloney on white bread with mustard. Besides, it's Ashley Judd's favorite place to stop for lunch when she's in town. (859) 299-5889.
■ Best small town to get lost in: Springfield. Well, you can't really get lost, but you can spend an enjoyable afternoon wandering around this charming little Washington County town on the Lincoln Heritage Scenic Byway. Visit: Springfieldky.org.
■ Best place to be wowed: Irish Acres Antiques and The Glitz Restaurant, Nonesuch. French, English and early American antiques on the first floor and a restaurant that looks like a 1940s nightclub in the basement. You might expect it in New York or New Orleans, but not in the Woodford County town of Nonesuch! Visit: Irishacresgallery.com.
■ Best place to satisfy your sweet tooth: The Twisted Sifter, Danville. It's not fair that one small town has two great bakeries — first Burke's and now this new arrival, where spirits from ale to champagne are mixed into the cupcake batter. I know people who make weekly runs from Lexington just to stock up. Visit: Thetwistedsifter.com.
■ Best place to go back in time: Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg. Where else but in America's largest restored Shaker community? Dine on original Shaker fare, take a paddle wheeler ride on the Kentucky River and see costumed interpreters ply their trades. Visit: Shakervillageky.org.
■ Best place to see horses: Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm, Georgetown. This Scott County farm for retired Thoroughbreds and other breeds is the best place to get up close and personal with the horses. You can even adopt a Thoroughbred — just try doing that t any of the area's other horse farms. Visit: Oldfriendsequine.org.
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