VERSAILLES — If you're looking for a weekend escape, look no further than Fayette County's neighbor.
A mere 20 minutes from Lexington, Woodford County has a cornucopia of attractions: horse farms, fine restaurants, a unique antique shop in a country setting, a bourbon distillery, an award-winning winery, a picturesque town that lures shoppers and foodies, even a castle where you can get accommodations fit for a king or queen. With everything Woodford has to offer, it might be difficult to pack it all into a weekend.
Horse farms aren't exactly unique to our area, but finding one that allows visitors can be. Three Chimneys Farm is one of the Bluegrass's most accessible farms for touring (although do remember that reservations are required).
The 1,500-acre farm is home to 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, although I must confess my favorite stallion is the irrepressible Red Giant, who will delight visitors with a game of basketball, equine-style. Another favorite spot is the lovely statue marking the grave of Seattle Slew, the only undefeated Triple Crown winner, who called the farm home for 17 years.
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If it's spirits you're after, you have a choice of bourbon or wine. Woodford Reserve Distillery, a National Historic Landmark, is the oldest and smallest of the state's distilleries, and the closest to Lexington on the Bourbon Trail. It has an impossibly picturesque setting — on the bank of Glenn's Creek — and a distilling tradition begun by Elijah Pepper in the early 1800s.
Woodford Reserve's informative tour ($5) gives visitors a look at the triple-distillation process, from the copper-pot still to the only surviving stone aging warehouses in America. After your tour, you might want to enjoy a picnic lunch on the terrace overlooking the creek.
If you prefer wine, Equus Run Vineyards near Midway produces some of Kentucky's best, including a pinot noir that won the 2011 Grand Harvest Bronze Award. On a free 30-minute guided tour (at 1:30 p.m. daily), or a more leisurely self-guided tour, you can visit the renovated tobacco barn now used for production and the vineyards themselves. The tasting is a real bargain: six wines for $2, and you get to keep the signature glass.
Spend an afternoon in Midway, the first town in Kentucky to be established by a railroad (in 1831), serving as the midpoint between Lexington and Frankfort on the Lexington & Ohio route. The area saw some colorful characters in its early history: Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan led frequent guerilla raids; outlaws Frank and Jesse James were spotted visiting their mother, who was born in what is now the Offutt-Cole Tavern; and George Armstrong Custer regularly bought horses for the 7th Cavalry at Bosque Bonita Farm, now part of Lane's End Farm.
Today, Midway is more sedate, with rows of Victorian-style buildings lining both sides of the railroad track; specialty shops such as Celtic Trends and Damselfly; and restaurants known for fine cuisine, Heirloom and Holly Hill Inn.
Perhaps no other place in Woodford County is as unusual as Irish Acres Antique Gallery, home of The Glitz Restaurant, in the hamlet of Nonesuch. Occupying a rehabbed former elementary school, Irish Acres has 32,000 square feet of space on two floors (soon to be three) where you may pick up beautifully hand-crafted Christmas ornaments, a pair of vintage earrings for $25 or a 200-year-old mahogany corner cupboard with shell carvings for $38,000.
All that shopping can make you hungry, and The Glitz fills the bill with a three-course lunch for $20. It might have served once as the school's cafeteria, but its over-the-top décor of smoky mirrors, gauzy drapery, sequined butterflies and twinkling lights evokes a 1930s Hollywood musical.
If you're looking for a lodging spot that is anything but ordinary, you'll find it at CastlePost, a hotel near the Fayette County line that resembles a medieval castle, with its limestone facade and four turrets, each housing a two-story suite. A stay here is a step back in time but with all the modern amenities.
The interior is opulent, with plenty of dark wood paneling, gilded mirrors, chandeliers, decorative molding, frescoed ceilings and a sweeping staircase just made for the descent of a king or queen.
So what if you're just a few miles from home? Stay over anyway.