It isn't the high stakes or even the thrill of a race that draws me to Kentucky's horse country. Rather, it's the tradition, the beauty, and the romance of the whole lifestyle. Now, if you want to breed or buy horses, or bet seriously on the big races, you're talking big bucks. But if you just want to slip into the scene for a few days, you'll love this affordable getaway to the Bluegrass. Get ready for scenic drives, classy bed-and-breakfasts, fine fare, and--of course, Kentucky horses and bourbon.
After a morning of interstate driving, exit into peaceful countryside near Versailles for lunch. (Don't be French about it; that's "ver-SALES" around here.) There are several bourbon distilleries in the area, but only one feeds you beautifully with "Picnic on the Porch." From April to October, Labrot & Graham ( 879-1812) serves outdoors, where you can dine on gourmet sandwiches or salads and desserts with Southern iced tea ($6-$12).
Then browse the visitors center and savor a free distillery tour along with samples of bourbon chocolates. They can't pour their product for you here, but you can buy a gorgeous bottle of their esteemed Woodford Reserve for later.
As the sun sets, go less than a mile down the road to an exquisite--but not too expensive--dining experience. Young New York-trained chefs Ouita and Chris Michel pamper your palate in style at their new yet historic Holly Hill Inn ( 846-4732). Both the menu and decor reflect the past with bright liveliness. Dinner is fixed price only, but three courses run an unbelievably low $30 a person (Sunday brunch is $15 per person). The reasonable wine list is as friendly as this likable couple. Sup on creations such as cornmeal-dusted oysters with fabulous cheese grits, corn succotash, and tangy cider sauces; or trout stuffed with leeks and herbs, alongside dainty fingerling potatoes and caviar. Desserts are old-fashioned, but never outdated. Trust Ouita on the addictive double-crust green tomato pie.