On your Thomas Merton Tour, take some time to enjoy the charms of Louisville. Located on the banks of the Ohio River, the city is known for its lively visual and performing arts scene, fine architecture, historic treasures, and growing range of restaurants.
In downtown Louisville, Main Street is now “museum row,” with attractions that include the Kentucky Science Center, Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, KMAC: Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, Kentucky Show (a multi-media celebration of the state), and the Frazier History Museum, which features a thousand years of British and American history.
As the home to the Kentucky Derby since 1875, Louisville is synonymous with horse-racing. You can tour the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs and (during part of the year) take a backside tour to see the horses being exercised in the morning. The famed Derby is held the first Saturday of May, but you can see live thoroughbred racing at other times of the year as well (consult the track’s website to see their schedule).
If you’re interested in horses, Kentucky’s horse-breeding industry is centered between Lexington and Louisville, a region of gently rolling hills, lush pastures, immaculately kept farms, and gabled barns that look more like mansions than stables. The lush bluegrass is one of the reasons why this area is famous for its horses, for the turf grows atop a thick layer of limestone that provides minerals that make for strong bones.
In Lexington, visit the Kentucky Horse Park. The 1200-acre, state-owned facility is a working horse farm as well as educational theme park and equine competition facility. Its mission is to share Kentucky’s love of horses with the world, which it does through exhibits, films, and live shows. Don’t miss the International Museum of the Horse, which is filled with exhibits exploring the physiology, evolution, and history of these graceful animals that have been beloved companions of humans for millennia.
Another premiere attraction in the area is Three Chimneys Farm, one of the nation’s top horse-breeding operations. Its 2,300 acres are home to a dozen top-earning stallions as well as mares, foals and yearlings. The barns at the farm, with their rich woods and spotless interiors, give an indication of how well the horses are pampered.
Kentucky Horse Country has another famous export: bourbon. About 95 percent of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky, and the Louisville region has six distilleries that are open for tours and tastings. In Louisville itself, the Urban Bourbon Trail features more than forty bars and restaurants that feature at least 50 bourbons and are knowledgeable about the history and culture of Kentucky’s signature spirit. Any of these establishments can offer you the classic drink of the Kentucky Derby: the mint julep, made with fresh mint and aged bourbon.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail describes a self-guided journey to learn more about the state’s signature spirit.
Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.