Hops and Skips

History, Horses, & Bourbon in Bardstown, Kentucky

It felt silly needing a break from our break.

By late-June, we’d been on Summer Break for just over a month, but, having been out of a school building since early March, it felt like break had been much longer. The usual anticipation of summer getaways was non-existent this year – and fortunately, we hadn’t actually planned a big trip that would’ve required a disappointing cancellation. But still, the stir-crazy had long set in and the desire to get out to explore somewhere new, especially sans kiddo, was strong.

Enter my search for a nearby destination that could offer tranquility alongside a little bit of culture or history – just something to make me feel like we were seeing something new. A regional Airbnb search led me to a peaceful-looking horse farm in Kentucky with a location just a few miles from downtown Bardstown. This seemed to be a destination worth noting in the listing, but I’d never heard of Bardstown and had no idea what exactly it could offer.

Turns out, it could offer exactly what we needed for a weekend “babymoon” getaway – an opportunity to see a new place, eat some good food, and sleep late without parental responsibilities, especially before a new member of the family arrives on the scene in October.

Bardstown is about 40 miles south of Louisville, Kentucky, and under 2.5 hours from our home in Nashville. It’s one of Kentucky’s oldest cities, settled in 1780, and has over 200 old buildings still standing in historic downtown, many on the National Register of Historic Places. The route to our Airbnb passed through this downtown before heading north just a few miles on Southern-summer-lush country roads where we arrive at our destination in late afternoon and an hour closer to dinner, thanks to a time zone change.

Half of the farm’s largest barn had been renovated into an updated 2-bedroom apartment. It was here that we stayed, with horses under the same roof, though you’d never know it. With ample time to later explore the accommodations, we dropped off our bags and immediately headed into town for an early dinner.

This trip occurred as much of Kentucky had begun reopening following COVID-19 closures (yet before the downward spiral of July and subsequent mask mandates). The Bardstown Tourism website had a fantastic “Reopening Guide” that provided full details on the hours and safety requirements of establishments we could visit; it determined our nearly every move and outing. We dined at Alexander Bullitt’s Brewery & BBQ on the main drag of N 3rd St, pretty much our only option for a Sunday evening. The decor was minimal and the ambiance lacking, but the burger was good, serving its purpose before we settled in for a relaxing night. Once back at the horse farm, we enjoyed a beautiful evening reading outside for hours as we lost track of time, unaccustomed to the late sunset of Eastern Standard Time.

The next morning, we didn’t wake until nearly 10am.

10am! I know the time change is partly to credit, but I don’t think I’ve slept so late in years. A quick snack of bread, butter, and tea tided us over until we headed back into town for a day of exploration, beginning with lunch at Fresh, a local coffee shop run with zero-waste, sustainable practices and offering a daily lunch menu. Monday’s was a fantastic chicken and rice soup and roasted chicken salad that we shared, consuming every single crumb.

There’s a lot of history in Bardstown, and many old attractions to visit, including My Old Kentucky Home State Park; Historic Wickland, Home of Three Governors; and the Bardstown-Nelson County Historical Museum. We chose to stay within walking distance and visited Museum Row, a collection of four venues all accessible with a single ticket purchase, valid for two consecutive days. The Civil War Museum is pretty thorough with memorabilia and information on the war’s critical battles (not my usual cup of tea but succinct enough here to be engaging), and added care has been taken to diversify perspective and experience; Historic Bardstown Village offers a short, self-guided walk through a collection of log structures original to Bardstown’s colonial settlement; The Women of the Civil War Museum highlights the stories of several prominent, but often unheralded, women with an intrepid impact. (We never made it to the fourth: the General Hal Moore Military Museum.) I’d recommend utilizing that two-day offer, especially if you’re susceptible to museum fatigue.

For dinner, I’d chosen ahead of time Old Talbott Tavern, a guesthouse dating back to 1779. It served as offered travelers a spot to park your horse, grab a meal, and get a good night’s sleep. It’s one of the oldest buildings in town and still serves those same accommodations to guests today (minus the horse parking) as a bed and breakfast. Dining offers classic pub and tavern fare with a southern twist; the Daniel Boone Pot Roast was so warm and hearty, I felt I was in Ireland on a chilly winter’s night drinking a Guinness instead of in a 90-degree Kentucky summer. If permitted, it’s worth strolling through the Tavern’s several dining rooms and other public spaces.

We settled back into the horse farm for the evening, just before the downpour that was also settling in for the evening. After a soothing night’s sleep, it was time to seek that for which Bardstown is really well-known: whiskey. It would be remiss of us to visit the “Bourbon Capital of the World” without having actually partaken.

With most closed on Monday, this was our last opportunity to visit one of Bardstown’s ten distilleries, and we opted for Preservation Distillery. They offered an 11am small-group tour, but we ended up having our guide, Molly, to ourselves as we were led through the grounds and the brief history of this bourbon enterprise. The owner, Marci, has been in the whiskey business for decades, but this venture into Kentucky bourbon is relatively new; she spent years prior mixing and managing her own batch recipes, but the purchase of this farm in 2014 allowed her, for the first time, full production of small-batch, locally-sourced authentic Kentucky Bourbon. (Read up on that detailed labeling criteria here.) Though you can currently find “Preservation Distillery” brand bourbon on the market, they have yet to bottle the first batch produced entirely on site. The grounds and surrounding farmland are beautiful; I can see why it’s as popular a venue for weddings as it is bourbon tastings.

For a couple nights away, Bardstown was the perfect destination. We just scratched the surface of what it offers in terms of history, bourbon, and local dining. This is a place worth visiting again and again, especially without the kids.

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