Discovering Kentucky is a challenge to authenticity and history. Abraham Lincoln’s native land, the site of the country’s largest horse race, but also the cradle of Bourbon and “Bluegrass” music, this small state has much to offer to lovers of tradition.
Since 1981, the city of Bowling Green has been home to the factory of one of the legendary automobiles of the United States: the Corvette. One hundred and thirty-seven “tailor-made” cars are produced there every day. This very secure 93,000m2 complex can be visited by appointment and allows you to attend the manufacture of this vehicle, which its designer, Harley Earl, had wanted to give “a name that sounds French”. Outside the factory, a museum houses all the models produced since 1953 and traces the history of this sports coupé.
Eighty kilometres further north, industrial history gives way to political history. In Hodgenville, near Elizabethtown, Knob Creek is home to Abraham Lincoln’s modest birthplace. Now protected by a huge mausoleum, this small house and its adjoining museum make it possible to understand the personality of the future president.
Fifteen kilometres further on, Bardstown is the ideal last stop of the day. Elected one of the most beautiful small towns in America, with its cathedral, its Whiskey Museum, its Civil War Museum or “My Old Kentucky Home”, this former plantation that inspired Stephen Foster’s folk song. But it is in the house of French doctor Henri Chapeze (former Lafayette soldier) renamed “Kentucky Bourbon House” that you should relax, enjoying Bourbon-based cocktail classes, including the famous Mint Julep.
While the state is famous for the “Kentucky Derby”, the country’s largest horse race held each year in early May in Louisville, Kentucky’s greatest asset is found… at the bottom of a glass. Whiskey reigns supreme, a highlight for a state whose majority of counties have banned alcohol consumption! The birth of distilleries dates back several centuries, especially in the county of… Bourbon, named after the kings of France. We haven’t talked about whiskey for a long time, but Bourbon.
Regardless of the region of the state, there is a distillery or museum nearby. Tasting tours are organized throughout Kentucky, whether to discover the most important producers (Jim Bean, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, etc.) through the “Kentucky Bourbon Trail” or more traditional distilleries with the “Craft Tour”. In Louisville, an “Urban Tour” is also available.
On the border with Illinois, Paducah is one of the most attractive cities in the state. A strategic city during the Civil War, it was then one of the hubs of trade thanks to inland navigation. This is still essential since four rivers meet here (Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee). River history can be enjoyed in the Tour River Discovery Center.
If Paducah has benefited from navigation to develop, the high floods have also affected it. In fact, a 5m high and 20km long wall, whose openings can be sealed, has been installed to protect the banks. A protection that is adorned with a fresco depicting the history of the city.
Paducah’s architecture is also one of its treasures. The 19th century buildings are preserved and enhanced, offering the city centre an outdated charm. More modern, but reserved for traditions, the Quilt Museum is a must. This way of sewing the fabric is honoured in this institution which has the largest collection in the world of this type of creation.
Another sightseeing attraction of the city is Hotel Metropolitan. During the segregation, the latter was the only one able to accommodate black travellers. Opened from 1908 to the end of the 1990s, it saw BB King, Billie Holiday, Ike and Tina Turner, etc., play. Historical shows are organized on request.