“You might know nothing about bourbon or horses when you come to Woodford County, Kentucky, but when you leave you’ll be an old hand,” says Emily Downey, executive director of Reserve Woodford.
Downey knows what visitors want in her hometown destination, and with the coming of springtime—and with the post-pandemic rush to travel again—she’s eager to welcome visitors to Woodford County, nestled in the heart of the Bluegrass State’s famous thoroughbred and bourbon region.
“We have some of the most majestic horse farms in the world, and groups can tour these farms and meet Triple Crown equine celebrities,” Downey says. “We also boast award-winning distilleries like Woodford Reserve and Castle & Key that offer tastings and tours, with another distillery destination opening later this year.”
Full disclosure: Like Emily, I’m a native of Woodford County, and while I’ve never worked in the horse or bourbon industries, I’ve spent plenty of time at nearby Keeneland Race Course, and I’ve enjoyed more than one sip of Kentucky’s native spirit. — BR
As people ease back into travel with an eye for outdoor and big-space attractions, tours of horse farms and distillery properties will be welcomed as inviting and intriguing activities. And Woodford County’s two cities, Versailles and Midway, both offer Main Street shops, locally owned restaurants, and an easygoing atmosphere.
Visitors sense the comfort of Kentucky, according to Downey.
“People are seeking small-town charm, and we have been strategic about maintaining that feel while capitalizing on our big-city access and amenities,” she says. “With two major interstates in our backyard, we’re a day’s drive or less for 75% of the U.S. population, and we’re only 10 minutes from the Lexington airport.”
Visitors can hub-and-spoke from Woodford County and explore additional horse farms and Bluegrass communities or visit other distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The county’s accommodations range from the familiar to the fantastic.
“We have a new Holiday Inn Express with value rates for groups that extend year-round, but our most unique lodging opportunities are at The Kentucky Castle,” Downey says. “In what’s literally a castle, accommodations include everything from luxurious sleeping rooms in a turret to glamping. There’s also a dinner theater, a wellness spa, a working farm you can visit, and a farm-to-table restaurant.”
2021 is the Year of Fantastic Fare for Woodford County, and Downey touts the many and varied independent restaurants. “True Kentucky cuisine includes delicious fried chicken, pimento cheese, bourbon balls, and warm pie, and this is also home to Chef Ouita Michel, a seven-time James Beard nominee and Top Chef Kentucky judge.”
Among the many local eateries where visitors get a memorable taste of Kentucky is Spark Community Café, a pay-it-forward restaurant on Main Street in Versailles. “Because they have limited hours, they can easily accommodate groups that want an exclusive seating, which can really make groups feel comfortable as they travel in a bubble,” Downey says.
Like everyone, the people at Woodford County’s restaurants, shops, and attractions are looking forward to more active days ahead, and they are moving forward with plans for outdoor festivals and celebrations starting in the second half of 2021.
And for sure, these are good people to know. Because amid Woodford County’s horse farms and bourbon distilleries, everyone’s an old hand.
Top photo by The Kentucky Castle