With the storied Kentucky Derby taking place this weekend – a highbrow event as famous for its carnival atmosphere, elaborate hats and socialite attendees as it is for excitment on the racetrack – Louisville, Kentucky is enjoying its share of attention this week as a luxury destination. What travellers might not realize is that beyond the festivities at Churchill Downs, this history-rich town is as charming year-round as it is during May.
One of Louisville’s most intriguing attractions stems from its centuries-long tradition of whiskey making, a craft that crosses into tourism with distillery tours and tasting events. One such event, the popular Urban Bourbon Trail, takes visitors to more than 20 trendy restaurants in the heart of Louisville, leading “trailblazers” to the city’s best specialty cocktails and whiskey-infused gourmet creations such as Mint Julep pancakes, bourbon barrel smoked salmon and even bourbon ball milkshakes.
Guests can download an electronic passport with a smart phone or obtain an old-fashioned paper passport from Louisville’s visitor center to collect stamps for trying different establishments. With six stamps trailblazers become official Citizens of Bourbon Country, recognized by a certificate and T-shirt. Beyond bourbon-themed events, Louisville hosts a number of lively festivals, including the world’s largest annual Beatles festival, Abbey Road on the River, the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, and a Jane Austen Festival, featuring a Regency Emporium, Afternoon Tea and historic ball.
With so much to experience, travellers may see little of their hotels, but the luxe amenities at some of Louisville’s boutique establishments can easily make spending a day inside too tempting to resist. The West Baden Springs Hotel, modeled after European spa hotels, features mineral baths, lush gardens and a Donald Ross-designed golf course. For a more cosmopolitan experience, the downtown 21c Museum Hotel, which doubles as a contemporary art museum, attracts culturists with rotating galleries, permanent collection pieces, yoga classes and artist lectures.
The lighthearted establishment playfully uses custom life-sized penguin figurines to evoke a chuckle from guests, who might return from sight-seeing to find new companions at the dinner table. Between whimsical hotels, unique culinary experiences and lively events, the culturally diverse Louisville is well worth visiting outside the established excitement of the Kentucky Derby.
Tracie Heffernan is the Communications Director at Resorts West.