Time doesn’t quite stand still in Shelby County. But between the small-town charm, the smooth sips of Kentucky bourbon, and the sleepy mornings spent relaxing on B&B front porches, it sure does seem to move more slowly. And with all of that located an easy 90-minute drive from downtown Cincinnati, there’s really no excuse for you and your entourage not to make a weekend out of this hidden gem of the Bluegrass state.
WHERE TO STAY
Headquarter your crew at Saddlebred Suites, a historic but recently renovated building that’s been turned into a boutique hotel right in the center of the action in downtown Shelbyville Suites—two-bedroom or studio-style—are equipped with kitchenettes, renovated bathrooms, and luxe furnishings, and it gets bonus points for being walkable to everything the town has to offer.
If you’re looking for a real escape, venture just a few miles outside town to Cerulean Farm Bed and Breakfast, a working farm where sugar maples line the way to an 1860s farmhouse. Every room offers views of the property’s horses, and the hot breakfasts, heated wraparound porch, and rolling hills set the scene for a getaway full of blissful peace and quiet.
WHAT TO EAT
Fuel up for your adventure with coffee, smoothies, and breakfast treats at The Paddock Coffee, Eats + Gatherings (extra convenient if you’re staying upstairs at Saddlebred Suites). Lunch is a full sensory experience at Little Mount Lavender Company, a gem of a gift-shop-slash-bakery-slash-café with comfort foods and lavender goods galore. Order the charcuterie for your table—and make sure to wash it down with a lavender lemonade (or a lavender lemon drop, if you’re feeling frisky).
One of the best meals in town is the dinner service at the Red Lion at Science Hill, where old Kentucky charm mingles with New American cuisine and thoughtfully prepared courses, from the ahi tuna tartare to the center-cut tenderloin filets and the southern spicy chicken and dumplings. If you’re lucky, you might enjoy a cocktail prepared by the “Victorian Bartender” Brian Cushing, who teaches a cocktail class with enough absinthe to make even the bourbon drinker in you drool.
WHAT TO DO
Shelbyville’s prime placement within Kentucky’s bourbon country has turned the sleepy small town into a hotbed for a very particular type of tourism. We visited Jeptha Creed, a woman-owned distillery that grows many of the ingredients in its blends—like the Bloody Butcher corn—right there on the property, and Bulleit, the bourbon powerhouse with tasting experiences that stimulate all your senses with the help of 21st century technology and good old-fashioned distilling methods.
You can’t make a trip to central Kentucky without jumping into the saddle. Trail rides for beginners and experts alike are easy to book at Red Fern Riding Center, a stable located within Shelby Trails Park, a 462-acre oasis just 40 minutes outside Louisville. Not quite ready to take a ride? Book a tour with Léttleiki Icelandics Horse Farm to get up close and personal with one of the world’s shaggiest (read: cutest) breeds without putting your boots in the stirrups. For an extra special look at Kentucky’s horse world, stop by Willow Hope Farm, the Kentucky Humane Society’s rescue facility that gives abused and neglected horses a second chance at life.