Both of the rival presidents during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, were born in KENTUCKY, where acute divisions existed between slave-owning farmers and the merchants who depended on trade with the nearby cities of the industrial North. While the state remained officially neutral, more Kentuckians joined the Union army than the Confederates; after the war, however, Kentucky sided with the South in its hostility to Reconstruction and has tended to follow southern political trends.

Kentucky’s rugged beauty is at its most appealing in the mountainous east, which suffers from acute rural poverty but boasts the fine scenery of the Natural Bridge and Cumberland Gap regions. Perhaps the most iconic area of the state is the Bluegrass Downs, home to bluegrass, bourbon and thoroughbred horses. The name comes from the unique steel-blue sheen of the buds in the meadows, only visible in early morning during April and May. The area centres on the reserved state capital Lexington, a major horse-breeding market, and holds some of the oldest towns west of the Alleghenies.

Hipper Louisville, however, home of the Kentucky Derby, lies eighty miles west and offers more reasons to linger. It is also a good access point to the bourbon country around Bardstown. Rural western Kentucky, where the Ohio River meets the Mississippi, is flat, heavily forested and generally less attractive. Meanwhile, in the southern hinterland, numerous small towns retain their tree-shaded squares and nineteenth-century townhouses – and their strict Baptist beliefs – while the endless caverns of Mammoth Cave National Park attract spelunkers and hikers in the thousands.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

USA features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Your USA itinerary: 6 ideas for an American adventure

Your USA itinerary: 6 ideas for an American adventure

The USA’s sheer scale and scope means it’s impossible to see everything the country has to offer in one go ­– and you shouldn’t try. From sprawling na…

15 Mar 2017 • Nick Edwards insert_drive_file Article
7 reasons why you should visit Key West, Florida

7 reasons why you should visit Key West, Florida

Once a rip-roaring buccaneers’ town, the preserve of pirates and wreckers, Key West is now the quirky, tropical heart of the Florida Keys. The island’s bois…

14 Mar 2017 • Georgia Stephens insert_drive_file Article
24 breaks for bookworms

24 breaks for bookworms

1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas In 1971, fuelled by a cornucopia of drugs, Hunter S. Thompson set off for Las Vegas on his “savage journey to the heart of …

02 Mar 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month