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.

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