Travelers in the Bluegrass State never lack for places to stay.
The Commonwealth is covered with chain motels and hotels.
You can count on these hostelries to be clean and neat. They have amenities like key-card locks and blow-dryers. But consistency has a price. While that kind of reliability cuts down on unwelcome adventures, it also takes away the character and personality that make a trip memorable.
That’s why more and more Kentucky travelers look for alternative lodgings: bed and breakfasts, for instance, which don’t have a restaurant, but include the one meal a day in the price. Other possibilities are independently owned motels (usually found in smaller towns and cities); small, old-time hotels (usually in city centers); and our favorites, country inns.
There is no standard definition of a country inn. In general, country inns have a restaurant and just a few rooms. But some offer considerably more.
The real difference between an inn and a hotel is one of attitude.
A hotel is a commercial establishment, there to meet your dining and sleeping needs. An inn is a home away from home, where you are always family.
Country inns usually have a historic tie-in that helps define their personality. Maybe it was originally the home of a famous Kentuckian. Or the first house built in the area. Or it was converted from its original purpose as a factory or school.
And inns are usually found in interesting places, offering cozy and colorful home bases for exploring nearby attractions.
There are more than a dozen country inns in Kentucky. Here are four we recommend from firsthand experience.
Forest Retreat, 4179 Maysville Rd. (U.S. 68), Carlisle, KY 40311, (800) 220-6840.
Forest Retreat was the home of Thomas Metcalfe, the 10th governor of Kentucky. It was designed and built by him around 1814, and was restored in 1935 by Dr. and Mrs. Eslie Asbury-who, along with the Metcalfes, are interred in the cemetery that is part of the 17 acres that surround the inn.
The three guest rooms are furnished with antiques. Antiques and reproductions can be found throughout the house.
Because the inn has never been adequately wired, the restaurant is lit by candles at each table, making romance out of necessity.
Lunch and dinner are served Thursday-Saturday, and a family-style brunch is served on Sunday. Afternoon tea and special events can be arranged on Tuesday or Wednesday for groups of 15 or more.
Touring around the Forest Retreat Inn
Outside the door of Forest Retreat lies the historic U.S. 68 corridor, the first macadamized road in Kentucky. Along it you’ll find old towns like Maysville, Washington, and Mays Lick; Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park; and just half a mile away, the last cabin inhabited by Daniel and Becky Boone before they moved to Missouri.
Beaumont Inn, 638 Beaumont Inn Dr., Harrodsburg, KY 40330, (800) 352-3992.
The Beaumont Inn started life in 1845 as a school for young ladies. Operating as Greenville Institute until 1855, it was known as Daughter’s College until 1894, and then changed hands and name, becoming Beaumont College.
In 1917 it was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Glave Goddard, and two years later was converted to the Beaumont Inn. It has been owned and operated by the same family ever since.
Beaumont Inn is a rambling set of buildings. Goddard Hall, the main facility, has 10 guest rooms, each with a queen-size bed. The Bell Cottage offers two comfortable units, each with its own bedroom, bath, and sitting room. And Greystone House features four large bedrooms, making it ideal for groups.
The rooms and public spaces are filled with antiques, including several collections, such as the fishing lures and glassware collections. Old letters and memorabilia are on display, too, providing a glimpse into the history of the inn. And there are unique touches as well. Look closely, for instance, and you find the names of schoolgirls written in the mortar between the bricks. These names were inscribed more than 100 years ago.
The restaurant is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is served to house guests only. There is a dress code in the evenings: Shorts are prohibited, and jackets and ties are recommended for men.
Many of the dishes served at Beaumont Inn are specialties of the house, such as old-fashioned yellow-legged fried chicken, corn pudding, and General Robert E. Lee orange-lemon cake.
Touring Around Beaumont Inn
Beaumont Inn is a short mile from the historic sites of Harrodsburg, including the re-creation of Old Fort Harrod, where you can see costumed workers re-creating the lifestyle of 18th-century pioneers. Across from the fort is The Gathering Place, a log building where Marti Williamson recalls her Kentucky mountain heritage in song and story.
Boone Tavern Hotel, Main & Prospect Sts., Berea, KY 40404, (800) 366-9358.
Boone Tavern has enough rooms to qualify as a hotel. But the tone and ambiance are those of a country inn.
Boone Tavern was built in 1909 to house visitors to Berea College. The white-columned brick building in the heart of Berea has 58 guest rooms, decorated with student-made furniture. This gracious, Southern-style inn features comfortable public rooms as well, including the Lincoln Lounge, with its operating fireplace and overstuffed couches.
The dining room is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A few years ago the strict dress code was relaxed somewhat to attract a younger clientele. It is now described as “tastefully casual,” which means shorts, jeans, and similar attire are frowned on.
The restaurant serves several regional specialties, such as spoonbread and chess pie, and is internationally famous for its chicken and potato dish, Chicken Flakes in the Bird’s Nest.
Touring Around Boone Tavern Inn
Surrounding Boone Tavern is downtown Berea, with its craft shops, art galleries, and Appalachian heritage that make Berea the crafts capital of Kentucky. The Berea College campus is only one block away, and tours can be arranged in the inn. Nearby Indian Fort Theater is the site of several arts and crafts festivals each year.
The School House Inn, 100 Central Ave., Benham, KY 40807, (606) 848-3000.
The School House Inn also started life as a school. The huge, brick building was built in 1928 by the International Harvester Coal Co. as a high school. Benham was considered the “Cadillac of Coal Camps,” and the school reflected it. The school was in continuous use until 1992. A year later, a group of citizens decided to save the building and convert it into the inn. The classrooms became bedrooms, but much of the ambiance was retained.
The rooms are large and comfortable. Many of them are furnished with antique reproductions and cherry wood furniture. But you’ll spend little time in your room, choosing instead to roam the public areas to absorb the memorabilia of the school days.
The restaurant is open every day for lunch and dinner, but not every day for breakfast. So check the schedule before making plans. Meals are well-prepared, and the food is plentiful. Typical entrees include honey Dijon chicken, country ham, and fried catfish.
Touring Around School House Inn
Down the hill from the School House Inn is the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum, which celebrates life as it was lived in the coal towns of Benham and Lynch. In Lynch, just to the south, is Portal #31, where you can tour one of the mines that built this region. Other nearby sites include Kingdom Come State Park, and the top of Black Mountain-the highest point in Kentucky.