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Authentic experiences in the Southeast

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail
For more than 200 years, Kentucky’s distilleries have crafted the world’s finest bourbons. Secret recipes and time-honored traditions have been passed down from generation to generation. Including Lexington, Louisville and Elizabethtown, groups can tour seven historic distilleries and participate in a passport program. Each distillery stop takes at least 90 minutes for the tour, gift shop and tasting room.

“We’ve seen tremendous visitor growth in the past several years,” said Adam Johnson, director of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. “I always encourage groups to make advance arrangements with each individual distillery.”

Wild Turkey’s new visitors center opens in late May with spectacular views overlooking the Kentucky River. Groups can tour its upgraded distillery, too. Four Roses has also finished a new visitors center, and tours now include a presentation by one of its distillery experts.

Heaven Hill Distilleries, America’s largest independent family-owned producer of bourbon, will open the Evan Williams Bourbon experience in September. Located in downtown Louisville’s former Whiskey Row, the building will feature a four-story bottle of Evan Williams that dumps into a bourbon fountain. Each floor will represent eras of Louisville’s bourbon history and the brand, from a speak-easy floor to one of the present day.

The Bourbon Trail’s new Craft Tour invites groups to experience the smaller microdistilleries across the state. Smaller craft distilleries showcase the whole spectrum of Kentucky’s distilling history.

The Volunteer State has a reputation for country music, but soul, blues, rock and other music are also thriving today all across Tennessee.

Music-lovers looking for a unique experience will find it at Cumberland Caverns’ Bluegrass Underground in McMinnville. Once a month, the radio show is recorded live at 333 feet below ground. Here, some of the nation’s finest bluegrass musicians play in an acoustically pure amphitheater called the Volcano Room. To get there, guides lead visitors on a descent that passes by subterranean pools and waterfalls.

The world’s only soul museum, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. What began as a tiny Memphis record store in a corner movie theater grew to become one of the industry’s most noteworthy recording studios. Stax Records launched the careers of Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding and dozens of others.

Today, the museum pays tribute to all who recorded there with a rare collection of more than 2,000 interactive exhibits, films, artifacts and galleries. Stax Music Academy exists to nurture and present the next generation of great soul communicators.

“They’re like the Julliard of the South,” said Cindy Dupree, director of public relations for the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. “It’s a place of immense creativity and musical talent.”

In Chattanooga, Track 29 has launched the monthly show “Scenic City Roots.” It represents Americana and taps into local musicians. The eclectic, live broadcast streams on the Internet and airs on local television.

“For music-lovers everywhere, a visit to Tennessee is a must,” said Dupree. “This year’s Grammy Awards gave the world an astonishing glimpse of our expansive music scene when Tennessee-based musicians won in rock, pop, classical, Americana, bluegrass, Christian, blues, folk, country and more.”

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.