Lexington sits in the center of an area rich in scenery and history, the principal roads radiating from the city like spokes. The horse country begins on the edge of town in any direction.
Beyond the bluegrass, but still within a drive of an hour or two, is Kentucky bourbon country. Many of the distilleries -- large ones such as Ancient Age at Frankfort or small ones such as Maker's Mark in Loretto -- are open to tours. A lovely restored Shakertown village is about 45 minutes south of Lexington in Pleasant Hill.
GETTING THERE: Piedmont offers the most-convenient flights to Lexington's Bluegrass Airport, about 10 miles west of town. The current fare is $328 round trip; $230 with a seven-day advance purchase; and $426 for a couple on the "family plan." A 30-day advance purchase ticket to Louisville, 65 miles from Lexington, is $98 roundtrip. Whether you land in Lexington or Louisville, you will need a car to get around.
WHERE TO STAY: The Hyatt Regency and the Radisson Plaza are the two new high-rise hotels in the heart of downtown Lexington, linked by a glass-enclosed walkway. Just north of town is Marriott's Resort at Griffin Gate, on the edge of horse country. And there are chain hotels near most of the major highways, including Hilton, Sheraton and Holiday Inn.
Inn lodging and dining in a historic setting is available in 14 of the 27 restored 19th-century buildings at the Shakertown village. The rooms, all with private bath, are furnished with reproductions of the famous Shaker furniture and hand-woven rugs and curtains. Rooms for two range from $40 to $60 a night.
The community is located in the midst of a 5,000-acre farm near the Kentucky River. Many of the buildings are open to the public, and guides are present to discuss life in this religious community, which flourished in the first half of the 19th century.
The Shakers, who were celibate, were noted for the high quality of their manufactured goods and their advanced farming techniques. From late spring into the fall, hour-long paddle-wheel riverboat rides depart the same dock from which the Shakers once shipped their goods via the Kentucky, Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans. The last member of the Pleasant Hill village died in 1923, and Shakertown is now a nonprofit educational corporation.
WHERE TO EAT: Each of the big hotels has a variety of restaurants, offering everything from snacks to fine dining.
About 10 minutes south of the city center on Tates Creek Pike is Merrick Inn, occupying the former hilltop manor house of an old horse farm. It is reputed to be one of Lexington's finest restaurants. The menu is standard steaks and chops fare, but excellently prepared. And this is the place you are likely to spot some of the region's many millionaires.
Shakertown offers a wonderful Kentucky buffet breakfast in an early 19th-century setting, including sausage, eggs, gravy, grits, fresh fruit or juice, baked fruit, biscuits, muffins and coffee for $5.15 per person, including tax -- and no tip permitted.
THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Travelers who want to combine a tour of Lexington with a chance to see next Saturday's running of the Kentucky Derby should not have too much difficulty finding lodging in Lexington through the Greater Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, although the principal hotels fill up early. Several bus companies operate day tours from Lexington's hotels to the Derby, where standing-room admission to the infield generally is available on the day of the race.
LEXINGTON'S 1985 RACING SEASON: Keeneland's spring thoroughbred session has just concluded. The fall session is Oct. 5-26, Tuesday through Saturday, beginning at 1:30 p.m. For sales and other information: Keeneland Association, P.O. Box 1690, Lexington, Ky. 40592-1690, (606) 254-3412.
The Red Mile's harness season is April 26 to June 29, Tuesday through Saturday, beginning at 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 10-21, 7:30 p.m.; and Sept. 24 to Oct. 4, 1 p.m. For sales and other information: The Red Mile, P.O. Box 420, Lexington, Ky. 40585, (800) 354-9092.
ATTRACTIONS: Spendthrift Farm tours: 90 minutes, Monday through Friday. From April 1 to July 4, 9 and 10:30 a.m.; from July 5 to Oct. 31, 9 and 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.; from Nov. 1 to March 31, 10:30 a.m. only. Adults, $8; children under 10, $4. For reservations:
Spendthrift Tours, 3380 Paris Rd., Lexington, Ky. 40511.
* Kentucky Horse Park: From September through May, open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; from Memorial Day through Labor Day, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday from November through mid-March, Thanksgiving and the day after, and Dec. 24 to Jan 3. Adults, $5.95; children 7 to 12, $4.95. A large full-service campsite with swimming pool and other recreational facilities is adjacent. For a schedule of horse events and other information:
* Kentucky Horse Park, 4089 Ironworks Pike, Lexington, Ky. 40511, (606) 233-4303.
* Shakertown at Pleasant Hill: Open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For lodging, dining and sightseeing information: Shakertown at Pleasant Hill, Rte. 4, Harrodsburg, Ky. 40330, (606) 734-5411.
* Maker's Mark Distillery: One of Kentucky's smallest, oldest distilleries making one of its most-expensive bourbons. It is a quaint, old-fashioned place in a remote hollow about an hour's scenic drive southwest of Lexington. (It's not far from Abraham Lincoln's birthplace at Hodgenville or the homesteads in Springfield, Ky., where his parents were raised.) Free tours (but no samples) every hour on the half hour from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. For information: Tour Director, Maker's Mark Distillery, Loretto, Ky. 40037.
INFORMATION: Greater Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, Suite 363, 430 West Vine St., Lexington, Ky. 40507, (606) 233-1221.
Kentucky Department of Travel Development, 22nd Floor, Capitol Plaza Tower, Frankfort, Ky, 40601, (800) 225-8747.