The Louisville skyline, where the Churchill Downs are home to the Kentucky Derby

John Carter, long time presenter of the ‘Wish You Were Here’ programme and ardent globe-trotter is smitten by a spectacular solar eclipse in the State of Kentucky which will occur this August. “At the drop of a hat, I can come up with several glorious reasons for visiting Kentucky – any one of which is enough to justify the trans-Atlantic journey.

“Mammoth Cave National Park, in the south of the state, is one of the finest hiking terrains I’ve ever encountered, while the immense cave system below is the world’s largest. To the east is the Daniel Boone National Forest, while western Kentucky offers unrivalled facilities for anglers and water sports enthusiasts.

“Add on the state’s reputation as a horse breeding, and racing location, its wealth of history and its world-class museums, and I think I’ve made my case. Without even mentioning its world-famous ‘Bluegrass’ music or its equally delectable bourbon!

“To enhance the experience, a trip to Kentucky can be arranged to coincide with special festivals – such as the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival, or those at Harrodsburg to honour one of my heroes, Daniel Boone. And, of course, the event for which the state is best known – the Kentucky Derby. You’ll need to be in Louisville on the first Saturday in May to enjoy that experience as folk have been enjoying it since 1875.

An eclipse of the Sun

“This year, though, there’s a very special reason for visiting Kentucky. An event that is rare enough to bring visitors from every corner of the globe to the small town of Hopkinsville. And I do mean ‘small’, for it has a population of just 33,000.

“In normal circumstances visitors head for Hopkinsville because it is the gateway to the Pennyrile Forest State Park, and the Federal Reserve known as the Land Between the Lakes. Great locations for hiking, camping, canoeing and so on.

“But at lunchtime on 21 August this year, Hopkinsville will be the location for what one enthusiastic commentator calls: ‘the largest and most widely observed event in the history of the human race’. Though I wouldn’t go quite as far as Jay Ryan, he should know what he’s talking about when it comes to a Solar Eclipse, having studied them for a lifetime, and written extensively about them.

“By no means rare, an Eclipse of the Sun cannot be guaranteed to happen at convenient locations, which makes this year’s event something special, as it will follow a path over a large area of the USA, from Oregon on the west coast to South Carolina on the eastern seaboard.

“Of course, it is going to be busy in and around Hopkinsville on and around that special day in August, but it is still possible to be there, as an existing pre-planned holiday can be adjusted to fit the solar timetable. Actually, not so much adjusted as ever-so-slightly ‘tweaked’!

“You fly to Lexington on the 18th, spending two nights there, to rest after the journey and take the opportunity to visit the famous Horse Park and a few of the equally famous distilleries. On the 20th, you drive to Bowling Green, whose attractions include the Corvette Museum and the nearby Mammoth Cave National Park – which I have already mentioned.

“On the morning of the 21st you drive a little over 60 miles to Hopkinsville for the Eclipse, returning to Bowling Green for a second night at your hotel. The next day takes you to Paducah, where you can view 50 life-sized panoramic murals by renowned artist Robert Dafford along the riverfront, and where local museums include that of the American Quilters Society.

There’s so much to do in Kentucky, from Bluegrass Music to a visit to the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival

“Owensboro, your next day’s destination, is well worth a visit. Situated in the Bluegrass, Blues & BBQ region, home to the legendary Bill Monroe, known around the world as the ‘Father of Bluegrass’. You can tour Owensboro and visit various sites that tell the story of Bluegrass, including the International Bluegrass Music Museum!

“The following day you head for Louisville, whose Churchill Downs are the home to the world-famous Derby, and the location of the Muhammad Ali Center and his birthplace, as well as some splendid ante-bellum houses. As you have two nights here, there’s time to explore the city and even take a trip on The Belle of Louisville steamboat on the Ohio River before heading for Lexington and the flight home.”

Kentucky is worth seeing at any time of the year but this August there’s an extra special reason to visit the Bluegrass State. The Kentucky Eclipse 2017 eight-night package, from US specialist operator America As You Like It costs from £1,992 per person, including international return flights, accommodation and car hire.

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