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Spirits and spiritual pursuits in Bardstown, Kentucky

On a getaway to Bardstown, Kentucky, you can drink some of the nation’s finest whiskey, scare the living daylights out of yourself on a ghost tour, and seek redemption at a Trappist monastery.

Bardstown is at the heart of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and a good base for seeing the region’s many distilleries. Start with a free tour of the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, where you can view interactive historic exhibits, see the rickhouse where bourbon is aged, and taste different Heaven Hill brands. A short drive from town, the Maker’s Mark distillery tour and tasting is a must, as is a visit to the Jim Beam American Outpost. Both are free.

Bardstown also happens to be one of the most haunted towns in America, where the ghosts of outlaw Jesse James and others are said to haunt the historic buildings downtown. Patti Starr, a featured ghost hunter on A&E’s “Paranormal State”, leads Saturday-night Bardstown ghost treks ($15) where you not only get to hear scary stories, but also “hunt” ghosts. I don’t normally believe in ghosts, but I must admit to being freaked out when a fellow tour-goer’s digital camera showed an image of me with glowing “orbs” sitting in my palms.

After all that drinking and running around in the dark, refresh your soul (and your stomach) at the 160-year-old Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery home to several hundred monks. You can stop by the abbey, walk through its lush grounds in the Kentucky countryside, and visit its shop, where you can buy excellent bourbon fudge, cheese, and fruitcake, all handmade. Anyone can stay at the abbey for a self-directed weekend or week-long retreats (pay what you feel is appropriate).

To learn more, visit the Bardstown tourism website.

Read more of the 50 Affordable Stateside Escapes.

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