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Tucked away in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky are unique locations to spend the night. Only a few hours drive from Lexington amid serene, tall forests and pristine lakes is an enjoyable weekend retreat. Kentucky is home to a multitude of overnight options to please tastes of all kinds. History seems to come to life as old high schools and nursing clinics have been reconstructed into hotels and inns. Homey cabins high atop rolling mountains tickle the fancy of nature lovers.

Recently, I had to opportunity to venture to this area of the United States. Good home cookin' and Southern hospitality polished off every one of my stays, offering me a little sample of what eastern and southern Kentucky has to offer.

The Benham Schoolhouse Inn

Just when I thought I had said my last goodbye to homeroom, I found myself back in high school -- but this time to sleep over. The Benham Schoolhouse Inn was built in 1926 by the Wisconsin Steel Corporation for its workers' children. It stands today with many other buildings from the steel and coal era. It was used as a high school and elementary school until 1992. In 1993, the school began work to transform the school into the country inn that exists today.

After crossing the landscaped yard complete with a large American flag, you check in at the front office, where the secretary's desk and principal's office are located. Green lockers line the linoleum hallways, a glass casing still holds pictures and other memories from decades past, and each room is adorned with a number representing a school year anywhere from 1928-1961.

I could still imagine what the Great Hall must have looked like when the king and queen were crowned at the 1952 Homecoming Dance, or the ripping sounds from the electric saws emanating from Mr. Moore's 1941 woodshop class. Today, the classrooms have been converted into comfortable hotel rooms equipped with air conditioning, TV, and private bath. Singles start from $63 a night and doubles from $68. For more information and reservations, contact tel. 800/231-0627.

The Big House Bed and Breakfast Inn & Frontier Nursing Service

In 2001, the Frontier Nursing Service, a museum and organization dedicated to the women who worked for the organization that bears its name, transformed the house of founder Mary Breckenridge into The Big House Bed and Breakfast Inn. Visitors can spend a night in quaint rooms done up with country flair. Hand -- stitched quilts and pillows decorate the beds while Breckinridge's medical diplomas and certificates hang proudly on the walls. Visiting guests can use the original hand-carved bureaus and desks in each guest room. Every room has a fireplace and all the woodwork including the bookshelves is original.

The Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) has been in operation for over eighty years and still offers its services today. Mary Breckinridge founded the nursing service in 1925, introducing the United States to its first trained nurse-midwives. Breckinridge dedicated her life to saving children after she lost her own two young children to illnesses. She studied medicine in Europe and returned to Wendover, Kentucky, at the time one of the poorest and most inaccessible spots in the United States. This is where she believed she could make a difference. Her band of nurses rode horses throughout Leslie County bringing health care regardless of snow, storm, or rain.

Today, FSN still carries on the same time-honored traditions that Breckinridge began in the early 20th century. The original buildings once used as clinics to care for the surrounding mountain population are open to visitors. The stable that once housed horses needed for the house calls and the garden house are now small museums. Groups can take advantage of a guided tour of all the facilities.

A quaint weekend getaway would not be complete without Kentucky's Southern hospitality. Be sure to try the great home cooking. Rich meat loaf topped with a sweet ketchup glaze, hearty mashed potatoes and warm corn bread are among the specialties. The warm peach cobbler topped with vanilla country ice cream is the best way to top off your meal!

A stay at the Big House Bed and Breakfast Inn is a charming way to spend a weekend retreat in the beautiful mountains of eastern Kentucky or enjoy a little history. The rates start from $65 for double occupancy and $55 for single. For more information on the FSN museum or the Big House Bed and Breakfast Inn, call tel. 606/672-2317; or visit www.frontiernursing.org.

Buckhorn Lake Resort Park

If a more remote location is what you seek, the Buckhorn Lake Resort Park (tel. 800/325-0058; 4441 KY Highway 1833, Buckhorn, KY 41721) is exactly that. The lodge sits right Buckhorn Lake, and when each room has its own private balcony, the view is not difficult to enjoy. Spend the afternoon on a pontoon boat or hike on one of the resort's short hiking trails. The resort's conference rooms create a secluded place to construct business meetings. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are cooked at the resort's own restaurant, where you can sit by large windows overlooking Buckhorn Lake. Rooms start at $87.95 a night

The Hemlock Lodge & Natural Bridge State Resort Park

Although a huge hiking destination, the Natural Bridge State Resort Park (2135 Natural Bridge Road, Slade KY 40376), with its various rock formations, high stone cliffs, and scenic stone arches, makes an enjoyable vacation spot for people who simply wish to enjoy nature. The Hemlock Lodge is not located far from the park's namesake: a gigantic natural sandstone arch named the Natural Bridge. Visitors can hike the various trails and nature walks through the tranquil wilderness.

The Hemlock Lodge overlooks a pool complex and Hoedown Island, which, for you line dancers out there, turns into a line dancing party on the weekends. Dance to your favorite country and blue grass with visitors and locals alike. If you don't know how to line dance, don't worry! An MC gives instructions at the beginning of every dance for novices eager to learn.

A single at the Hemlock Lodge will run you about $104.95 a night. Contact tel. 800/325-1710 or e-mail naturalbridge@ky.gov for more reservations and information.

Torrent Falls Resort

If a quieter, more private time is the vacation you seek, Torrent Falls Resort offers not only a bed and breakfast but also cabins for a more intimate stay. All the cabins are located in and around the Natural Bridge State Resort Park and Red River Gorge. The cabins are surrounded by forest, but are equipped with all the amenities of home: air conditioning, full kitchens (including dishes and glass ware), TV and VCR, full baths, and a gas grill. Some cabins even come with a Jacuzzi. Prices start at $70 a night for a single room.

The owner of Torrent Falls Resort also runs the Torrent Falls Climbing Adventure, home to the only Via Ferrata climbing system in the United States. The climbing technique was developed in France for its military as a means of combat on mountainous terrain. Handgrips and foot rails line the canyon and the climb becomes increasingly more difficult as you continue farther. Special group and seasonal rates are available.

For more information for both the Torrent Falls Resort and the Torrent Falls Climbing Adventure, contact tel. 606/668-6441; or via the web at www.torrentfalls.com.

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