We originally planned to begin day three in Nashville with a drive all the way to Southern Tennessee/Northern Alabama to hike the Walls of Jericho trail. It’s a tough hike rewarded with beautiful waterfalls, but with Wesley’s ankle, we decided to take it easy for the day.
So, instead, we visited Belle Meade Plantation, which was built by John Harding in 1820 on his family’s farmland. The property initially encompassed 250 acres and a single log cabin. Ultimately, Belle Meade grew to 5,400 acres, anchored by a Greek Revival-style mansion, and included a deer park, train station and rock quarry.
Harding also capitalized on slave labor to run his farm and eventually became one of the largest slaveholders in Nashville.
The farm operations were later replaced by a thoroughbred racing horse farm, and Harding even went on to be the most successful thoroughbred breeder and distributor in Tennessee.
By the early 1900s, however, Harding’s descendants fell into debt and sold off the mansion and a majority of the land.
Today, the plantation covers only 34 acres and functions as an educational resource dedicated to the preservation of Tennessee Victorian architecture and history.
In addition to the mansion, visitors can tour the property’s outbuildings, including a dairy, horse stable, carriage house, mausoleum, gardens and log cabins.
There are a range of tour options, from a guided tour of the mansion for $24 for adults, to a self-guided tour of the grounds for $15 for adults, to a Segway tour for $50 for adults.
There’s limited space for the mansion tours, though, so it’s best to book your tickets online in advance. We were too late in buying tickets, especially since we were visiting during a holiday weekend, so the mansion tour was sold out – and we never even got to see inside the house!
There’s also a winery on-site, and tastings are complimentary with your admission ticket. It was a nice perk, but the wines were much sweeter than we prefer.
Belle Meade Plantation
5025 Harding Pike
Nashville, TN 37205
After visiting Belle Meade Plantation, we headed to our next destination: The Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn., where we had a 4 p.m. distillery tour booked.
We did, however, make room for a pit stop at Loveless Cafe, a highly recommended restaurant southwest of Belle Meade. It’s a bit of a drive outside of Nashville, but the locals swear by it and claim that it’s well worth the trek.
Unfortunately, the wait for Sunday brunch was nearly two hours long – which was expected – but they luckily offer takeout. So we ordered one of the most popular items on the menu: Country ham with red eye gravy, and sides of two eggs over easy, cheese grits and two biscuits with housemade preserves. All for less than $15!
It would have probably been a much nicer experience to be able to eat the plate piping hot from the kitchen, but it was still delicious and incredibly satisfying eaten in the car.
The red eye gravy really does taste like espresso. It was a bit more watery than we thought it would be, but the flavor balanced out the saltiness of the ham nicely.
The grits were also incredible. Extremely rich, decadent and creamy.
But the biscuits were our favorite part. They were buttery, but light and airy – they didn’t leave us feeling like a hockey puck was lodged in our gut. The preserves were also so fresh and tasted like real fruit.
It was the perfect fuel to get us through the nearly two-hour drive to Lynchburg!
8400 Hwy 100
Nashville, TN 37221
Now, we’re arriving at our favorite part of this day – and one of the top highlights from our visit to Nashville.
We didn’t really know what to expect from our visit to Jack Daniel’s. We thought it might be like one of the winery tours we’ve been on in France or Napa – but it far exceeded our expectations.
Like Belle Meade, there are a number of different tour options that you definitely need to book in advance. We went for “The Flight of Jack Daniel’s Tour,” which we highly recommend. It only costs $17 but lasts a full 1.5 hours, and offers visitors a guided walk through and history of the Jack Daniel’s operation, where every bottle of Jack found across the globe originates.
The entire town of Lynchburg revolves around Jack Daniel’s, and when you first drive in, you’re greeted with lush trees and a quaint town square. It feels like you’re driving into a Disney-like amusement park, except this park is dedicated to Tennessee whiskey.
The Flight of Jack Daniel’s Tour kicks off with a visit to the rickyard, where they make their own charcoal from sweet maple. This ingredient is key to their famous filtering process.
Next, you visit Cave Spring Hollow, from which flows the cool, fresh water that is ultimately transformed into Jack Daniel’s whiskey. This water is renowned for being incredibly clean and free from iron and other impurities that taint the whiskey flavor. We were surprised to learn that even to this day, every drop of Jack comes from this spring.
You also visit the office of the man who started it all. In the small white building lies the safe that ultimately led to Jack Daniel’s death. Apparently, he kicked the safe one day because he couldn’t figure out the combination to get it to open. He kicked it so hard that he gave himself gangrene in his toe. Even after amputating the toe, though, the gangrene eventually spread through his entire body and led to his death over a year later!
After the office, you’re led through the many facilities that each play a role in the making of Jack Daniel’s whiskey. From where the “mash” of corn, barley, rye, malt, yeast and spring water is first combined to begin the process, to the giant tanks where the mash is fermented, to where the alcohol is meticulously filtered through the charcoal, to the barrel house where the alcohol sits in toasted and charred American white oak barrels to soak up the flavors until it becomes true, Tennessee whiskey.
While learning about this entire process, we were struck by how meticulously the Jack Daniel’s brand maintains the quality of its ingredients and the consistency of each batch. No wonder Jack was able to transform his whiskey into a liquor brand recognized worldwide.
After the thoroughly informative tour, we were led to the barrel house, where Jack Daniel’s has created beautiful tasting rooms. Each room is surrounded by glass, with the gorgeous oak barrels lining the walls floor to ceiling.
For the tasting, we sipped Gentleman Jack (80 proof whiskey that’s filtered through charcoal twice to give it an extra mellow flavor), No. 7 (the original), Single Barrel (each barrel has its own unique flavor, unlike the No. 7, which is combined from multiple barrels to create a consistent product), Tennessee Honey (a sweet, honey-flavored whiskey), and Tennessee Fire (Jack Daniel’s take on Fireball).
It was interesting to really taste each whiskey and realize how much each step of the whiskey-making process effects the ultimate flavor.
After the tour, we walked to the Lynchburg town square. It’s a classic, small Southern town, except instead of a grocery store or a pharmacy, you’ll find a general store (which used to be run by the original Jack Daniel’s) that exclusively sells the brand’s memorabilia.
We had such a great time visiting Jack Daniel’s. Even though it is a bit far from Nashville, it’s so worth the trip to learn about the history of the brand and see the craftsmanship that goes into making Tennessee whiskey. The tour guides are also extremely knowledgable. Most were born and raised in Lynchburg, and grew up with a deep passion and personal connection to the brand.
Jack Daniel’s Distillery
133 Lynchburg Highway
Lynchburg, TN 37352
Stay tuned for day four!