New Orleans is a must-visit holiday destination, but just an hour from the city is another destination worth an entire trip of its own.
New Orleans Plantation Country holds a collection of the most glorious plantations in Louisiana, each offering a unique glimpse back in time. Depending on the site, the antebellum mansions are surrounded by working farms, gardens and meticulously maintained grounds.
Once called the “Sugar Palace,” Houmas House Plantation was also at one time the largest producer of sugar in the country. The plantation features beautiful grounds surrounding the mansion. In the back of the house is a breath-taking fountain, making for a picture-perfect scene. In addition to its spectacular gardens, Houmas House Plantation has elegant architecture and decor, offers cabins for lodging and even has fabulous restaurants right on site. Latil’s Restaurant, dating to the 1770s, is one of the most luxurious dining experiences you’ll find in the state, but you can have a more casual lunch at Burnside Café or savor boutique wines at the Wine Cellars of Houmas House.
The tours at Laura Plantation bring you into the world of Laura Lacoul Gore, who ran the property as a sugar plantation until the late 1800s. This home has an entirely different look and feel than many of the plantations on Great River Road, with brighter colors and distinct French Creole flair. The captivating guided tour is not to be missed. Laura Plantation is also known as the site where, in the 1870s, folklorist Alcee Fortier began recording the West African tales of former slaves. These stories were later published and became the famous “Tales of Br’er Rabbit.”
Evergreen Plantation, with its majestic, swooping double staircases, is the most intact plantation complex in the South and where Quentin Tarantino’s movie “Django Unchained” was filmed. The 37 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places include 22 slave cabins in their original configuration. Today, Evergreen is still a working sugar plantation. Be sure to walk beneath the canopy of 200-year-old live oak trees.
San Francisco Plantation
Though it’s not the largest, San Francisco is considered the most opulent plantation on the Mississippi River. The bright blue shutters and sunny yellow details of the house’s exterior stands in contrast to other, more subdued plantations along the Great River Road. Inside, marvel at the ornate details, five hand-painted ceilings and 14 rooms filled with authentic furniture reflecting the mansion’s past.
Oak Alley Plantation
Majestic 300-year-old live oak trees lead the way to the Greek-revival style mansion. Oak Alley Plantation is a spectacular place where period-dressed guides greet visitors, and meticulously kept bed-and-breakfast cottages lure visitors to stay more than a day. A little hint: After taking a must-have photo of the oak-lined alley from the first-floor balcony, walk up on the levee across from Oak Alley and catch a glimpse of the mighty Mississippi River rolling by. It’s one of those iconic American views that you’ll be happy you got to see.
St. Joseph is one of the few family-owned, fully intact sugar cane plantations in the area. The house is a spectacular, Creole-style plantation with an astoundingly wide porch. Here, you will have an authentic experience exploring the way people lived and worked in the 19th century in the main house, cabins, blacksmith’s shop and schoolhouse. The property is owned and operated by descendents of Joseph Waguespack, who acquired the plantation in 1877. Tours are often guided by family members.
Destrehan Plantation, the oldest documented house in the lower Mississippi Valley and only 25 minutes away from New Orleans, is a favorite stop in New Orleans Plantation Country. Guides explain in detail about the house’s architecture and how the residents lived and even showcase documents signed by U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
After touring the plantations, explore the famous Louisiana swamps with Capt. Arthur Matherne’s airboat tours. A former U.S. Coast Guard captain and lifelong resident of Bayou Gauche, he delves into the swamps like no one else to explore Louisiana’s wildlife. The awesome scenery and wildlife is better than it looks in the movies.
When you’re ready for dinner, check out The B & C Seafood Riverside Market and Cajun Restaurant for dishes such as shrimp, gumbo, prawn salad and more. The legacy of mixed cultures is ever-present in the Louisiana food they serve.