Natchez Pilgrimage on tour operators itineraries

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NATCHEZ, Miss. -- Mention traditional cultures and the worlds most remote realms spring to mind.

But travelers need not roam so far afield. Spring Pilgrimage in Natchez introduces a culture thats as traditional as it gets.

Between March 12 and April 16, more than 30 antebellum mansions will be open to the public, following a custom dating to 1931.

A number of tour operators, including Collette, Expo Garden Tours, Globus, Cosmos, Tauck and Trafalgar, offer multidestination packages with the Natchez segment timed for Pilgrimage.

The paddlewheelers, Mississippi Queen, Delta Queen and American Queen, all operated by Delta Queen Steamboat Co., have multiple departures that include Natchez during Pilgrimage.

Riverboat journeys range from three to seven days, with per-person rates ranging from $1,100 for the lowest-priced stateroom on the three-day program to $5,800 for the top-category stateroom on the seven-day cruise.

Land-based trips run six to 13 nights, with per-person, land-only rates ranging from $1,069 (Collette) to $2,863 (Expo Garden Tours). A typical itinerary includes two nights in Natchez, plus New Orleans and sites in Mississippi and Louisiana. 

With the exception of Connecticut-based Expo Garden Tours, which has only one departure that includes Natchez, the above companies operate similar itineraries from March through October.

A Tauck representative said the towns rich history and wealth of grand old homes have proven popular with clients. A unique feature of the companys Antebellum South trip ($1,770 per person, land only) is the opportunity for tour members to choose between two historic mansions, now B&Bs -- the Briars and Monmouth Plantation -- for their Natchez overnights. 

Agency clients traveling independently may purchase color-coded tickets for visits to three or four historic homes ($21 and $28). Eight different programs are available. Tickets are not sold at individual mansions but must be purchased at Pilgrimage headquarters.

Monmouth is one of 31 antebellum homes open during Spring Pilgrimage in Natchez. Photo by Joyce Dalton.At each house, gowned hostesses lead guests from one elegantly furnished room to another, regaling them with facts and trivia about architecture, furnishings, objects dart and the families who once lived there.

Dunleith Plantation, Monmouth and Stanton Hall exemplify the grand, white multi-columned dwellings of Old South imagery, surrounded by sweeping verandas and gardens abloom with azaleas, dogwood, crepe myrtle, magnolia and redbud trees.

A reminder that not every place fits into a stereotype, Longwood presents a quite different picture. For one thing, the interior was never completed, as workmen, caught behind enemy lines at the outbreak of the Civil War, fled.

Said to be the largest octagonal house in the U.S., its 30,000-square-foot exterior features a rooftop cupola topped by a dome and spire.

The proprietors fortune decimated by the war, he and his family resided in the nine-room basement, the only interior section completed.

Rosalie is a mansion replete with tales, such as that of its builder, who came to Natchez at age 17, made a fortune, commissioned Rosalie and became guardian as well as husband to Eliza, the orphaned 13-year-old daughter of a ferryman. Yellow fever claimed Eliza, just as it had her parents.

After a few home visits, certain elements become familiar.

Typically, a long drawing room is divided into separate parlors to which gentlemen and ladies segregated themselves after dinner.

Blue or red silk proved the fabric of choice for the formal and perhaps somewhat uncomfortable chairs, and a pocket door that can slide shut to separate the two sections. In most rooms, elaborate gasoliers hang from equally ornate moldings.

Many childrens bedrooms feature a youth bed, somewhere between a crib and a full-sized bed, with low, vertical railings and mosquito netting cascading from a high, carved panel.

Hallway mirrors display glass both above and below a cabinet or shelf so ladies could ensure no shameful ankles were exposed while the proper amount of bosom was.

For further immersion into Old South culture, several evening programs take place during Pilgrimage.

The Historic Natchez Pageant showcases locals in period dress as they enact skits and sing old Southern melodies.

In Southern Road to Freedom, a gospel choir chronicles the African-American experience from the colonial period to the present day, while Songs of the South, performed by the Natchez Opera Festival, highlights Stephen Foster and George Gershwin melodies.

Headquarters for both spring and fall (Oct. 22 to Nov. 5) pilgrimages is Natchez Pilgrimage Tours, (601) 446-6631 or (800) 647-6742. The Web site is located at www.natchezpilgrimage.com.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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