Theres nothing better than a road trip. Im
not talking about hurtling 80 mph down the interstate dodging
tractor trailers but a leisurely sightseeing trip on less-traveled
roads, with plenty of time to savor the sights and the freedom to
turn left at the corner just because you feel like it.
Im just back from
a good one -- a six-day meander through the swamps, bayous, river
towns and vast expanses of sugarcane and cotton fields of rural
My husband and I
had spent a few days in New Orleans absorbing as much as we could
stand of fine gourmet food, great jazz, terrific walking tours,
amazing street performers and fantastic people-watching before
climbing into our little, red rental car one sunny morning and
Our major goal
was to visit some of the great plantation houses that line both
sides of the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Baton
Built before the
Civil War by rich sugarcane and cotton traders and planters, most
of these opulent mansions were destroyed by Union troops or left to
disintegrate after the war.
survived, and many of these have been restored and are open to
visitors, some even for overnight visits.
Our first stop
was the small hamlet of Vacherie, about an hour out of the Big
Easy, where we toured Laura Plantation -- a simple; raised; yellow,
red, and green Colonial farmhouse with its original slave cabins
and overseers cottage -- for a look at life on a sugar plantation
In contrast, Oak
Alley Plantation, built in 1839 in the same town, is a large and
opulent Greek Revival mansion that overlooks the river and is known
for its double row of majestic oak trees.
plantation in the state, this one offers overnight accommodations,
a restaurant and a cafe, among other amenities.
Then it was on to
Baton Rouge, the state capital, for the night. We drove upriver --
past oil refineries; docked tankers; small communities of
dilapidated, little houses attempting to look neat; and miles of
farmland -- stopping in the town of Donaldsonville for lunch.
In downtown Baton
Rouge, we visited the Kidd, a venerable World War II destroyer,
(225) 342-1942, and the LSU Rural Life Museum, (225) 765-2437,
before going for dinner at Boutins Restaurant.
Boutins is famous
in these parts. We ate our fill of fried catfish, jambalaya and
hush puppies, topped off by big wedges of pecan pie, then hopped
around the dance floor as best we could to Cajun music blasted out
by four grungy but talented fellows playing the fiddle, the guitar,
the drums and a washboard.
Next was St.
Francisville, once a thriving river port on a high bluff, reached
by little byways and a ferry across the river. We took a walking
tour in the downtown to see a collection of 19th-century houses and
visited Oakley Plantation.
Built in West
Indian style with jalousied porches, Oakley Plantation was made
famous by James Audubon, who created some of his bird paintings
Greek Revival beauty surrounded by grand oaks and lush gardens,
offers a good guided tour.
plantation country, we drove west on the smallest roads we could
locate on our map of Louisiana.
through the French-flavored towns of Lafayette, Breaux Bridge and
St. Martinville, we drove through the largest and steamiest river
swamp in the country, stopping for a swamp tour, a walk through a
bird sanctuary, a cruise on the bayou and a lunch of boiled
crawfish and seafood etouffee before pulling up for the night in
Next morning, it
was back to New Orleans via the village of Napoleonville where we
visited yet another plantation house.
This time it was
Madewood, a marvelous antebellum mansion where we stayed overnight,
made friends with the six other guests over cocktails in the
drawing room and ate a four-course dinner together in the big,
formal dining room. A plantation breakfast in the morning sent us
on our way.
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