Stop along the Mississippi River
Charming plantation homes welcome Louisiana visitors
By Wanda McKinney
No matter how many times you see Oak Alley Plantation, the 300-year-old trees never fail to impress.
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(Southern Living) -- A one-of-a-kind neighborhood exists between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Nowhere else in the world will you see so many beautiful plantation homes, unique accommodations and great gifts. Better still, these stunning structures are open for tours, and all line the banks of the undulating Mississippi River.
Within about an hour's drive, you can see a plethora of these sugar-built palaces. Come along for the ride, and see why the past's legacy is very much today's treasure to rediscover.
Claim to fame: It's the oldest. Built in 1787, this beauty claims to be the senior plantation home in the lower Mississippi Valley.
Don't miss: A climate-controlled room holds a rare document signed by Thomas Jefferson.
Special events: Come Monday through Saturday, when costumed interpreters demonstrate 19th-century skills, such as open-hearth cooking and indigo dyeing.
Tickets: $10 adults, $5 ages 6-17.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-4 p.m. Sunday.
Shopping: Go for the vintage toys and historic books in the gift shop. Those who cross-stitch can buy a kit featuring the house.
Where it is: Only 8 miles from New Orleans airport. From I-310, take Exit 6 (State 48, also called River Road). 13034 River Road, Destrehan, LA 70047; (985) 764-9315 or www.destrehanplantation.org.
Oak Alley Plantation
Claim to fame: A quarter-mile-long alley of 300-year-old live oak trees stands guard leading up to the columned house. Completed in 1839, it sits today on 25 acres.
Don't miss: Mint juleps are available for purchase in the back gallery after you tour the main house. (They have a nonalcoholic version too.) Ten bed-and-breakfast cottages also welcome visitors.
Tickets: $10 adults, $5 ages 13-18, $3 ages 6-12.
Hours: Tours are offered 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily.
Shopping: The gift shop sells everything from artwork to jewelry to T-shirts. You can also order great stuff on their Web site, such as homemade pecan pralines ($19.95 for a dozen) or Mint Syrup ($4.95) for juleps.
Where it is: From New Orleans, take I-10 West to I-310 (Exit 220). Take I-310 South to State 3127 (Exit 10). Stay on State 3127 for 23 miles. Turn right onto State 20; turn left onto State 18. 3645 State 18, Vacherie, LA 70090; (225) 265-2151, (800) 442-5539, or www.oakalleyplantation.com.
Claim to fame: This is the biggest doggone house on the river. Covering 53,000 square feet, it features 64 rooms. Fifteen guest rooms start at $145 (double occupancy), which includes a full breakfast and guided tour.
Don't miss: Also on the property, Randolph Hall Restaurant tempts visitors with delicious Cajun and Creole cuisine.
Tickets: $10 adults, $4 ages 6-12.
Tour hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.
Restaurant hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 6-8:30 p.m. daily.
Shopping: In the plantation home's gift shop, you'll find great CDs, cookbooks and artwork (including prints of Nottoway).
Where it is: From New Orleans, take I-10 West to Exit 182 (Sorrento), and turn left onto State 22. Turn left at the intersection with State 70, and follow signs to Sunshine Bridge. Cross the bridge, and follow signs to Donaldsonville (State 1 North). Continue 14 miles to Nottoway. 30970 State 405, White Castle, LA 70788; (225) 545-2730, toll-free (866) 428-4748, or www.nottoway.com.
San Francisco Plantation
Claim to fame: This is the brightest, most colorful plantation on the river. Completed in 1856, the Bavarian heritage of the original owner's daughter-in-law was the inspiration for the brightly colored exteriors.
Don't miss: There are five hand-painted ceilings in the house, as well as faux marbling and graining.
Tickets: $10 adults, $5 ages 6-17.
Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily.
Where it is: From New Orleans, take I-10 West, and exit at State 3188, also called Belle Terre Blvd. (Exit 206). Turn right onto U.S. 61, and travel north. Turn left onto State 637. At the dead end, turn right onto River Road (State 44). The plantation is 2 miles upriver. 2646 River Road (State 44), Garyville, LA 70051-0950; (985) 535-2341 or www.sanfranciscoplantation.org.
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