If you’re like most visitors, you don’t think Deep South when you come to New Orleans. Jazz, Creole cuisine, a cultural gumbo, art both traditional and off-beat, fantastic architecture - yes. But ladies in hoop skirts a la Gone With the Wind? Not so much.
But an hour outside of town, and you can enter the Old South via former sugar plantations that prospered before the Civil War. While there were some 2,000 plantations in the region’s early 19th-century heyday, a day trip to River Road, which runs for nearly 70 miles along the Mississippi, leaves you time to tour just a few.
Houmas House is the crown jewel along Louisiana's River Road — Photo courtesy of Houmas House Plantation
Before you leave New Orleans, have a real Southern-style breakfast at Li’l Dizzy’s in the Treme on Esplanade Avenue. Try the catfish with eggs and grits, pecan pancakes with sausage or skip breakfast and just get the fried chicken, which is some of the best in town.
After breakfast, you’ll jump on I-10 heading west towards Baton Rouge, destination Laura Plantation in Vacherie, notable as a French Creole rather than English- or American-style plantation.
The Creole culture of New Orleans and the lower Mississippi Valley are the focus of excellent guided tours of this colorfully painted, raised circa 1805 plantation house. The women of the Du Parc and Locoul families operated this sugarcane plantation for 84 years. Laura’s private diaries and books provide a telling glimpse into the inner workings of a plantation business, from slave accounts and photographs to private musings.
Wind up the tour in one of the plantation’s original slave cabins where, in the 1870s, the African folktales of Br’er Rabbit were first recorded.
Have lunch at B&C Seafood Market next door up Route 18. Super kid-friendly, this is a great casual spot for 'gator burgers, boudin balls, fried shrimp and the like, all at bargain prices. After lunch, take a 30-minute drive to Houmas House Plantation and Gardens on the east bank of the river.
Adonis has a great garden view at Houmas House Plantation and Gardens — Photo courtesy of Houmas House Plantation
One of the most visited antebellum plantation homes near New Orleans, Houmas House Plantation and Gardens is a stunner, a gorgeous setting from the allée of ancient live oaks in front of the house to the meticulously maintained gardens and grounds.
The plantation is only steps away from the levee overlooking the Mississippi River, so take a wander before you tour the house. The top of the levee is perfect for walking, a good place for the younger ones to run off some energy.
The vision of New Orleans native Kevin Kelly, the painstakingly restored Houmas House is also a weddings and event venue and home to three restaurants directed by award-winning Executive Chef Jeremy Langlois.
Choose from the more casual Café Burnside or Carriage House, or book an early dinner at the wonderful Latil’s Landing, where chef Langlois creates nouvelle Creole cuisine served in an intimate romantic setting. So romantic, in fact, that you may want to consider booking one of the 21 new cottages bordering the property next time, so that instead of the one-hour drive back to New Orleans, you can have a nightcap at Turtle Bar and take a starlit stroll with your baby.