The great thing about Cajun Country - and Plantation Country - is that they're close enough to New Orleans for wonderful day trips. Over the next few months, I'm going to share easy itineraries inspired by my own travels. They'll feature locations I've been to and locations I long to visit.
First up is a visit to the plantations of the West River Road, which runs along the Mississippi River's west bank. (For all travels involving the river plantations and sights, I highly recommend my personal tour bible, Along the River Road: Past and Present on Louisiana's Historic Byway, by Mary Ann Sternberg.)
A great way to build a plantation day trip is to tour one Creole plantation and one American plantation, with a lunch break between tours. Creole plantations are of an earlier vintage and were painted in vivid colors. American plantations tend to date after the Louisiana Purchase, when planters from other parts of the country migrated to Louisiana. They were usually white and leaned more toward Greek Revival in style. (Factoid: the Creoles knew that colors hid Louisiana's mold and mildew better than white paint. However, once American rule was imposed on Louisiana, many Creole planters painted their houses white so that they blended in with their neighbors.)
To get to the first plantation on my mini-tour, take 1-10 from New Orleans to Veterans Memorial bridge and cross the Mississippi River. Take the FIRST ramp exit on your right. At the levee, turn RIGHT and drive 2.5 miles to Evergreen Plantation.
Evergreen is one of several privately owned plantations, and still produces sugarcane. It's the most intact plantation complex in the south and was tops on my list to tour on our recent Louisiana vacation. Unfortunately for us, it was closed to visitors because they were filming the remake of ROOTS on site. One reason I long to visit Evergreen is that it has 22 original slave cabins, which are a powerful reminder of a terrible time in our nation's history.
Continue north on the River Road (aka/ Route 18), and you'll come to one of the newest and most moving sites in the state, Whitney Plantation. It's the only plantation museum in Louisiana to focus solely on slavery. Their own website describes it best: "Through museum exhibits, memorial artwork and restored buildings and hundreds of first-person slave narratives, visitors to Whitney will gain a unique perspective on the lives of Louisiana's enslaved people." Bring tissues!
Next up on the tour is Laura, a Creole Plantation. But first, let's stop for lunch at B&C Seafood Market and Cajun Restaurant. (No link, I'm afraid, but easy to Google.)
B&C is a popular local restaurant and store that's chockful of Cajun food and flavor. If you're lucky, you'll even hear diners speaking Cajun French as their first language, like we did. This is where I accidentally ate alligator for the first time, when I stole some food from my husband's seafood platter. Little did I know! (If you're curious, it tastes kind of like chicken or an overcooked bland fish.)
Okay, now onto Laura Plantation. They give a wonderful tour where you really get insight into what plantation life was like. The owners had the miraculous good luck to locate the diary of Laura Lacoul Gore, who grew up on the plantation (hence the name) and documented her life there and her home's history. The tales of Br'er Rabbit originated in Laura's slave cabins.
You can end your tour here, or continue up the river to visit one of Plantation Country's most iconic landmarks, Oak Alley. I wanted to introduce you to some of the West River Road's slightly lesser known attractions, but Oak Alley is stunning, and well worth a visit.
If you're feeling adventurous, keep meandering up the road. You'll pass more historic homes and sites, as well as the occasional chemical plant. When you reach White Castle, look for signs directing you to Nottoway, one of the last grand plantations built before the Civil War. Nottoway is a palatial "White Castle," and at 53,000 square feet and 64 rooms many times the size of Louisiana's other plantations.
Nottoway has been turned into a AAA four-diamond resort, so here's a thought... it's a seventy-mile drive back to New Orleans. Why not spend a night there? You can even stay in one of the plantation's historic bedrooms.
Oh, and if Nottoway looks vaguely familiar, it's probably because of this:
That's right, it served as a model for my book cover!
I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour, and that you'll eventually be able to turn it into a real one. In my next blog post, we'll travel up Louisiana's East River Road. Until then... laissez les bon temps rouler!