New Orleans Plantation Country: Historic Louisiana Estates
Did you know that there is a stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge that holds a collection of the most glorious plantations in Louisiana, each offering a unique glimpse back in time? It’s called New Orleans Plantation Country, and I for one was sold and set out recently to explore the wonderful history of this remarkable place.
Oak Alley Plantation: The Grand Dame of the Great Louisiana River Road
Like everyone else who comes here for the first time, I gasped when I saw the majestic 300-year-old live oak trees leading the way to the Greek-revival style mansion at its centre. Oak Alley Plantation is a spectacular place where period-dressed guides greet visitors, and meticulously kept bed & breakfast cottages lure you to stay more than a day.
There is a well-run restaurant offering local fare on the beautifully maintained grounds where you also find the former slave quarters displaying moving exhibitions, many translated into different languages. A little hint: After taking a must-have photo of the oak-lined alley from the first-floor balcony, walk up on the levee across from Oak Alley and catch a glimpse of the mighty Mississippi River roll by. It’s one of those iconic American views that you’ll be happy you got to see.
St. Joseph: A Working Creole Sugar Plantation
One of my favourite plantations in New Orleans Plantation Country was St. Joseph, one of the few family-owned, fully intact sugar cane plantations in the area. The house is a spectacular, 12,000-square foot Creole-style plantation with an astoundingly wide porch. Here you will have a most authentic experience as you explore the way people lived and worked in the 19th Century, from the main house to the cabins, the detached kitchens, the blacksmith’s shop, the carpenter’s shed and the schoolhouse.
Along with the antique furnishings, one fascinating artefact is the coins used to pay the freed slaves who worked the plantation after the American Civil War. It’s all the more fascinating, as the property is owned and operated by decedents of Joseph Waguespack, who acquired the plantation in 1877, and tours here are often guided by family members!
San Francisco Plantation: Colourful Opulence
You will also love San Francisco. Though it’s not the largest, San Francisco is considered the most opulent plantation on the Mississippi. You’ll immediately notice the bright blue shutters and sunny yellow details of the house’s exterior, which stands in contrast to other, more subdued plantations along the Great River Road.
Inside, you will marvel at the ornate details, five hand-painted ceilings and 14 rooms filled with authentic furniture reflecting the mansion’s glorious past. Outside is the preserved slave quarters and a one-room schoolhouse.
There are not many places where you can explore history in such a spectacular setting. If you’re going to visit the New Orleans area, you must explore the plantations to appreciate the full spectrum of its past. No wonder people here say a visit to New Orleans Plantation Country is like making a date with history.