December 2018

Girl in Transit

When It’s Sleepy Time Down South

Touring the charms of Shreveport, Natchitoches

and Vacherie, Louisiana

 

Bet you didn’t know that the state of Louisiana is now a major venue for film makers. New Orleans has always been a favorite spot for filming, but Hollywood has now discovered many other spots in this state that have much to offer. In Shreveport, for example there are lucrative tax incentives, lower cost of living, and the ability of these destinations to look like “Every Town USA.”  So, next time you visit, don’t be surprised if you come across one of your fave stars casually lounging on a park bench, taking a break from the action.

 

I traveled the state from Shreveport to Natchitoches and on to Vacherie and one of my many delightful surprises was finding cities and towns filled with culture, history, and fun activities.  No surprise but still pretty wonderful: the food! No trip here would be complete without sampling traditional dishes like red beans and rice, jambalaya, shrimp Creole, gumbo, and crawfish etouffee.

 

Shreveport is home to the famed Municipal Auditorium where, in 1954, Elvis made his very first professional singing appearance as a member of the Louisiana Hayride. In his honor, there is erected a hip-swinging, guitar-clutching statue of the man right in front of the Auditorium.  The building was completed in 1929, embodies an intricate art deco design and is equal in size to six football fields. I took a tour and learned of its spectacularly rich musical heritage. Memorabilia from the many famous that have appeared on its vast stage, from Johnny Cash and Faron Young, to Kris Kristofferson brought a haunting nostalgia to my experience. I could almost hear Hank Williams calling “Hey Good Lookin’” down a long corridor.

 

When in Shreveport, visit the Logan Mansion.  The house was built in 1897 and is one of the finest remaining Queen Anne Victorian homes in the city.  You can have a tour and hear stories of many supernatural encounters that have occurred within its walls – fun stuff to add to Shreveport life and culture, both then and now.

 

An hour’s drive away lies the city of Natchitoches (pronounced NAK-a-tish), a National Heritage Landmark District and the oldest permanent settlement of the Louisiana Purchase Territory. More than 70 communities associated with Louisiana Creole culture are found in this area. Creoles are known as a people of mixed French, African, Spanish and Native American ancestry.  This culture began as an offspring of the Old World and the New when this country was still being colonized. Creoles have lived their lives being somewhat misunderstood, misrepresented and misinterpreted.  Rejected by both black and white society, Creoles had a strong bond with one another, were self-sufficient and had to create a world of their own.

 

Here the Cane River National Heritage area is known for its historic plantations, Creole architecture, and a multi-cultural legacy.  The 116,000 acre national heritage district includes the National Park, three state parks, seven historic landmarks, and several plantations, all of which are open to the public. I lunched at The Creole Rose in Natchez, a 15 minute drive from Natchitoches and was greeted by the owner/chef Janet, who makes a mean meat pie, a delicios jambalaya and a to-die bread pudding with wine sauce.

 

More than sixty years ago, a servant at the Melrose Plantation took a brush and some discarded paints and tried her hand at painting.  What she referred to as “making a picture” began the career of Clementine Hunter, who ultimately gained worldwide acclaim as one of the finest painters of folk art.  Frequently referred to as the “Black Grandma Moses,” her work’s colorful panels tell the story of plantation life at Melrose, and are installed at African House, a building on the plantation. The plantation itself is unique, having been established by the Metoyers, a family of gens de couleur libre (free people of color).

 

If your idea of a Southern plantation is rolling lawns, sweeping live oaks, and tall white pillars fronting an antebellum mansion, you’ll find all this and more at Oak Alley Plantation.  Located on the Mississippi River in Vacherie, Oak Alley has been called “the Grande Dame of the Great River Road.”  The setting is spectacular as you approach the mansion through a quarter mile of impressive 300-year–old live oak trees.  The plantation is also a Bed and Breakfast inn. Several century-old cottages are located on the grounds and one’s respite is guaranteed to be quiet and peaceful. Sleepy time down south, indeed!

 

If You Go:

Louisiana Travel Board: louisianatravel.com

 

Barbara Barton Sloane is a Pelham-based Travel Editor/Columnist who writes for a number of both national and international publications. She delights in sharing her global travel experiences with our readers.

 

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