Southeastern Louisiana is an intriguing, bountiful destination for travelers. Great food, awesome music, unique scenery, rich history – and that’s just in New Orleans.
Surrounding the Big Easy, however, are even more worthwhile diversions – not the least of which are the plantations  that lie along the Mississippi River, between Destrehan and St. Francisville. Two of my favorites are the Laura Plantation  and the Destrehan Plantation , both former sugar plantations.
My mother first took me to the Laura Plantation, established in 1804, when I was a teenager. Besides the fact that I shared a first name with one of the Creole family’s descendants (and the woman for whom the plantation was eventually renamed in 1874), I remember being entranced by the style of the main house: a vivid ochre structure with red, green, gray, and mauve accents. It also tickled me to learn that the Laura Plantation was the site where French-speaking West African slaves introduced the tales of Br’er Rabbit (originally known as Compare Lapin) to American culture.
In August of 2004, a terrible fire destroyed 80 percent of the “Big House” – but following 28 months of intense restoration, the house was happily returned to its pre-fire glory in December of 2006. On my most recent visit, the Laura Plantation – including the slave cabins, three gardens, and main house – was as alluring as ever.
Roughly 20 miles closer to New Orleans, the Destrehan Plantation is a bit more traditional in appearance – but equally fun to visit. Established in 1787, Destrehan presents year-round historic demonstrations – from open-hearth cooking to indigo dyeing to candle making. Of course, the best time to visit the Destrehan Plantation is during one of its annual festivals – usually in mid-May and mid-November.
This past May, I attended this family-friendly event with my husband, my father, and my stepmother. After driving along River Road to Destrehan (which lies between New Orleans and Baton Rouge along the Mississippi River), we parked the car and headed onto the lovely (if crowded) grounds. For several pleasant hours, we ate regional cuisine (like gumbo and jambalaya), watched historic demonstrations, listened to live music, perused a variety of crafts and antiques, strolled beneath shady oak trees, and toured the house itself.
The food, of course, was delicious – normally, I’d say it’s my favorite part of any festival. But I really enjoyed browsing the clever creations on display – from local, regional, and national artists. My favorite artist, though, was the one who had fashioned all manner of whimsical sculptures from pieces of junk. Truly, a real-life demonstration of how one person’s trash can become another’s treasure.
The house tour was a unique experience, too. Not only were the tour guides in full period costume, but the basement (where the tour began with an orientation video) was perpetually cool, like an underground cave – the perfect place to escape the heat of southern Louisiana for a little while.
If you ever find yourself just north of New Orleans, take some time to visit at least one of the remaining plantations along River Road – including the ornate San Francisco Plantation  and the Oak Alley Plantation , which featured prominently in Interview with the Vampire. Visiting such historic homes and succulent grounds promises a step back into another era, when beautiful architecture and genteel traditions collided with cruel slave practices that still haunt the moss-covered oak trees today.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me at laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.