While the city of New Orleans is a popular destination, one only has to travel an hour or less outside the city to get a different perspective of Louisiana’s rich heritage and culture. Visit sugar cane plantations, Louisiana’s swamps and bayous and chow down on some local Cajun food.
New Orleans Plantation Country is a 60-mile long strip of land along the Mississippi River (the River Parishes) known for its history, agriculture, cuisine and ecosystems. Influenced by Germans, Acadians (Cajuns) French, Spanish, Native Americans and enslaved Africans, the area has a regional culture unique even to Louisiana.
While most of the South was growing cotton in the 1800s, the River Parishes amassed its wealth from sugar cane plantations which produced one-half of all the sugar consumed in America. Today there are ten plantations that guests can tour, each offering a different perspective of plantation life. Some of the plantations even offer accommodations including a bed & breakfast, RV parking, and cabins.
I chose to visit Destrehan Plantation since it is the closest to Louis Armstrong International Airport. Destrehan is the oldest documented plantation house in the lower Mississippi Valley and offers guided tours by costumed historical interpreters, demonstrations by artisans, and an exhibit on the 1811 slave revolt.
After my plantation tour, I was ready for lunch and headed to VooDooBBQ & Grill for a taste of their famous barbecue. I highly recommend the Slow-Smoked BBQ Platter. The meat is dry rubbed with Cajun, Creole and Caribbean spices and slow smoked to perfection with oak and pecan. It comes with two sides and cornbread (try their signature corn pudding, Voodoo chips, or Gris-Gris Greens).
Houma’s Bayou Country
Houma, Louisiana, just an hour southwest of New Orleans, lies in the heart of Bayou Country. If you ever watched the TV series, “Swamp People,” this is where it was filmed.
Bordered by the Gulf of Mexico, bayous and endless canopies of moss-dripped cypress trees, there’s an authenticity to this down-home region that will capture your heart.
For me, the highlight of my trip to Houma was the Cajun Man’s Swamp Tour with Captain Billy Gaston. Captain Billy was born and raised in the area and has spent most of his life hunting, fishing and alligator hunting on the bayous and swamps of south Louisiana.
From the moment I stepped foot onto his rustic pontoon boat, I was enthralled by his knowledge of the area’s eco-system including the birds, animals (especially the alligators!) and plants that we observed on the tour.
We learned that gators are territorial and Captain Billy has personally named several of the gators that live in the swamps we explored on the tour. It’s amazing to hear his loud, Cajun-accented bellow and watch as a gator comes swimming towards the boat. Tour participants who want to feed the gator are handed a long pole with a hook and dangling piece of chicken for which a gator will gladly jump out of the water to fetch.
Houma’s Unique Fairly-Tale Castle
Want to feel as though you’ve entered a fairytale castle? Take a tour of Ardoyne Plantation–a Victorian Gothic sugarcane plantation.
Although the mansion was not built until 1888, it has been a working sugarcane plantation since 1835. The mansion has been continualily occupied by the original builder’s family for six generations and the current resident gives a very educational tour, sharing insider info about the history, memorabilia and former residents.
Ardoyne Plantation house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as possibly the largest and most elaborate example of Rural Victorian Gothic Architecture in the state of Louisiana.
Be prepared to be amazed and baffled when you visit the Chauvin Sculpture Garden. This one-of-kind garden features 100 life-size whimsical concrete sculptures. Created by the owner of the land (who disappeared after the garden’s completion), the garden has been the subject of many theories and interpretations as to the artist’s intent and meaning. The garden is free to explore and visitors will have fun trying to figure out their own interpretation of the various sculptures.
A visit to Houma and Cajun Country wouldn’t be complete without sampling some of their iconic dishes. Boudreau & Thibodeau’s Cajun Cookin’ is the perfect local hangout for all kinds of seafood from crawfish to catfish to oysters, shrimp, crab, gator, and even frog legs. This was a monumental meal for me because I discovered Charbroiled Oysters—the best oysters I have ever had! A South Louisiana tradition, charbroiled oysters are described as “oysters on da half-shell drenched in garlic butter an’ dusted wit’ a fresh blend o’ Romano an’ Parmesan cheeses, cooked ta perfection o’er an open flame.”
Another local favorite is Cajun Critters. Their boiled house specialties include Crawfish, Shrimp, Royal Red Shrimp, Blue Crabs, Dungeness Crabs, Snow Crabs and King Crabs. I had one goal before I left Houma—to try Gator Bites, along with some Gumbo, and I can say I wasn’t disappointed. I left Louisiana a happy camper!
Article written by Destination Expert Sandra Chambers of Southern-Traveller.
Thanks to New Orleans Plantation Country and Houma for hosting Sandra on this trip. The reviews and opinions are her own.
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