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Published: February 1st 2012
The most famous view in Louisiana
Oak Alley plantation house behind the row of oak trees. This is the most photographed view in Louisiana.
Today is Easter Sunday.
I should have realized that in heavily Catholic Louisiana Easter Sunday would be unlike the day in the rest of the country.
There are plenty of bunnies and hidden treats for kids, but the religious side of the holiday is the main focus here.
It’s treated the same way Christmas is, as a public holiday.
The only thing open are bars and tourist traps.
This is a bad thing for someone travelling through the region.
The day started out very well.
On the recommendation of my host, I reserved Easter Brunch at Cafe Atchafalaya
It’s one of New Orleans’ most innovative restaurants and bars.
I should have realized something was up when I called and they had plenty of time open in the morning and nothing in the afternoon.
The afternoon is when people who went to church that morning finally eat.
The food was innovative and very good
The wait staff was mostly artists and hipsters, in contrast to the formality the previous night.
The walls are covered with paintings of jazz ensembles.
I had duck hash.
Large frying pan on the side of Cafe Atchafalaya, a local landmark
The meat was mixed with several vegetables and very tasty.
Of course, it came with a glass of champagne.
After brunch, the trouble started.
It quickly became clear that absolutely nothing was open in the city today.
Nothing at all!
I had quite a bit of time to fill, and no way to do so other than lounge in a park.
While that can certainly be fun, it wasn’t what I wanted after spending most of yesterday recuperating.
I ultimately headed out into plantation country.
In lower Louisiana, Creole planters set up sugarcane plantations along the Mississippi River.
They wanted river frontage because it was easier to transport the sugar to New Orleans by river.
In the years before the Civil War, there were hundreds of them.
A number are now operated as tourist attractions
The tours range from historically accurate depictions of Creole culture (and how it differs from the Anglo culture in the rest of the South) to Gone With the Wind based fantasy
One truism of this region is that the more pictures of guides in hoopskirts in the brochures, the
Oak Alley Plantation
The plantation house at Oak Alley. It is famous for the Greek columns that surround the house
more of a tourist trap an attraction will be.
I went here because I figured the tourist traps would be the only thing open.
As it turns out, there is one plantation that is worth seeing even with the tourist trappings, because the site itself is spectacular.
That plantation is the most popular tour of all, Oak Alley
Oak Alley has its beginnings
in the 1730s.
An English planter built a small cottage, and created two rows of oak trees running from the cottage to the river.
Fifty years later a wealthy Creole, Jacques Roman III, bought the property, tore down the cottage, and replaced it with a proper plantation mansion.
With its Greek revival columns running around the entire house, it is indeed directly out of Gone With the Wind.
The tourist trappings of the site are unavoidable, although more tasteful than some.
The guides do indeed wear hoopskirts.
I give them credit for choosing outfits closer to what women wore every day, rather than the ball gowns of Southern Belles (see April 9th
There is a bar on the porch of the house,
Oak Alley gardens
A small piece of Oak Alley's formal gardens
so people can buy mint juleps
and lemonade to drink while waiting for their tour.
Oak Alley has a gift shop
of course, with some things that push the bounds of sanity (Want a Mardi Gras themed Christmas Tree? Only $400 plus tax!)
The tour itself is the standard description of architecture and decorative arts, with a bit of Creole culture thrown in.
Creole custom stated that women had to wear black for one year after the death of a child.
One room has a sample of the gown.
Given the high rate of yellow fever at the time, some were never able to take it off!
The dining room has a large hanging shingle attached to a rope.
Its informal name is the “shoo-fly”.
A slave had to move the rope fast enough for the swinging shingle to move the flies from above the dinner table, but not so fast the candles went out.
A screw up meant a severe beating.
Creole custom stated that when anyone did work on the house, they had to sign it.
The tour has the list proudly displayed, including the renovation in 1926
Guides in hoopskirts
Guides in hoopskirts relax between tours at Oak Alley Plantation. The mint julip bar is in the background.
when it first opened to the public.
The final item on the tour is the front balcony.
It gives a perfect view of the row of now enormous oak trees that give the house its name.
Before the levee was built, the oaks were a landmark for riverboat pilots, who always referred to them as “Oak Alley”.
The name stuck.
After taking the tour, there is one other thing that every visitor needs to do.
Walk down the alley of oaks heading for the river.
Be sure to only look at the trees and the levee at the end.
Once past the benches that mark the halfway point, slowly turn around.
The view will be the plantation house framed by the trees, the most photographed scene in Louisiana and possibly the entire South.
For lodging this night, I wanted a particular fantasy.
Several plantation houses are operated as bed and breakfasts.
My guidebook recommends staying at one at least for a night, because one gets to feel like a guest in the house rather than a tourist.
Overnight accomodations at Nottoway
This was my room for the night at Nottoway. Historic travel at its best.
turns out, getting the full effect is difficult.
Most of the lodgings are in side buildings, not the main house.
There are two reasons: not enough room, and fear people will break priceless antiques.
Much research revealed that there is one plantation with the wanted requirements: Nottoway
It’s the largest remaining plantation house in the South.
It was also operated as a bed and breakfast before it became a tour site, so the infrastructure is in place in the main house.
It’s not at all cheap, but with some scrimping elsewhere I could afford it.
The room was directly out of what I saw on other tours.
The furniture was French Empire.
It’s all reproductions, of course, but they are faithful reproductions.
There was a marble non-working fireplace on one wall.
I loved wandering through the public rooms at night, lit by low lights.
The one downside was the knowledge that all this grandeur was paid for with the profits of human misery, slavery.
I had dinner in another Louisiana institution, of a sort.
In a rural area on Easter
Nottoway plantation after dark
The main house at Nottoway plantation, long after most visitors have left for the day.
Sunday, the only places open were fast food. Popeye’s
started in the state and claims to serve Cajun style chicken.
Some people state their food is nearly inedible while others swear by it.
I figured it was the most authentic thing I would find tonight.
The chicken was descent, the deserts were nice, and the corn bread was heavenly.
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