Experience the Heart of Louisiana
- Discover Yours!
June 26-28, 2008

Ok, we have all heard about New Orleans…and its signature specialty Beignets but what about Alexandia/Pineville, Natchitoches and Shreveport? I was to discover there were more delights.

I had the opportunity to visit these areas and never having been to Louisiana, was very excited about it. I arrived on the 26th into the Alexandria airport. Now over the years I cannot begin to tell you how many airports I have passed through, but this little airport was a gem. Brand new and it felt like coming into a big home…soft comfortable seating, artwork .. that wonderful southern hospitality feeling I can only explain. You have to experience it to really know it.

I had flight delays so got in very late and missed a part of the itinerary that was happening before I arrived. Even though I was very late Brandy was there to meet me with a hug…that southern hospitality again. Then we left for the hotel, which was about two minutes away. The Parc England Boutique Hotel, www.parcenglandhotel.com . This hotel sits on the site of the former England Air Force Base. Two minutes later I was in my room. The next morning I went to the lobby for coffee and again felt like I was in someone’s home. Soft furniture, the smell of coffee and you could even sit outside and enjoy the coolness of the air before it got hot in very nice comfortable seating in the shade. What a way to relax – coffee and birds singing…then if you were hungry they offer a very nice buffet breakfast.

There was a hot air balloon ride happening early this morning, but since I was late I skipped this and ended up meeting the group at 12 Noon, just in time to set off across the parking lot to The Bistro on the Bayou Restaurant. It is owned by the same people who own the hotel and is located in the old officers club. What a posh place to eat! The service, the food, the ambience – truly first class. Here we tasted Blackened Louisiana Oysters Bienville and New Orleans style bbq shrimp and Louisiana crabmeat and pesto … you get the idea. We also got to chat with the Director of the Alexandria Zoo – another place that is worth visiting. You could tell by the passion of his speaking that he really is proud of his zoo and the accomplishments that have gone on there. They have some great programs for children to educate them on why getting face to face with wildlife is so important for both people and wildlife. This quote is from their literature “in the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, we will understand only what we are taught” Baba Dioum, African Ecologist.

Once fully stuffed to the gills, we headed to Natchitoches – here I had practiced how to pronounce this word that I thought I knew, but no, I was so wrong…it really is just ‘nack a tosh’ - who would have thought!!

We made a quick stop to pick up our guide, Iris Harper before continuing along the highway…she gave us a quick history of some of the plantations as we drove by them. I was amazed at the fields of cotton and corn and the pecan orchards…they went on forever it seemed. Pecan trees can get over 100 feet tall! Prized not only for its sweet nuts but for its hardwood.

In all of Louisiana, no other place as unique as the Cane River Country exists! Natchitoches offers many historic sites around the parish. You will find the most sites on the National Register of Places west of the Mississippi River and the only two bi-centennial farms west of the Mississippi are located in Natchitoches Parish. Sites include the area in and around the Cane River National Heritage Area. This heritage area, established by Congress in 1994, is a largely rural, agricultural landscape known for both its historic Creole-style plantations and structures and its unique people and culture. There are four plantations open for tours including Magnolia Plantation, Oakland Plantation, Melrose Plantation and the Kate Chopin Home in Cloutierville.

Kate Chopin House
Constructed in the early 1800s by Alexis Cloutier, this house was later the home of Kate Chopin, the renowned novelist and author of The Awakening and many Creole stories. The complex includes a restored blacksmith shop, a building that served as a doctor’s office, and also houses the Bayou Folk Museum, which features among its contents many agricultural implements.

The two and one-half story plantation house is one of the largest in the area, with twenty-seven rooms, including a Catholic Chapel in which Mass is still celebrated. Betty Hertzog, a descendant of the LeComtes, still lives in the main house and offers guided tours. The Magnolia Plantation Complex, 18 acres of outbuildings, is open to the public and free to tour as a unit of Cane River Creole National Historical Park. The Park includes a blacksmith shop, plantation store, gin barn, eight cabins, and former slave hospital that at various times housed the owners and overseer. The gin barn houses a wooden screw-type cotton press, the last such press remaining in its original site in the United States.

Marie Thérèze Coin-Coin, an enslaved woman, and Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer, her French owner had many children together after Coin-Coin was freed. On land acquired by land grants, the Yucca House and the African House was built. The Yucca House remained the large structure on the plantation until 1833 when the main house, known as Melrose, was built. After 1884, Melrose Plantation became a hub of art and education under the ownership of John Hampton Henry and “Miss” Cammie Garrett Henry. Miss Cammie, as she became known, made Melrose a haven for artists and writers. At the time there was a field hand and cook at Melrose who also became known as a renowned artist. Clementine Hunter, one of the south’s most primitive artists, began painting the people, life, and scenes of Cane River. Hunter was in her 50’s when she began painting and continued until a few months before her death in 1988. Clementine is Louisiana’s most famous folk artist, and her paintings are on display at the plantation. Melrose serves as the annual location for the Melrose Arts & Crafts Festival each June.

Oakland CRCNHP
Oakland is has 17 of its original outbuildings still remaining. Outbuildings still on the plantation include two pigeonniers, an overseer’s house, massive roofed log corn crib, carriage house, mule barn that was originally a smokehouse, carpenter’s shop, and cabins. Thise historic property is a National Bicentennial Farm, only one of two of such Farms west of the Mississippi River, and a unit of Cane River Creole National Historical Park. Oakland was acquired by the National Park Service in 1998. The first cotton in the state was planted here.

We then stopped at Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site and had a tour through the visitor center before seeing the fort.

‘Fort St. Jean Baptiste is a testament to the resourcefulness of French explorers who first settled the backcountry of Louisiana in the early 1700s. About a quarter of a century after LaSalle first traveled down the Mississippi River and claimed all of the lands it drained for France, a band of Natchitoches Indians guided a group of French soldiers up the Red River in search of trade outlets. Led by a French Canadian named Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, the French were on a mission to Mexico to establish trading ties. Nearly one hundred and forty leagues up the Red River, they encountered an impenetrable logjam that prevented further navigation. The French hastily built two crude huts, which grew to become Fort St. Jean Baptiste and the town of Natchitoches, the oldest permanent settlement in the entire Louisiana Purchase territory.’

It’s a great place to take the family and learn some fascinating history and have fun!

From here we went to Cane River Kitchenware where we got to enjoy some great southern cooking by Chef Todd Barrios, instructor with Northwestern State University Culinary Arts. He prepared a couple of appetizers for us – oyster stew and sugar cane shrimp and along with those we refreshed ourselves with drink then after this was over had a few moments to wander around in the shop. I picked up some file for gumbo. Do you know the difference between Creole and Cajun? Well, I guess you will just have to come here and find out! Louisiana may be known for it’s pecan and sweet potatoe pies, but here in Natchitoches, it’s the meat pie that takes the cake! They reminded me of the pasties in England. Some say these were brought over from Nova Scotia in the 1700’s while others say it came to be as a result of an easy to prepare meal for the workers to carry with them.

From here we walked down the street of Natchitoches to Antoon’s Riverfront Restaurant for dinner. This overlooks the Cane River Lake. Chef Todd also had his hand in the menu here so we knew it would be great…gumbos galore and here I learned a secret about when to add the Filé to the gumbo. www.antoonrestaurant.com I had walked along here earlier and it is a beautiful city. The Visitor’s Center is right next to the restaurant and in a perfect location for visitors to see it. Just down the hill from here, there is a wonderful old home called the Roque House, built in 1796 and made with bousillage – a mixture of Spanish moss, deer hair and mud. The main street is totally being redone so there was a lot of construction going on, but it will all be done by the time their Christmas Festival happens the first weekend in December. This city was founded in 1714 and is the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase. The city is filled with these incredible historic homes and has a wonderful carriage tour available so you can get to know some of the special features of this 33 block downtown district more closely.

I cannot stress how wonderful it was to be here…it was like time stood still and you didn’t have to rush any more, you could take your time and enjoy life.
Overnight at the Hampton Inn…

This was the last time I would see the group I was with as tomorrow morning, Tara and I were leaving Natchitoches and heading to Shreveport for a little garden viewing. As it was such a short trip they planned for me to see the 2008 Sunflower Trail Festival in Gilliam first. It took about two hours to get there but the scenery was incredible along the way, beginning with the Dixie Craft Market in the old Dixie Gin Mill. There are many places of interest along this road so be prepared to stop for lots of pictures. Sunflowers along the way to Gilliam, then a market festival in Gilliam. Wonderful goodies, including these sunflower glasses all hand painted. I also managed to get some pictures of cotton flowers and the cotton once dried along with some incredible country wall painting and wildflowers…oh, what a beautiful area this was…places like this I could just get lost in.

But alas, time was not on our side and we still hade the Barnwell Garden and Art Center to visit in downtown Shreveport and they were expecting us. Just so happens that the air conditioning was causing them major problems so the most time you could spend in the glass house was about 3 seconds before you could not take the heat anymore..it was a shame but the what was worse is that they were getting set up for a wedding reception that evening…thankfully it was fixed in time for that. The Executive Director, Freda Powel is so passionate about this center, preserving it, expanding it to include so much more. The newest things are a herb garden just outside and next to the glasshouse. It’s a pretty little park area and they encourage people to rub their hands through the herbs to experience what they smell like. The Barnwell also has a wonderful giftshop for some really incredible and unique one of a kind items. All of the items are from artisans across the state and is one of only three Louisiana Crafts Guild Galleries.

Then it was off to the R. W. Norton Art Gallery – I wanted to see the exhibit that was on…Blossom: The Art of Flowers. This gallery is full of beautiful works of art and so worth a visit and the special exhibit featured 61 pieces chosen from a juried competition that included over 1700 entries. The gallery offers First Saturday of the month tours – each a different theme as well as group tours by appointment year round and even tours for children.

Our next stop was for lunch at the Bella Fresca and was it yummy. http://www.bellafresca.com/

Then it was off to the Gardens of the American Rose Center. Founded in 1892, the American Rose Society is an educational, nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to the cultivation and enjoyment of roses. The American Rose Society is a national organization with over 15,000 members dedicated to the enjoyment, enhancement and promotion of America's Floral Emblem. The Society has its headquarters located on the grounds of the beautiful American Rose Center near Shreveport, Louisiana. The Center is home to a lovely Garden of over 20,000 rose bushes comprising nearly 400 varieties of modern and old roses.

Shreveport has the prettiest river walk and you can see Bossier just on the other side of the Red River. Walking along here you will find a mixture of options including traditional retail, outlet/value-oriented retail, live performance theaters, restaurants, hotels, and other recreational outdoor entertainment.
Overnight at the Best Western Chateau Suites in Shreveport – now I want to tell you something about this hotel. It was fantastic! A little known secret too is once you are a guest, you can go to the bar and get a drink for free. The buffet breakfast is really nice too! Airport Shuttle.

Great People who put this together for us included:

Brandy Claiborne and Tarah Holland with the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau
Iris Harper with the Natchitoches Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
Sherry Smith with the Alexandria Convention & Visitors Bureau
And everyone else who made our very short stay so much fun and so enjoyable and yummy…there really is something to be said for southern hospitality. Discover it for yourself!

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