One Weekend In The Best Parishes In Louisiana: Ghosts, Gumbo & More

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The swans at the Houmas House

If you want to know some secrets, ask a local.

Especially in Louisiana.

Especially in southeast Louisiana, where it’s not all gators and roughing it, the area boasts the Deep South culture and gentility, too.

It will not fail. You will be talking to someone there and discover that this person knows that person, and so the story goes. And it can be a long story, just like the area’s history.

At one meal during my weekend visit to the 10 parishes in southeast Louisiana (think Baton Rouge) calling themselves the Gumbo Group (Selagumbo.com), I was having lunch, and I began asking questions.

I could hear just the whisper of how the connections in Louisiana run deep. I wanted to learn more. I was particularly fascinated with the stories of the people who live in the bayous (known as Cajuns) and have deep roots with the “Acadians,” the French immigrants who settled in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada. In fact, I had no idea that my much-loved story of Evangeline, which I had learned in New Brunswick, was also part of Louisiana culture.

That is Louisiana, tying itself with a bow as big as the state’s personality.

But I digress because I was visiting the Southeast, and my conversation veered during lunch in Cajun country. Even so, the entire state is tied together with its stories, secrets, and recipes, and you have to find your favorite piece of Louisiana. In my case, it so happens to be the southeast part of the state.

It is true; Louisiana is a short drive from where I started out in north central Texas, but the vibe is worlds away.

And I like that on a road trip.

I drove to my first stop, Baton Rouge, in the late afternoon on a Friday, just in time for a glass of something with alcohol involved. I checked in at the Origin Hotel where I quickly changed clothes and jumped on the bus with my colleagues for my next meal.

Since I was only in the area for two nights, I only spent Friday night at Origin Hotel, but I recommend it. The rooms are streamlined and are steps from the Mississippi River. There is an on-site restaurant, a passé, and a place to have a rooftop cocktail while enjoying the Baton Rouge view.

As one would expect in southeast Louisiana, the history of Baton Rouge and the 10 parishes beyond is rich.

So, let us get started.

At the West Baton Rouge Museum, I enjoyed the beginning of the weekend’s foodfest, which featured all the local favorites. I had the chance to hear a few songs from the local band playing at the museum, and I could see most of the audience was settling in for a night of blues.

The museum is known for being the only one to trace the history of sugar in Louisiana from the colonial period to the present. It is on six acres just across the river from the State Capitol and offers exhibits, French programs, tours, Historical Happy Hour, blacksmithing apprenticeships, art workshops, and lectures.

Dinner could not wait, so off I went to the much-loved restaurant Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, home of the legendary charbroiled oysters. I had a few, and a few more, and some raw oysters, too. This is the place to go “all out” for oyster junkies, and as for the charbroiled oysters, well, they were voted Best of 225’s Best Oysters in Baton Rouge. The secret to the magic is that the oysters are brushed with butter, herbs, and garlic and sprinkled with a blend of Parmesan and Romano cheeses. These things are so loved in the Baton Rouge area that I was told on a busy day that Drago’s grills churn out over 900 dozen charbroiled oysters.

I woke up excited on Saturday morning because we were headed to St. Francisville. St. Francisville is home to The Myrtles, built in 1796 in West Feliciana Parish. The Myrtles is one of America’s most haunted homes, and television shows love the place. Since I have published a few haunted books myself, the place has always fascinated me. In fact, back in the 80s, I went with friends to New Orleans and the area, and we spent a night at the haunted Myrtles on a full moon night. I even did a tour back then. When I arrived on this trip, I could feel the magic in the air just as I had so many years before. The property has a large but dark history. A new restaurant on the property 1796, is centered around a 10-foot wood-fired hearth with a southern menu, follow your nose and you will find it.

I hopped on a local trolley tour in historic St. Francisville because there is more to the town than just the haunted plantation. In fact, I learned St. Francisville has had an influx of popularity in tourism lately, so there are all kinds of places to see and be seen. The 15-passenger trolley is free and offers designated stops around town for tourists.

St. Francisville was established in 1807, and it is worth a few nights to hunker down at the Myrtles or one of the other little bed and breakfast or boutique hotels the town boasts.

Time was fleeting, however, and there were more parishes to discover. I headed to Pointe Coupee Parish to meet the locals and have lunch at the infamous Morel’s Restaurant in New Roads.

You will feel like a local here, and you will be mingling with them. Morel’s Restaurant has been in town since 1926. Its floor-to-ceiling windows afford magnificent views, and the restaurant is built over the water—you get the idea.

massive tree

I did not spend enough time exploring, but across from the restaurant was an old church I will visit when I return in a few months.

Pointe Coupee Parish is one of the oldest settlements in the Mississippi River Valley. Its early French and African influences are still felt today. Rivers border the parish on three sides, so there is never a bad view.

group of people at table

My second night was at the Holiday Inn in Hammond, La., where I stopped before check-in at the Tangipahoa Parish Global Wildlife Center in Folsom, La. This center is a popular tourist spot in Tangipahoa Parish www.tangitourism.com because it affords visitors who might not otherwise have the chance to see exotic animals living on a free-roaming wildlife preserve. It is one of the largest of its kind in the country. In fact, 3,500 exotic, endangered, and threatened animals from all over the world live at the Global Wildlife Center, and you can feed the animals from the tour truck, too.

The host kept talking about a Louisiana Saturday night, and sure enough, there we were that evening at the Tickfaw River Village. There was dinner and dancing, and I even tried the turtle soup. Basically, the entire experience is a traditional Louisiana cookout featuring fresh seafood and a live cooking demonstration of Jambalaya.

You will not go home hungry or empty-handed.

When the alarm went off Sunday morning, I realized I would be driving home that evening, but not before a little more history and food.

In Ascension Parish, you will find the much-lauded Houma’s House Mansion and Gardens. The house sits on 38 acres of native Louisiana landscape. You can also head across the road and see the mighty Mississippi in all its glory. Even the energy is rife for adventure in this place. Great Sugar Barons owned the mansion, and it was notably one of the most extensive sugarcane plantations in the area.

The property has three restaurants, 21 cottages, and the Great River Road Museum. Expect to spend at least half the day visiting.

One thing I particularly enjoyed about the southeast Louisiana region and the 10 parishes that compose the Gumbo Group is that there is never the same thing twice. There is also much heavy agriculture in southeast Louisiana, like in Pointe Coupee. That made me feel good since we know so much of our food is fake and unhealthy, not if the southeast Louisiana population has anything to say about it.

Another takeaway as I headed home Sunday night is that there are still people in the area, in this country, who respect their culture, savor their food, and are aware of the beauty of the southeastern part of Louisiana.

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