Have you ever wondered what it might have been like to live in another era? Wanted to step back in time and witness what life was like without all the modern conveniences we enjoy today? Maybe you’re happy right here in the present, but wouldn’t mind spending a few hours in the past… I definitely fall into that last category!
A history loving amateur photographer, whose favorite movies include Gone with the Wind, and Interview with the Vampire, it’s no wonder that a visit to the plantations of River Road were on my must see list during our recent visit to New Orleans.
River Road is a one hour drive outside of New Orleans, so you’ll want to rent a Time Machine, er, I mean car. The route is easy, and along the way you’ll drive through some pretty unique terrain.
It’s important not to time travel on an empty stomach, so we decided to make a quick detour to 1968 in order to eat at Spahr’s Seafood Restaurant, which came highly recommended by a local New Orleanian.
Spahr’s, located in Des Allemandes, Louisiana, the catfish capital of the universe, was a highlight of the day! Not only did we eat a mountain of delicious golden brown fried food, including catfish, alligator, shrimp, hush puppies, and onion sticks, but we dipped all of it in equally scrumptious sauces! All of this was washed down with sweet tea, and to top it all off we shared a slice of peanut butter pie.
While waiting for our food I noticed an outdoor area that looked pretty and decided to step out for a few photos. The manager, Carl, kindly opened the back door for me, which is when I noticed what looked like a statue in the shape of an alligator right next to the picnic area…
Then I noticed the sign…
Wait, that’s not a statue, that’s an Alligator!
At one time there were as many as 500 plantations along River Road, and while there aren’t nearly that many now, there are still quite a few available to visit. Most offer guided tours, have beautiful gardens, exhibitions, restaurants, and gift shops.
We had time to visit two, and I chose Oak Alley for it’s magical trees, and Laura, a Creole Plantation for it’s historical significance.
Laura A Creole Plantation
The Laura Plantation, originally known as the Duparc Plantation, was built in 1804 – 1805 by Guillaume Duparc a French naval veteran of the revolutionary war. Laura, the great granddaughter of Duparc, wrote about her life on the plantation and her memoirs were published in 2002. Laura’s big house is a traditional Creole style raised house and there are several surviving out buildings on the property including six slave cabins.
During the tour we were given access to not only the gardens, but the big house and the slave cabins as well. There are exhibits about life on the plantation, which can be viewed at your leisure before or after the tour.
Oak Alley Plantation
Oak Alley Plantation is most famous for its double row of Southern Live Oak trees which are around 300 years old! The trees run from the river to the house and were planted long before the present house was built.
There is a lot to see and do at Oak Alley and at least two hours are recommended if you plan to see everything. We arrived later in the day as I wanted to get the afternoon light, but still managed to see quite a lot. Tours of the big house run every 1/2 hour, while the rest of the plantation including the slave cabin exhibit and gardens are self guided.
Before our tour of the big house we stopped for a mint julep, which you are welcome to bring with you on the tour! Photos are encouraged and your guide will be dressed in period costume, which definitely adds to that feeling of stepping back in time.
Once we completed our tour it was time to see the oak trees up close!
I spent a good amount of time taking photos and just enjoying walking among the trees. They’re absolutely stunning and it’s no wonder that so many films, television shows and music videos have been filmed here, Interview with a Vampire and Beyonce’s Déjà Vu music video to name just a few.
A History Lesson
The plantation homes lining the great Mississippi River Road are a sight to behold, and to visit them is to take a step back in time and get a small glimpse of what life might have been like for these people 200+ years ago.
They provide an important look into slavery and a very dark part of United States history. While it’s not easy to see, and read about the deplorable way these people were forced to live, I’m not one to shy away from the truth. Although it was difficult for my children to see and hear about what took place in the not so distant past, it was also a very valuable and worthwhile history lesson.
Tips & Advice:
- River Road is a one hour drive from New Orleans in Vacherie, Louisiana
- Laura Plantation can only be seen via guided tour.
- Tickets can be purchased onsite.
- The tour is 40 minutes long, and children and strollers are welcome.
- Parking is complimentary, the gift shop sells snack and drinks, and there are multiple bathrooms.
- The Louisiana Creole versions of the famous Br’er Rabbit stories were recorded at Laura in the 1870s.
- Families still lived in the slave cabins at Laura Plantation until as recently as 1977.
- Tours at Oak Alley run every half hour.
- Children are welcome, and there is a gift shop, restaurant and restroom facilities.
- You can stay overnight on the Oak Alley plantation.
- The trees at Oak Alley have a potential life span of 600 years!
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Lovely post and you totally creeped me out with the statue that was no statue. 😱
Thank you! Imagine how I felt… Ha ha! I was out there with it! Might be why these aren’t the best photos… I was in somewhat of a hurry!
I am sure. I was looking at the “statue” for quite a while and was thinking ” hm, I don’t know. That thing looks darn real to me” and voila, it was. 😬😬😬
I thought it was a statue too. Fortunately, you did not come near 🙂 Great article and photos, Hilary! The Oak Alley is indeed magical.
We spent a few days in New Orleans years ago – I loved it but we didn’t venture out of the city. This sounds amazing, I would love to see the plantations and these two sound fascinating in different ways. That food too Hilary – just drooling looking at the pictures and then to see an alligator in the picnic area. What a day!!
It’s definitely worth the trip! Though a first timer to New Orleans, has too much to do in city to spend any time outside… you’ll just have to find your way back!
Ladies What Travel (@LadiesWTravel)
Although some of the history is dark I’d love to learn more about the era and these trees and buildings are so beautiful! #citytripping
I completely agree!
I’m in love! When I think of the South, I think of beautiful plantations like this! And it reminds me of Forest Gump! Pinned! #CityTripping
I know! It’s like a page right out of a book, but it’s real!!
I’d love to explore the plantations and learn the history of NO xx
What an unusual and interesting trip. Plantation houses always hold a fascination for me, perhaps because I studied the antebellum south at Uni. These houses make you want to explore and that avenue of oaks certainly gives the wow factor! I’m not too sure about how close that alligator is though! #CityTripping
Bumble Bee Mum
That first photo is just totally Game of Thrones! And the second last photo reminded me of 12 Years of Slavery.
I can’t believe there was an alligator at the picnic ground. I would have freaked out. Imagine if you were picnicking at that table and the alligator suddenly appeared?? I wouldn’t know how to react. #CityTripping
I know!! The picnic area wasn’t being used and I can see why! The manager offered to let me hang out in the yard, but I would have had to knock to get back inside!! I said no thank you!!
Wow that totally reminded me of Hart of Dixie – I know it’s such a cliche but that alligator just roaming around? Amazing!!
fifi + hop
Your photos are just stunning..all those beautiful trees. I definitely want to visit a plantation next time we’re in Nola. I can’t believe the alligator..actually, I can. They’re everywhere down there including FL and SC, etc. Not sure I could live somewhere with alligators just hanging about! #farawayfiles
Thank you!! I think the trees did all the work for me! I know what you mean about the gators! I’m already somewhat of an indoor girl, I’d never go outside!
It almost irritates me how gorgeous Oak Alley is. Like putting a pretty face on while hiding something ugly inside. You know what I mean? However it’s so amazing that the history is preserved & can be visited & learned from. Beautiful beautiful pictures & I’m sure we’ll worth a visit.
I know what you mean and completely agree though in this case the beauty and the ugly go hand in hand. They don’t sugar coat it, but it’s hard not to appreciate the natural beauty of the trees. If it helps, the trees were there long before the plantation.
It does help:)
Really interesting and important place to visit Hillary. But underneath the beauty of the houses and their grounds lies a very ugly history. Thanks for linking #citytripping
Yes, in the case of the plantations the two go hand in hand, you wouldn’t have one without the other. A place worth visiting for that very reason.
Gone with the Wind is one of my favorite movies too, so I would love to visit this area. The plantations are amazing, thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.
I love that movie too!
Your photos are stunning! I really need to explore more of Louisiana besides the French Quarter!
Thank you so much! Well, the French Quarter is pretty awesome!!
Oh my I can’t tell you how much I’d love to see these plantations. Probably something to do with seeing Gone With the Wind at an impressionable age; also distinctly remember the house and grounds from Interview With a Vampire (Anne Rice describes these locations so well in the books too). Must be amazing to visit. I still also get overly fascinated with the fact that there are alligators in normal public areas in the U.S – mind boggling. Great post!
Thank you! I know what you mean! It’s amazing how much what we watch and read when we are young shapes what interests us as we get older! I don’t do well with wildlife in the wild… so I’m happy to say we DON’T have those where I live!
This era of history has always fascinated me Hilary. It looks like the experience at the plantations really covers many different perspectives of those times which, as you say, is so important. The sweeping homesteads and oak avenues are so beautiful but came at such a tragic price. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles – I’m adding to my US experience to do list
Oh my goodness, Hilary, you nearly got eaten by an alligator!! I would love to see some of these plantations having grown up with Gone with the Wind and have always fantasised about drinking a mint julep on a veranda. I’ve got no idea what they taste like – it just sounds so good. Oak Alley Plantation is just stunning and I love your photos. I agree that it’s extremely important not to sugar coat history for children and I find it doubly shocking that families were living in the slave cabins until as recently as the late 1970s. Thanks for sharing this on #FarawayFiles
Erin Gustafson (@oregongirlworld)
Well I do declare Hilary – this is a beautiful post. A mint julep for the tour? YES PLEASE. And the catfish and hush puppies reminds me of childhood. The trees are so cool and remind me of your dark hedges pics from Ireland too. I appreciate that you share all the parts of history with your kids and don’t shy away from difficult topics. Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin
Why thank you so much! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
Amazing photos, and great advice for a trip to Oak Alley! I visited there when we were in NOLA for Mardi Gras in 2003, and I’m happy to see that it hasn’t changed a bit. Although your photos are WAY better than mine were on a cloudy day. The tour stories are fascinating, and raw but important to tell the tales of slavery and plantation wealth. Great post! #FarawayFiles
Thanks Ali! It is amazing how these places seem to be immune to time don’t they?!
Thank you for the great photos and article about #lauraplantation !
I’m so glad you enjoyed it!