While a New Orleans vacation is likely to center around Bourbon Street, the French Quarter and the Arts District, there is still a lot more to see and do in the surrounding areas. The New Orleans history and culture seeps out from the city center to outlying areas like the cypress swamps and wetlands. 200-year-old plantations line the outskirts of New Orleans, and provide much of the history behind the city. If you want to understand what New Orleans is all about, take a tour and let someone tell you about its history, culture and future plans.
The Old River Road Plantation Adventure is a great way to learn about old New Orleans.
The Old River Road Plantation Adventure is a great way to learn about the old city of New Orleans. This tour will pick you up outside Bluegreen Club La Pension and take you through the heart of New Orleans to find what makes its Creole culture so unique. Tour options vary and you can sign up for different combinations to ensure you see what you care about. A highly recommended tour, and once voted The Best History Tour in the U.S. by Lonely Planet, is the Laura Plantation and Oak Alley Plantation Tour. This narrated tour drives you through the swamps and passes by four other plantations before you arrive at Laura plantation. The tour focuses on the memoirs of Laura Locoul, a girl who grew up in the house. A fourth generation resident of the 12,000-acre sugar plantation, Laura’s memoirs discuss growing up on the plantation, along with the family members and slaves who called it home.
The property itself comprised several plots totaling 12,000 acres. Duparc, the property’s founder, petitioned Thomas Jefferson for property after his service in the American Revolution. He added his adjacent parcels to the estate to create l’habitation Duparc (later renamed Laura). Duparc built his manor in 1804; right in the middle of this vast expanse of land. It took 11 months for highly skilled slaves to complete the home. By the time of his death in 1808, 10 additional buildings had been erected as parts of the manor, which included slave housing, a barn, warehouses and a small sugar mill.
The Duparc family was composed of French aristocrats, such as the plantation’s founder, astute business women, slave holders, who were both brutal and kind, secluded introverts, competent and incompetent farm managers and eccentric cousins. The tour takes you through the home and its many chambers and offices, service rooms and common rooms. The guides explain Creole traditions and points out furnishings and parts of the home that were created by enslaved artisans. After guests see the home, they are escorted to the main grounds. The tour meanders through the sugarcane fields, the formal Jardin Francais, the kitchen garden and specific points on the farm where incidents occurred that exposed the brutal nature of slavery. The tour finishes at the slave cabins that lined the back end of the plantation.
The guides share tidbits of information that are sure to surprise and fascinate you. From the tragic stories of slave life to the scandalous tales of extramarital affairs with slaves, the plantation has a lot of history. Once you’ve absorbed four generations of lore, head back to the bus for your next stop. After that, you will head on over to Oak Alley plantation, another sugar plantation that is laced with tales of hauntings. The pathway up to the plantation is exquisite, as 300-year-old live oaks line the way to the front door (hence the name). Built for the “Sugar King of Louisiana,” Jacques Telesphore, and his wife Celina, this plantation was built entirely of materials found or manufactured on the property, with the exception of the marble floors and fireplaces, and slate roof. One of its many outstanding features includes the 28 classic, 8-foot-wide circular columns that surround the home, which support the 13-foot veranda. Tall windows and doors throughout the home face each other to create cross ventilation, providing additional relief from the Louisiana heat. The wealthy homeowners added to the home as years passed, and a decade later, the kitchen, garden and interior lights comprised what is now called “Oak Alley.” After the home tour, you can stroll around, look in the gift shop and cool off with a traditional mint julep. Get an understanding of why Celina decided to nickname the plantation “Bon Sejour,” or pleasant journey.
You can also feel free to walk around quoting Interview with a Vampire, as Oak Alley was used as Louis’ home in the film. Other films shot here include Nightrider and Primary Colors. Another often-recommended trip is the San Francisco and Oak Alley Plantation Tour. This one takes you on the trail of the 1811 Slave Revolt, the largest revolt in American history. The narrated tour will take you to the San Francisco mansion and plantation on Old River Road to see antiques, antebellum architecture and the plantation’s slave quarters. You will learn about the 1811 Slave Revolt, the slave markets, Code Noir, voodoo and the Quadroon balls of New Orleans. The plantation tours are a great way to learn about what makes New Orleans what it is today. The plantation histories, family stories and tales of hauntings are the foundation of Creole culture, and remain integral parts of the community today.
To make reservations, call 866.671.8687. The tour bus will pick you up on Decatur Street, just outside Bluegreen Club La Pension, so no need to worry about directions or parking. Just jump in, sit back, relax and enjoy the tour.