In 1714, Frenchman Louis Juchereau de St. Denis commissioned the construction of a small tort on the Red River in central Louisiana. Nachitoches (pronounced NAK-eh-tush). the site of the fort, became a bustling port for the cotton trade, and the wealthy landowners of that Old South industry spread out across the flat and fertile landscape, carving up the land and building beautiful plantation homes. But Mother Nature had other plans, and the river altered its course, leaving the new settlement isolated. For the tourist in search of a little Old South gentility, though, that iso-lation means one thing: Not much has changed in Nachitoches, and that’s the best reason to visit.
Located a little more than an hour south of Shreveport, Nachitoches is everything you’d imagine a quaint antebellum town would be. Front Street, which runs along the Cane River Lake in the middle of town, is bordered by a row of small antique shops ; and markets. Across the street, a sloping green-grass hill leads to the slow-moving water. (The blockbuster movie Steel Magnolias was filmed here, and the movie’s opening sequence shows this quaint block of town.) One of the best restaurants in town i is The Landing, which overlooks the river and features classic Cajun cuisine, including rich shrimp, crawfish, or oyster gumbo. Around the corner on Second Street is Lasyone’s Meat Pie Kitchen, the town’s real culinary claim to fame. Louisiana offers ; more than its share of great food, but the meat pies at Lasyone’s rival anything you can get in New Orleans. If you’re like me, Lasyone’s will be the first-and last-thing you do in Nachitoches.
But what most people come for is the history, and here that means touring the plantations. Atlanta may have Tara, but spend an afternoon at the Melrose, Beau Fort, or any of the other plantation homes nearby, and you’ll know what antebellum life was like, at least for the landowners. The Melrose, built in 1796, is a National Historic Landmark only a few minutes from town. Clementine Hunter, the state’s most famous folk artist, worked and painted her colorful, simple paintings at this elegant mansion.
After touring Melrose, head back north to Beau Fort Plantation. Now a 265-acre working cotton plantation. Beau Fort featurc beautiful year-round gardens and one of the best examples of Creole architecture in Louisiana. Break away from the tour for a while and find a quiet spot on the porch, and you’ll swear you can almost hear Scarlett whispering out from near the edge of the cotton fields.
When you ’ve loured all you can, head back to town and settle in at one of 33 bed-and-breakfasts. The Levy-East House on Jefferson Street is one of the nicest, furnished throughout with period antiques. At night, you can sit on the second -floor balcony and sip a glass of wine, imagining the town as it must have been two centuries ago, before the river shifted. It’s nice to know that some things never change.
WHEN YOU GO
Nachitoches is about four-and-a-half hours from Dallas by car. One of the nicest bed-and-breakfasts is the Levy-East House, 318-352-0662. Weekend rooms here are $125, including breakfast Dinner at The Landing is a must; call 318-352-1579 for reservations. For information on plantation tours, call the Nachitoches Tourism Board, B00-259-1714.