Beignets, alligators, the French Quarter, and historic homes: these are typically what you’ll find at the top of most visitors’ Louisiana itineraries. Even if you only have a few days to explore New Orleans and beyond, the chances that you’ll end up at a plantation are pretty high. Many of the state’s amazing antebellum homes and plantation mansions remain intact, and are meticulously maintained and furnished with beautiful period pieces. These classic homes and gardens are located all over the state, with large concentrations along the Great River Road, across south and central Louisiana, and in “Plantation Country” between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Others are located in West Feliciana Parish around the St. Francisville area, and along Bayou Teche near New Iberia. But with all of the options–and the history, both good and bad–which of the state’s many sprawling properties should you visit? This list contains the 5 best plantations in Louisiana. Make the most of your time along the River Road and beyond as you learn about Southern history at these properties.
Why are these the best plantations in Louisiana?
Before we delve into the specifics of the list, it’s worth asking why we should focus on antebellum Southern history in the first place. After all, it’s been over 150 years since the heyday of the Southern plantations–and they’re still some of the most popular sites to visit below the Mason-Dixon line. Why? Maybe it’s because they’re the closest thing we’ve got to the castles of Europe. Maybe it’s because we want to remember the history of slavery so we never repeat it again. Maybe it’s because we’re still amazed that people could have that much money to own such massive parcels of land. No matter the reason, plantations are big business in the South. The history that can be found on these plots–from the oral traditions and basketry skills of the slaves to the political machinations of the plantation owners, is amazing.
So, for each of these plantations, it is important to look at how many different stories were told at the properties:
– Was the narrative just of the typical wealthy white male owner, or were there stories of the enslaved people and the white women who lived there as well?
– Was there a balance in narrative between the antebellum period, the Reconstruction, and modern restoration?
– Was there a focus on history as well as architecture?
– And, was there something specific about this property that made it stand out from the others?
Not only are these properties well kept and beautiful, but they do an excellent job of telling more than 300 years of history alongside the modern day interpretation of what a historic property such as these should be and do.
1) Houmas House
At its peak in the late 1800s, Houmas House produced over 20 million pounds of sugar a year. Only a few decades later, the Great Depression hit and caused the family who owned it to board the place up. A new owner took over in 1940, and over renovations inside and out, he opened the house and grounds to the public in the early 1960s. The most recent owner, Kevin Kelly, bought the property in 2003 and has expanded the plantation’s offerings to include a massive garden, restaurant, and inn.
2) Laura Plantation
Built in 1805, this Creole plantation is only one of fifteen in existence with this particular building style. This plantation was particularly interesting since it is 1) named after a woman, Laura Locoul Gore, and 2) was run by that same woman during its heyday. Most of what is known about the plantation comes from Laura’s journals. It is rare to come across a plantation that focuses so completely on a female owner and operator, and thus, Laura Plantation is an excellent foil to the narratives that you’ll see at many other Southern plantations. The Brer Rabbit folktales were collected by Norman Marmillion, a preservationist who saw the value in recording the oral tales brought to America from Senegal by the slaves. During his time finding and recording these stories, Marmillion spent a significant time at Laura Plantation, and, because of this, the plantation is considered to be one of the birthplaces of the Brer Rabbit tales. Additionally, the tour at Laura Plantation includes a walk through of one of the slave homes, and it is heartbreaking to see how little they were given in order to eke out a life.
3) Rosedown Plantation
From a purely architectural view, this plantation house is stunning, and it’s clear why it makes the list of best plantations in Louisiana. It’s all white clapboard and hand carved spindles and huge porches. Agriculturally, this property is also unusual. Unlike the other plantations on this list, Rosedown’s crop of choice was cotton. The original owners’ descendants decided to sell the entire property in the mid-1900s, and an avid gardener named Catherine Fondren Underwood bought it. Underwood revitalized the gardens to their former beauty using heirloom seeds and cuttings. Today, the property is preserved in a state park. Strangely, Rosedown has built in closets, something that was nearly unheard of during the early 1900s. Most people kept their clothes in wardrobes or trunks.
4) Oak Alley Plantation
One of the most iconic of the historic mansions along the River Road, Oak Alley continually tops lists of the best plantations in Louisiana–and for good reason. Also a sugar plantation on River Road, Oak Alley fell into disrepair after the Civil War and passed through many hands before Andrew and Josephine Stewart bought it in 1926. Because of their restoration efforts (the first of the major restoration projects in this area), the plantation remains in the excellent condition that it is today. After Josephine died, the entire plantation went into a trust so that the property would remain open to visitors.
As a pop culture aside, there have been SO many things filmed at Oak Alley, the most well-known of which is a portion of Interview with a Vampire. More recently, Beyonce chose this plantation to shoot both her “Deja Vue” video and photo inserts for the “B’day” album.
5) Myrtles Plantation
One of the Myrtles’ main advertising tactics is to focus on the supposed hauntings. Dating from the late 1700s, Myrtles was built by “Whisky Dave”–and you know the place is exciting just because of that guy’s name. In the mid-1800s, the house exchanged hands; these new owners put in specially etched glass with crosses in it in order to ward off the evil that was in the house. Most recently, the ghost of Chloe, a former house servant, has taken center stage with her appearance in a 1992 photograph. For those brave enough, the Myrtles Plantation also serves as bed and breakfast.
When is the Best Time of Year to Take a Plantation Tour?
It really depends on what you mean by “best”, but we’ll break it down by best weather, best prices, and least crowds. In terms of weather, you’ll find relatively warm and mild weather most of the year in Louisiana. You’ll get the best weather between the months of November and May, expect it to be warm but not too humid. June to the end of November is hurricane season, so expect rain and possible storms and rain is also common in the spring. Mosquitoes can exist in Louisiana all year, but are worse during the summer months and are generally fairly active from about March to October.
The most crowded times are around the New Orleans festivals and events, so avoid them if you are looking for smaller crowds and better hotel prices. The biggest events are the Sugar Bowl (early January), Mardi Gras (February/early March), French Quarter Fest (April), Jazz Fest (April/May), and Halloween. The months of July, August, and December tend to be the least crowded but July and August are the most humid and hot. July and August also tend to be when hotels offer their cheapest rates.
Those looking for a good balance might consider December, May, or June. During the month of December, many plantations are decorated for the Christmas holiday season.