Southern Charm

By Ilona Kauremszky

VACHERIE, LA -- When the brochure described how the guest cottages of the Oak Alley Plantation are "tastefully furnished and cheerfully decorated with the fresh charm of country living," they weren't kidding.

Perched behind the levee of the winding Mississippi River and sprawling fields of southern Louisiana, five Creole cottages are neatly furnished in the familiar touches reminiscent of Grandma's.

Amidst the floral prints, vases of fresh roses and Victorian clawfoot bathtubs, there's a four-poster bed with firm double mattresses, an air conditioner, a kitchenette with fridge, toaster, microwave and the usual hair dryer, iron and ironing board. Except, noticeably absent are phones and a TV.

"We want our guests to unwind and relax," says Christy Naquin, director of sales and marketing. True to form, this home away from home provides all the southern fixings of a tropical oasis that could make any girl feel like a Scarlett O'Hara ready to swoon.

From a distance, the two-story frosted pink structure punctuated by a colonnade of 28 Doric columns resembles a giant birthday cake waiting for guests. No doubt the mile alley of 28 curly branched live oaks might give one the impression.

Surrounded by 1,100 acres of sugarcane and virgin woodlands, the antebellum mansion is a testament to the Old South's Golden Age that remains regal with the rooms furnished from pre-Civil War days. As most National Historic Landmarks in the US with a rich history, the mention of ghosts can stir up some fascinating conversation. Ditto here.

Even the web site portrays,"Shadows of Oak Alley," which describes seated figures on beds, ghostly men wearing boots and the most famous sighting they tell me of the mysterious "lady in black" who some claim enjoys a stroll through the alley of oaks. And why wouldn't she?

"The ghosts around here are quite friendly," said one guide clad in a period dress on our 45-minute tour of the mansion and added, "They like to stare out the windows and cause no one any harm."

With that in mind, we selected cabin 5B whose white exterior sent a soothing subliminal amidst the heat and humidity. Situated off a private laneway with the Grand Dame of the Mississippi across from us, we mounted the front steps leading to a quaint screened veranda and wondered if we'd have any luck spotting the friendly she-ghost.

Enroute to Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Oak Alley Plantation is located along Louisiana's Scenic Byway known as the Great River Road, a must-see road trip of the opulent neighborhood dubbed as "Millionaires Row" for the plantation houses.

Spared from the ravages of the Civil War when most stately houses were being pillaged along the Mississippi River, Oak Alley has withstood the hands of time and appears as magnificent as the day it was completed in 1839 by J.T. Roman, a French Creole sugar planter.

The story goes that the live oaks cast a spell on the southern gentleman who happened to be house hunting for his new bride when he discovered the elegance of these shady trees and knew its grandeur would surely satisfy the city tastes of his wife.

Completed in two years, the elegant Greek revival style home became the envy to all. Sightseers sailing up the Mississippi fluttered at the sight of "Bon Sejour," or "Good Holiday" as Mrs. Roman, called it.

But, to really do justice, one has to walk beneath the canopy of ancient twisted branches, gazing skywards to view the 300 year-old trees that have withstood hurricanes, floods and epidemics.

Road trippers from bustling N'awlins arrive for a gentle respite and a generous sip of mint julep. Others slate this stop as part of the River Road journey, overnighting in one of the cottages, and then starting off the morning with a big southern breakfast of eggs, bacon, grits and coffee. It's perfect cuisine for the stops to nearby Laura Plantation, the San Fransisco House and Nottoway, the largest house in the south.

If these trees could talk.


photos: Stephen Smith

If You Go:

$105US-$135US per night includes breakfast
Oak Alley Plantation & Inn is located at 3645 Highway 18 in Vacherie, Lousiana
For more information: call 1.800.442.5539 or www.oakalleyplantation.com

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