About 2,000 prosperous plantations once stretched out along what is now Louisiana’s winding River Road Drive, which follows the Mississippi River for approximately 45 miles from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. Most are now gone, perhaps 100 remain, and of those only 20 are open to the public. If traveling by car, visit just a couple a day, more than that can be overwhelming. Alternatively, organized day tours from New Orleans allow visitors to leave the logistics to someone else. Here are six Mississippi River plantations worth checking out now:
Destrehan Plantation: Destrehan, LA
Started as an indigo plantation in 1787, this fully restored property became the area’s largest sugar plantation in 1804. It is the oldest documented plantation in the lower Mississippi. A short video orients visitors for the one-hour guided tour of the Big House, a simple country home built as a French Colonial in 1790s and then later remodeled into Greek Revival. Costumed guides refer to themselves as “interpreters of history” and focus on storytelling, so you’ll learn about the French family who once lived here as well as about Marguerite, a cook and laundress slave born in 1740. Afterward, explore on your own. Period craft demonstrations occur daily.
Evergreen Plantation: Edgard, LA
One of the largest and most intact plantation complexes in the South, this working sugarcane plantation includes 37 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Among them are 22 rare slave cabins in their original double-row configuration. A highlight is strolling beneath an allée of 100- to 200-year-old live oaks. Originally French Creole style, then remodeled to Greek Revival, the main house is still a private residence. It was prominently featured in the 2012 movie “Django Unchained,” and is also seen in the 2016 TV version of “Roots.”
Houmas House Plantation and Gardens: Darrow, LA
This exquisite property was once a sugar cane farm. It is hard to believe it began as a three-room cottage, because now it consists of a lovely mansion plus many outbuildings set amidst 40 acres of magnificent gardens. Tour guides don era clothing and tell terrific tales. You’ll see a gold clock that once belonged to Marie Antoinette and then Napoleon, plus the room where Bette Davis slept while she filmed “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte” here. Dinner in the splendid Carriage House, where the food matches the surroundings, is a must as is a drink in the adjacent Turtle Bar. New luxury cottages permit spending the night.
Laura Plantation: Vacherie, LA
Tour guides here know their history, and they share it with compelling accounts of the austere Creoles who lived on this sugarcane farm. The property has the largest collection of family artifacts original to a Louisiana plantation. Twelve buildings are on the National Register, and many are raised off the ground on square brick pillars, 19th-century Creole-style. Palm trees and a banana forest give the grounds a tropical feel. Do duckin next door at B&C Seafood for lunch. It’s an easy stroll from the plantation and it provides some of the area’s best Cajun and Creole seafood.
Oak Alley Plantation: Vacherie, LA
Accessed via the river road through a dramatic and oft-filmed alley of 300-year-old oak trees, this exceptional property has been the location for many movies, including “The Long Hot Summer,” “Interview with the Vampire” and “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” not to mention Beyonce’s “Déjà Vu” music video. The guided house tour introduces the family who built the plantation, while a self-guided tour outside spreads through six slave cabin reproductions and tells the story of those who were enslaved here. A particularly tasty breakfast and superb beignets are on the menu in a 19th-century cottage cafe, and on the outskirts of the property both new and century-old cottages are available for the night.
Whitney Plantation: Wallace, LA
The focus here is on the lives of the plantation’s slaves in the 1830s, with the story told through their eyes. The mostly outdoors tour begins at a memorial site where the names of slaves are etched into shiny granite walls. Visitors see the last surviving example of a French Creole barn and the oldest detached kitchen in Louisiana. The Big House is considered the earliest and best-preserved raised Creole cottage in Louisiana and is furnished with era pieces, but it is in great need of repairs and access is poor. Intriguing child sculptures by Woodrow Nash dot the property, representing slaves who were freed.