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The past is ever present in Natchez, Mississippi. There’s history the history you see, like the majestic antebellum homes, and then there’s the invisible, yet palpable history that permeates the air like ghosts. At 301 years old, this town has stories and secrets. But just as fascinating as its past is its present and future.

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THINGS TO DO
It’s hard not to be enraptured by this southern belle of 14,000 people, that at one time had more millionaires per capita than many bigger cities. It’s a place where tradition still means something. Since 1932, for example, you can take seasonal tours of Natchez’s historic mansions. The annual Spring Pilgrimage, hosted by both the Pilgrimage Garden Club and Natchez Garden Club, features eight different tours each showcasing three homes. Whichever you choose you’re in for a treat. Be ready to be greeted by someone on the steps in a hoop skirt from the Civil War era.

The Gardens, couched between the Natchez City Cemetery and the Natchez National Cemetery at 35 Cemetery Road. The home was built in 1794 as a summer retreat for Spanish Territorial Governor Stephen Minor and has been occupied by the same family since 1881. During the Civil War, it served as a federal hospital.

Green Leaves is a peek inside a family legacy. All the original furnishings and family memorabilia is there, including a huge collection of teddy bears, dolls and antiques. With all the wedding photos and painted family portraits, you can’t help but wonder, who were these people? Built in 1838, it has been occupied by descendants of the Koontz-Beltzhoover family since 1849 and is called Green Leaves for a reason. The live oaks, magnolia and azaleas are part of the greenery that also includes a 400 year-old oak in the backyard.

Hope Farm has magnificent period furniture, lamps, vases, china and artifacts. The home was built from 1775-1789  and is famous for acrystal candle lamp in the dining room, gold-leaf mirrors and porcelain birds and and a porch that runs the entire length of the house. When you finish the tour, you’re captivated, caught up in all the stories you heard about the families, the war, and memories of all the finery, gold, crystal, silver, fine lace, elaborate canopy beds, beautiful rugs, chandeliers. The present is almost jarring.

Flickr CC: Ken Lund

For a contrast, after working your way through the history of the wealthy take the African American Heritage Tour. The Forks of the Road Slave Market is an intersection where slaves were brought from different parts of the country to be sold at market, which was the second largest in the south. It doesn’t take much to imagine the horror, especially after the tour guide lets you hold a whip and the heavy chains they wore. You won’t know what to say, and worse, what to feel. But there’s more to the African American story in Natchez. The tour recounts the stories of native author Richard Wright and of blacks who became doctors, lawyers, bankers, business owners and Congressmen.  Natchez was one of five cities to have a black mayor during the Reconstruction.

Top off the tour with a visit to the African American Museum of Culture and Heritage.

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GETTING AROUND
A good way to see the town is the double decker Hop On Hop Off Tour. The bus takes you to sites like St. Mary Basilica, the Bridge of Sighs and downtown’s shops, boutiques and restaurants. One stop worth hopping off at is the Natchez National Historical Park to see Melrose, an 1800s Greek revival-style mansion. It’s on 80 acres of lush landscape. A guided tour will give you a sense of what life was like pre-Civil War. Melrose has been the site for films like The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and Freedom Road. When you’re ready to hear some music, check out Rolling River Bistro and Biscuit & Blues. The entire month of May there is a music festival.

Melrose | Flickr CC: Michael McCarthy

WHERE TO EAT
The Natchez Bluffs and Under-the-Hill neighborhood offers both views of the Mississippi River—and hip restaurants and bars. The Camp is a favorite for its legendary burgers, array of sliders, salads and stash of Southern brews.

Don’t leave town without eating at King’s Tavern. Built in 1789, it’s the oldest standing building in Natchez. Its master mixologist creates cocktails that are the talk of the town. There’s also talk about the other spirits that haunt the Tavern. Don’t let that stop you from sampling the delicacies of owner and chef Regina Charboneau. Start with her hummus topped with sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onion, served with flatbread chips. Next, move on to a hearty potpie. You’ve never had one like this. It’s baked in a wood-fired oven. Go for chicken, crawfish or vegetable. The creamy sauce is full of mushrooms, carrots, green peas and corn topped with bacon-thyme biscuit crust and served with a small side salad. Finish your meal with house made dark chocolate ice cream with caramel sauce a touch of sea salt.

There is no shortage of great dining options in historic gardens and inns like the Castle Restaurant and Restaurant 1818, where you must, must order the mushroom toast—local mushrooms on a grilled baguette with Creole cream cheese and Madeira.

Also check out the Old South Winery, Natchez Brewery and the Charboneau Rum Distillery.

Photo courtesy of The Burn Bed and Breakfast

WHERE TO STAY
Natchez boasts a number of B&Bs in historic inns and homes like Dunleith Historic Inn, Twin Oaks Bed and Breakfast and The Burn Bed and Breakfast. GardenSong B&B is special. Owner and author Dan Gibson, an accomplished musician plays the piano while you enjoy breakfast of biscuits, grits, eggs, bacon and other goodies. The gardens are lovely, the host warm and welcoming. Like Natchez, this is what Southern hospitality means.

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Sheryl Nance-Nash

Sheryl Nance-Nash

Sheryl is a writer and editor, specializing in travel, personal finance, business and career topics. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, Money, DailyFinance.com, Forbes.com, ABCNews.com, Upscale Magazine, Essence, Black Enterprise and others.

2 thoughts on “3 perfect days in Natchez, Mississippi”

  1. Gardensong was absolutely wonderful!! Everything was perfect. Dan is a great host and so inviting to talk to. We cant wait to go back again.

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