Natchitoches (NACK-ih-tish) may be the oldest permanent settlement in Louisiana Territory, but that doesn’t preclude it from the right to a few surprises. Behind every staid Southern standard, there’s a little Natchitoches mischief; here are a few of our favorites:
- Take a Walk Downtown Natchitoches once marked the boundary where Spanish and French territory collided, and its stunning downtown is a reflection of the best of both culture’s architectural style (photo courtesy of Natchitoches Convention and Visitors Bureau)
The South is full of quaint little downtowns, but you’d be hard pressed to find one with as much charm built in as Natchitoches. From the tops of the centuries-old oaks and magnolias that line the street to the sun-dappled shade they cast on the brick pavers below, downtown Natchitoches oozes charm, and—with thirty-three blocks of shops and restaurants that curl leisurely along the Cane River Lake—will satisfy the perambulatory predilections of even the most discriminating visitor.
- Then See It TransformedEvery year, thousands of lights bring downtown Natchitoches to life
If you’re lucky enough to be in central Louisiana around Christmastime, be sure to swing by Natchitoches of an evening and see one of the South’s most beautiful downtowns transformed into something, well, beautiful-er. Every year (for almost a hundred years), the people of Natchitoches have celebrated the arrival of the holiday season with a brilliant display of over 300,000 lights, 100 seasonal displays, and innumerable buckets of Christmas charm.
- Taste Louisiana’s State Food Much like a Spanish empanada, the Natchitoches Meat Pie is a hot and savory blend of ground meats and seasonings (photo courtesy of Kimberly Vardeman)
Well, one of them—and the only one to bear the name of its originator. Alongside beignets and sweet potatoes on the list of Louisiana’s state foods, you’ll find Natchitoches Meat Pie. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of its name; what it lacks in appellative creativity, it more than makes up for with taste. A savory blend of ground beef, pork, onion, peppers, and garlic, all wrapped up in a flaky pastry shell, sealed into a crescent, and deep fried, the Natchitoches Meat Pie is served up hot by street vendors, restaurants, and family kitchens across the city year round.
- Then Try the Other White Meat Prime Gator: At Bayou Pierre Alligator Park, you can watch ’em eat and then eat the meat
In the mood for something a little different? Make your way down to the Bayou Pierre Alligator Park, where visitors come for the toothy grins, but stay for the bon temps. Outside of the five acres of gator pools and pits, there’s cajun music, cajun dancing, and—of course—cajun food, including the Bayou’s famous Gator Bites, which (don’t tell the gators) are said to taste just like pork.
- Visit Authentic PlantationsIn the late 1800’s, Melrose Plantation was used as a haven for artists, including famed folk artist Clementine Hunter
Follow the curl of the Cane River lake through downtown and into the heart of plantation country. The Cane River National Heritage Area is home to the most sites on the National Register of Places west of the Mississippi, and offers three distinct plantations for visitors to explore: Oakland, Magnolia, and Melrose. Spend the afternoon meandering through preserved blacksmith shops, gin barns, and plantation stores or pay homage to one of the South’s favorite folk artists, former field-hand Clementine Hunter.
- Then Get a Little Hollywood With its old-time charm and Southern grace, Natchitoches proved to be the perfect background for the movie Steel Magnolias
No Southern gal’s upbringing is complete without a little wisdom from Truvy, M’Lynn, and Ouiser, which means that no Southern woman should pass up the chance to see where their magic happened. Visitors to Natchitoches can pick up a map and visit up to seventeen sites—beauty shops, churches, and homes—that made an appearance in the 1989 film Steel Magnolias and, if they’re lucky, load up on a little local wisdom along the way.