I’ve always dreamed that at some point in my life I’d earn enough to purchase my own plantation. I’ve grown up in an area where these majestic homes have intrigued residents and visitors with the stories of the families who lived and died in these white mansions. Some of the stories are about history while other stories have an air of sadness, be it the infant who died of a fever or the slave mother who had her children torn away from her bosom. A few are even haunted or sit as an abandoned shell.
One such soul who had the means to purchase his dream plantation is Louisiana renaissance man, Kevin Kelly. He took an old sugar palace and restored her to the crowning glory that is Houmas House Plantation and Gardens. I’ve been lucky enough to be the recipient of Mr. Kelly’s hospitality many times over and each time we visit I learn a little bit more about his passion for Louisiana and the hopes he has for the restoration of tourism to the area.
A few months ago, when a dear friend, Leigh Caldwell, came for a visit to Baton Rouge, I wanted to show her the beauty of the place where I live. Of course, we had to make a stop at Houmas House Plantation and Gardens for a tour and an unexpected lunch with Mr. Kelly. Then, just yesterday a visitor from Chicago mentioned that he wanted to see a plantation on his drive from Lake Charles to New Orleans, but only had time for one home. The first place that came to mind if anyone had to choose just one Louisiana plantation tour is Houmas House.
I thought I’d share with you what makes a tour of Houmas House Plantation and Gardens feel special for me so that you can do the same. Be sure to watch the film in the gift shop before stepping out into the gardens.
The Gardens: All visitors go through the entrance which is located in the gift shop. Make sure you allow yourself enough time to mosey (not walk) through the flower-lined paths and around the pond. There is even a secret garden that meanders off the paved walkway. It is shaded and mysterious, making you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. As you reach the paved walkway again, be sure to take a few moments to behold the home from a distance. This is a fantastic photo spot and is also the site of many outdoor weddings on the grounds. Before you reach the other side of the house, take a stop at The Turtle Bar.
The Turtle Bar: I always start the rest of my tour with a mimosa from The Turtle Bar. Don’t worry if you don’t feel like imbibing in libations, you should step inside for a look anyway. The Turtle Bar is in a garconniere, which is where young single men were housed. It wasn’t proper to have single men and women sleeping in the same building during that era. This is also one of the few remaining (of not only one) still standing. Feel free to look around at the turtle shells hanging along the walls and even the stained glass windows hanging above the back door. Be sure to ask the bartender about the stained glass. Browse around until you hear the bell ring, then you know it’s time for your tour to begin.
The House: I love this tour because each time I go back I notice something different. There are no ropes blocking you from a room, nor signs telling you to stay off a priceless antique (but still have a care and respect the items). Mr. Kelly mentioned in one of our many conversations that when he was a little boy he hated taking tours of homes with rooms blocked off. It was then that he vowed to have a plantation where everything was accessible. Pictures can be taken downstairs but you can’t take any upstairs. Mr. Kelly actually lives in the home. Plus, there are some strangely cool items that just can’t be photographed – such as the vampire hunter kit. Don’t even try to take a picture of it because trust me, it won’t turn out.
The Food: After a tour, you’ll be hungry and there aren’t really too many places to choose from along the River Road. Also, you’d be silly to miss lunch at Cafe Burnside at Houmas House. My favorite dish is the crawfish pumpkin curry bisque. The Chef is one of the secrets of this place. His recipes are truly tempting and are tops on my list of best meals I’ve ever eaten. Did I mention he makes a mean risotto at Latil’s Landing, the fine dining restaurant? Plus, the wine cellar (ahem, garconierre) is to die for and has an extensive collection of bottles from all over the world. Be sure to call and make sure the restaurant is open and make reservations if dining in the evening.
As you can tell, I really enjoy Houmas House Plantation and Gardens and feel confident that should you find yourself in the area, you won’t be disappointed by visiting this property. A tour runs $20US and is well worth the price of admission. Now that the flowers are in bloom, I just may find myself driving back out there for another tour. I know I won’t be alone, though, as during a recent lunch with Mr. Kelly, numerous visitors came up to him telling them that they were visiting for a second time.
Staying near the French Quarter and don’t have your own transportation for this Louisiana planation tour? Old South Tours offers a package that includes a visit to Houmas House.
Previously published on Traveling Mamas.