Last month, a friend and I met in New Orleans for our annual spring weekend in the Big Easy. On the first full day of our trip, we decided to visit some of the antebellum plantations west of New Orleans along the Mississippi River. Due to a late start, this become plantation, singular. Based on some travel brochures I had picked up, we opted for Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, about an hour west of the city.
We had expected a scenic drive along the Mississippi River. Be advised if you drive to Oak Alley from New Orleans, the river road is anything but scenic. Thanks to a 40-foot levee, there are no views of the river from the road, and you pass through lots of empty and not particularly scenic countryside. Several industrial facilities such as oil terminals and fertilizer plants break up the drive. However, the scenery upon arriving at the plantation made up for the uninspiring drive.
Oak Alley is the antebellum plantation you have seen in pictures. The stately, southern plantation mansion is fronted by a huge alley of giant Virginia live oaks that flank the approach to the house. Admission is a bit pricey at $20 for an adult, but AAA members receive a 20% discount. Included in admission is full access to the grounds as well as a guided tour of the mansion. As the next tour was about to start, we headed straight to the house.
Our tour guide was a history major at nearby Nicholls State University in Thibodeaux. (Unfortunately, I do not remember her name.) She was very passionate and knowledgable about the house's past. She gave an overview of the history of Oak Alley as well as interesting background and period context for each of the rooms and many of their contents that we saw on the tour. The interior of the mansion is much smaller than one would think based on its outside appearance. What a view from the second floor porch looking down those rows of trees all the way to the Mississippi! Sadly, due to the levee, you can't see the river today. Despite the size of the group - the staff controls the number of people in each group - our guide was accessible and willing to answer questions from guests. The tour lasted approximately 45 minutes and afterwards we were free to wander the grounds.
Of course we went to check out the majestic oaks. They were as impressive up close as they were from a distance. Behind the house there are slave quarters and beyond that is a cluster of buildings with a gift shop and a sit-down restaurant where we had lunch. The menu included several classic Cajun/Creole dishes. (No pictures since the battery in my phone died.) While the service was a little lacking - perhaps we just had a rather unfriendly waitress - the food was really good. They offered a tempting array of desserts but I restrained myself.
Overall, I enjoyed our visit to Oak Alley Plantation. I was glad that we spent the better part of the day out of the city and exploring an area that was new to us. If you plan your day better than we did, there are other plantations in the area, so you could easily hit a few in a single day's trip. Rural Louisiana is very different from New Orleans and it is definitely worth experiencing.