When I think of “The South” I think of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. I often forget that Louisiana is part of the South as well and has a rich history that is partially made up of great families, great plantations and the dark stain of slavery. I have never been to a plantation before, unless of course you consider watching Gone With The Wind about a dozen times visiting a plantation. Touring a plantation is high on my bucket list so when I find out that the route from New Orleans to Baton Rouge has ten plantations along it I schedule a stop at the Grande Dame of Louisiana plantations. It is called Oak Alley Plantation and in my opinion it is the jewel in the New Orleans Plantation Country crown.
You have a few options on how you can visit Oak Alley Plantation. If you never plan on leaving New Orleans or of renting a car, there are plenty of bus tours that will bring you here. The cost is pretty reasonable, and you leave all the driving up to someone else. For me, I’m driving through to Baton Rouge, so it is no big deal to drive from New Orleans to Oak Alley. It takes me about one hour to get to Oak Alley from New Orleans. It is located West of the town of Vacherie, Louisiana at 3645 Highway 18 (Great River Road).
When I arrive the first thing I see is an alley leading up to the Big House of 300+-year-old Live Oaks, I’m driving so all I can do is drop my jaw in wonder. I’ve seen the picture, but I honestly think I am shocked to see reality matches the plantation fantasy that is in my head. I pull into the parking lot and make my way over to the Visitors Center to register for a tour.
Where to start? I’m doing more than just touring Oak Alley Plantation; I’m spending the night here in one of their overnight cottages, so the first thing I decide to do is check into my cottage. Once I’ve done that I can then decide at my own pace how I want to explore the plantation. I’m staying in what is known as the Doctor’s Cottage. Back in the day when this was a working plantation this was where the Doctor would stay when he came to treat the slaves and the Family that owned Oak Alley. Horse and buggy while reliable wasn’t the fastest means of transportation.
The Doctor’s Cottage isn’t normally rented out, but since the other cabins are already occupied they made an exception for me. I’m assured that the interiors and experience of this cottage to the regular ones is very similar. There is a living room with an eat-in kitchen, complete with fridge, stove and a microwave. The master bedroom has that old world charm but a 21st-century Tempurpedic mattress. Last but not least the bathroom is big enough for three people to be in at the same time. It includes a jacuzzi tub that could easily hold your entire family.
Now that I’m all settled it is time to explore the plantation. Far back behind the Big House I find a row of buildings that include a restaurant, gift shop and a mini bar they call Oak Alley Spirits. Here you can order a Mint Julep to enjoy around the plantation.
When I see the restaurant, I realize how hungry I am so before I really start to explore I pop in for a quick bite to eat. The Chef’s Special looks tasty, so that is what I order. It’s golden fried Eggplant medallions topped with Crawfish Etouffee, served with a side salad, vegetables, and a dinner roll. I’m in the South, so I order a Mint Julep to go with it. Now if only I were sipping the Julep on a porch while on a swing.
Now I am ready to explore Oak Alley Plantation. Before I take the guided tour of the Big House, I walk around the property checking out the authentic recreated Slave Quarters. Since the slave quarters were built from wood and with the flooding and high humidity, it is no surprise the original building no longer exist. Oak Alley has reconstructed eight Slave Quarter buildings and has made sure that they are as accurate and real as possible. You can enter two of the buildings, but the rest are set up for you to peer inside. It is very disturbing to see how the people who worked in the fields lived. 12+ hours a day of hard labour and all you get to live I with your entire family is a 10×10 single room with no privacy. You cook, eat and sleep all in the same space.
The most impactful piece of the exhibit was a wall of names. This wall of names represents the 198 men, women, and children that were enslaved at Oak Alley between 1836 and the Civil War. These are the people that built Oak Alley and for many of them this is the only part of their story we may ever know. If you only see one part of the Slavery at Oak Alley, this is it. Pay your respect.
The bell is chiming; it is time for a guided tour of the Big House. The tour runs every 30 minutes on the hour and half hour so you will not miss one if you are out exploring the rest of the property. It is a tour filled with the history of Oak Alley, slavery and of Louisiana. The guides are dressed in period attire and share stories of the various families that have owned the plantation over the years. The stories even include the previous owner who restored the plantation to its former glory and created the Trust Foundation that operates it today.
It is quite something to see how the wealthy lived over 100 years ago. The real star attraction though is the veranda that wraps around the entire 2nd floor of the home. With the heat and humidity in Louisiana and no air conditioning back then this is where the family and their guests would spend their time. The views are spectacular and include the formal gardens that are a 20th-century addition plus the original WOW factor at Oak Alley, the Avenue of Live Oaks.
There is lots more to see inside the house, but I don’t want to give away all the secrets. One of the things I enjoyed about being at Oak Alley Plantation is that you can just “be”. You can walk around the property and explore at your leisure. There are plenty of other attractions to see like a Blacksmith shop and a sugarcane theater where you can learn about the crops that plantations were built on and how they were processed on site. My favourite thing to do was just to hang out under the Live Oaks. They are over 300 years old and will live to up to 600 years if they aren’t destroyed by man or lightning. You can not take a bad picture here, and here is the proof.
There are many reasons to visit Oak Alley Plantation and I can’t guess you which one will interest you, but for me it was the snapshot of another time and place that is so beautifully preserved that attracts me. Best of all the Trust Foundation that operates Oak Alley takes their mission very seriously and isn’t about tricks or gimmicks, they want you to experience the authentic Oak Alley as it was made by the wealthy and the slaves.
Please visit Oak Alley the next time you are in Louisiana. Stay overnight or just come for the day, it will be one of the highlights of your adventure I guarantee it.
There is something magical about plantations. The vast divide between slave and owner, wealthy and poor and you can see all of that at Oak Alley Plantation without tricks or gimmicks. If you can book a night in one of the cottages and stay on the plantation and truly relax in Southern style.
Value for $10
Would I go back?10