A Staycation guide for Louisianians

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Heart of Louisiana

Central Louisiana, which borders both Texas and Mississippi, combines Southern charm with aspects of the Old West. With its rolling hills and piney woods, the area offers many opportunities for outdoor relaxation. Its charming cities and towns, such as Natchitoches, Alexandria, Pineville, Leesville, Ferriday and Vidalia, are popular places to shop, dine and learn about the region’s history.

Visitor attractions in Central Louisiana are wide-ranging. Some provide a look at the area’s bygone days; at Frogmore Cotton Plantation & Gins, for example, you can tour both a working plantation of the early 1800s and a modern cotton plantation and gin. Particular attention is paid to the lives of the slaves who once provided the labor that made the plantation successful.

Just down the road from Frogmore in Ferriday is the Delta Music Museum, which spotlights the rock ’n’ roll and blues musicians from the Delta. Learn more about Mickey Gilley; Jerry Lee Lewis; and Louisiana’s “singing governor,” Jimmie Davis, remembered for his big hit, “You Are My Sunshine.”

Our state’s military past is remembered in the Louisiana Maneuvers & Military Museum in Pineville and the Fort Polk Military Museum. The Arna Bontemps African American Museum in Alexandria highlights the life of the Harlem Renaissance writer.

Melrose Plantation, about 15 miles south of Natchitoches, is unique in that it was built by and for free blacks. The famed primitive painter, Clementine Hunter, lived and worked at Melrose, and today it holds a major arts and craft festival. Kent Plantation House in Alexandria, built in 1796, is also an interesting destination. In addition to the main house, you can see slave cabins, a sugar mill, the milk house and the open-hearth kitchens.

Few states can match Louisiana’s colorful politics; learn the story at the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield. Gov. Huey P. Long Jr., Oscar K. “O.K.” Allen and Earl K. Long were born in Winnfield.

Other stops include the Alexandria Museum of Art, the Old Courthouse Museum in Natchitoches and the Museum of West Louisiana in Leesville. At the Tunica-Biloxi Regional Indian Center & Museum in Marksville, learn about the history of the Tunica and Biloxi Indian tribes. You can see ancient Indian burial mounds at the Marksville State Historical Site.

The lovely town of Natchitoches, the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase territory, is a history lesson in itself. Its 33-block downtown Historic Landmark District fronts the Cane River and contains places to shop and dine, as well as some bed-and-breakfast inns. At Christmastime, the town is brilliantly illuminated during its Festival of Lights and Christmas Festival. Be sure to check out the activities on tap at Northwestern State University.

If your staycation includes the family, you’ll find enough to do in Central Louisiana to keep the younger crowd busy. Alexandria’s T.R.E.E. House Children’s Museum and the town’s zoo are two such stops.

Youngsters will also enjoy the many outdoor activities in the region. Kisatchie National Forest, more than 600,000 acres, is Louisiana’s only national forest. It’s a great place to fish; hunt; hike; and go boating, swimming and camping. Toledo Bend Reservoir is one of the nation’s top fishing spots, and you can also picnic and camp there. At North Toledo Bend State Park, near Zwolle, amenities include swimming pools, a boat launch and cabins.

Hodges Gardens State Park in Florien is a serene getaway with formal rose gardens, colorful azaleas, nature trails, waterfalls, fountains and cabins. Here you may glimpse deer, otters, geese, ducks and other wildlife; canoeing and kayaking are also permitted.
If golf is on your list, the OakWing Golf Club is just minutes from the Alexandria/Pineville area. One of the state’s Audubon Golf Trail courses, OakWing is ornamented with lakes, bayous and tall trees.

All that outdoor exercise will make you hungry, and Central Louisiana can meet that need, too. Natchitoches is famous for its meat pies, and Lasyone’s Meat Pie Restaurant is one of the local favorite places to get one. Try the crispy fish at Paradise Catfish Kitchen in Pineville or Tunk’s Cypress Inn in Boyce, noted for its alligator, crawfish and oyster dishes, as well as steaks.

There’s always something good to eat at the area’s festivals, too. The Louisiana Pecan Festival in Colfax pays homage to the tasty nut with pies and pralines, and the Cochon de Lait Festival in Mansura is the place to try suckling pig plus many other Cajun treats. If you like to wager a bit, you’ll enjoy the Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville, with its cinema, spa and restaurants.

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