With its waterfront locale and graceful plantations nearby, Natchitoches’ beauty comes as no surprise but its well-scrubbed appearance does. Old tends to look worn, yet charming. Over 300 years old generally looks ever more so despite its pedigree, but not Natchitoches, the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase. If only we could all age so flawlessly. The city retains much of its historic European-style architecture, the facades of its primarily two-story structures generously laced with wrought iron, stucco and red brick. Front Street, the historic district’s main thoroughfare, is still paved in its original, painstakingly restored brick.
Natchitoches’ calendar is well-stocked with interesting things to do and see throughout the year but the Holiday Festival of Lights is the greatest attraction. The small city sees 300,000 twinkling lights and 100 lighted holiday sculptures brightening the banks of Cane River Lake and downtown. The Natchitoches Christmas Festival — ranked by Yahoo! Travel as the nation’s “Best Holiday Light Show” right behind Rockefeller Center and Disneyland — kicks off its 92nd year the weekend after Thanksgiving when the town’s population will swell by100,000 to witness the lighting and the accompanying fireworks display over the water. By the time the lights go out on Jan. 6, 500,000 people will have enjoyed the town’s charms including carriage tours through the Historic District, the Northwestern State University Christmas Gala, and the Christmas Tour of Homes.
If attending the holiday light celebration you can enjoy snacks from stalls set up to feed the masses — think grilled gator on a stick, gumbo from a Styro cup and savory Natchitoches meat pies — or you can make a reservation at Maglieaux’s Riverfront Restaurant and retreat for a more memorable dining experience while observing the fireworks through picture windows and sipping champagne from a plush chair.
The menu at Maglieaux’s is an amalgamation of the owners’ Italian and Louisianian heritage roots. Some of the Italian recipes have been handed down through Kathy Magliolo’s family for generations and others date back to the Roman Empire. The Spicy Pecan Shrimp are a holiday season-worthy starter combining plump fried shrimp tossed in a bracing horseradish aioli and finished with spicy-sweet praline pecans. The Italian Nachos are over-the-top in the ridiculous (and delicious) way such things tend to be and they are definitely to be shared, unless of course, you are singularly capable of putting down a pile of fried lasagna noodles topped with Bolognese sauce, black olives, creamy Alfredo sauce, and melted Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses before you even encounter the entrees. The Seafood Cannelloni is wickedly good. Tender tubes of house-made cannelloni are stuffed with a blend of crab, spinach and ricotta then topped with a creamy garlic, Parmesan and crawfish sauce. A bit more reserved but still utterly delicious, pork medallions are glazed with a raspberry chipotle sauce, roasted, and served with roasted garlic and rosemary potatoes.
With 64 unique, small-inns and bed and breakfast establishments, Natchitoches is recognized as the Bed & Breakfast Capital of Louisiana. A particular favorite is Andre’s Riverview Guesthouse. Local artist and historian, Irma Sompayrac-Willard, designed the guesthouse in the 1950s in the simple architecture of her ancestral home in a village in southwestern France. The three-story cottage on the east bank of the Cane River is in the Historic District directly across from the riverfont stage and within easy walking distance of restaurants, chic shops and galleries selling elegant, sporty and whimsical clothing, culinary implements, antique and contemporary furnishings, musical instruments, and art in all mediums. There is also a beautiful view of the river and Front Street — and the holiday Festival of Lights.
Andre’s Riverview Guesthouse612 Williams Ave.
Maglieux’s Riverfront Restaurant805 Washington St.