When you live in a state known as an international destination, vacationing in your backyard is not only a great idea, it’s a must. These three fall getaways are chock full of fun, fine food, beautiful scenery and one-stop shopping.  

Just across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, 30 minutes from the busy streets of New Orleans, isan oasis surrounded by history and nature. The Blue Heron Bed & Breakfast (blueheronmandevillela.com) is a newcomer to historic Mandeville. It is walking distance from the lake, area restaurants and the Mandeville Trailhead of the Tammany Trace nature trail.

“Our guests tend to spend a lot of time outdoors,” says Sarah Chambless Federer, who owns the inn with her husband, restauranteur Steven Federer. “We’re perfectly situated between the Trace and the lake. It’s a nice, peaceful getaway.”

The couple restored the 100-year-old rustic Craftsman cottage, which has two king-sized suites with private entrances. Each suite includes an outdoor seating area and breakfast that’s stocked ahead of time with local favorites so guests may enjoy their morning meal in the room or outside.

There’s plenty of excitement to complement the peace. The Dew Drop Jazz Hall is close by and the Mandeville Trailhead offers concerts in the fall and spring.

Joseph A. Bentley wanted a world-class hotel for Alexandria so the lumber baron built The Hotel Bentley ((historicbentley.com) with its dramatic lobby, marble pillars, elegant staircase, fountain and crystal chandeliers. The Bentley in the heart of downtown was the talk of the region for years, but fell into neglect at the turn of the 21st century. Alexandria businessman Michael Jenkins purchased the property and restored the hotel, its Mirror Room lounge and restaurant, grand ballroom and meeting spaces so visitors can once again enjoy its opulence. (Enjoy a tour of Alexandria with Jenkins in Paul Stahls’ Traveler column on pg. 36.)

The Bentley has a fascinating history. Central Louisiana was the site of the Louisiana Maneuvers during World War II, where soldiers were trained for overseas action. Some of the military greats to stay at the Bentley include Major Gen. George Patton and Pres. Dwight David Eisenhower. A small museum is just off the lobby.

Entertainers John Wayne and Roy Rogers also graced the halls, and Elvis Presley serenaded guests on the veranda, said Lynn Cole Jones, the hotel’s current general manager.

Jenkins also owns Diamond Grill, a fine dining establishment in a former jewelry store, and other nearby eateries include Embers which has live music, The Sandwich Shoppe for casual dining and Tamp and Grind, an eclectic coffee shop.

Visitors love Cypress Bend Resort at Toledo Bend (cypressbend.com) for its 18-hole championship golf course and outstanding bass fishing. The full-service resort also includes a spa, hiking and walking trails, bird watching — especially for bald eagles — and a quiet spot for a romantic weekend.

The resort includes hotel rooms and suites within the main building, plus one- and two-bedroom “golf suites” in a separate facility close to the golf course. At the spa, choose from body treatments, massages and facials. The golf course is part of the Audubon Golf Trail and winds through wetlands, bayous and forests with dazzling views of the lake. There are also several dining options on the property.

Toledo Bend remains the largest man-made lake in the South and was named the No. 1 bass fishing lake in America, so fishing is a natural draw. Cypress Bend offers fishing reports at the front desk and can arrange a guided fishing experience. Visitors may also bring their own boats.

Among the resort’s hidden treasures, however, are the hiking and walking trails that travel through a lovely forest down to the lake. It’s common to view bald eagles and local and migratory birds flying over Toledo Bend and nesting in the area the first months of the new year. According to Audubon Louisiana, the state is only second to Florida in hosting eagle nests.

Plan your trip around a festival

Fall in Louisiana means festivals so visitors will be hard-pressed to find a weekend devoid of a celebration.

The Alexandria Museum of Art examines the state’s varied French heritage with “Tiercé: Artists of Louisiana Francophone Cultures.” Francis Pavy, one of the exhibit’s artists, also selected the entries for the museum’s “29th September Competition” on the third floor. Both will be available through Nov. 19. The museum also offers yoga in the gallery every Tuesday evening and concerts the third Thursdays of the month, in addition to other special events.

Two sites that give visitors a trip back in time are the Kent Plantation House with its interactive activities and special events and the Fort Randolph and Buhlow State Historic Site in Pineville. Kent House offers the annual Sugar Day the second Saturday in November and visitors to Fort Randolph may learn about Bailey’s Dam, built to help the Union fleet navigate below the Red River rapids, and travel the elevated boardwalk around the old fort used by Confederates to repel Union troops.

The area along the Sabine River, that now includes Toledo Bend, was declared a “neutral ground” at one time because of its border dispute between Spain and the United States. Celebrating this historic time is the Sabine Freestate Festival Nov. 4 to 6 in Florien. In nearby Ebarb, the fifth annual Louisiana Native American Art Festival and Veterans Pow-Wow happens Nov. 4 and 5 to kick off Native American Heritage Month.
Downtown Covington attracts around 200 exhibiting artists for its annual Three River Art Festival Nov. 12 and 13. In addition, there will be music and food for the event that raises money for St. Tammany’s arts education. Best of all, it’s free.

The Dew Drop Jazz Hall on Lamarque Street in Mandeville is considered the world’s oldest virtually-unaltered rural jazz dance hall and the fall concert season is now rocking. It continues every other Friday through Dec. 16.

Naturally, there’s plenty of holiday fun along the Louisiana Holiday Trail of Lights, a collective of central and north Louisiana towns spanning Interstates 20 and 49. The Alexandria Zoo, for instance, glows with thousands of lights during its annual Holiday Light Safari. The largest celebration occurs in Natchitoches for its famous Natchitoches Christmas. This year marks the 90th anniversary of the event that’s been labeled by Yahoo.com the “Best Holiday Light Show” behind Rockefeller Center and Disney World.