A photographer friend of mine from up North stopped down for a visit and he wanted to explore some Southern plantation homes…so we hopped in the car, hugged the Mississippi River, and made the short drive over to the Oak Alley Plantation (about an hour’s drive from Baton Rouge).
It was well worth the trip. As we approached we were greeted with a view of a quarter-mile avenue of gigantic 300-year-old live oak trees that lead down to the classic Greek revival antebellum plantation home.
We opted for the house tour (about $20 bucks for 30 minutes). The tour guide was fantastic, dressed in period costume and full of energy, enthusiasm, and quite witty. The subject matter was focused mainly on the families who lived there rather than the general plantation-area history itself (e.g. the slave workers that made it successful), but it was still quite informative and very enjoyable. The view from the balcony overlooking the live oaks was breathtaking, and that in of itself was worth the price of admission.
After the tour you are welcome to tour the grounds for as long as you like. The property is meticulously cared for and is very serene and peaceful…I could have stayed for hours. You really can’t appreciate how magnificent those giant oaks are until you are completely surrounded by them. I’ve never felt so small! And BTW, they start serving mint juleps at 10am.
POP Culture Alert: I’m a fan of Ann Rice’s book “Interview with a Vampire” and it turns out that the film (starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt ) featured Oak Alley as Louis’ home. That’s kinda cool, eh?
Oak Alley Plantation
3645 Highway 18 (Great River Road)
Vacherie, Louisiana 70090
Phone: (225) 265-2151
Note: Special thanks to T.C. Pellet for the great photos.
My parents made their first trip down to Baton Rouge to visit so I created a list of places that I hadn’t yet had the chance to see so we could check them out as a family. Quality time with the “rents”!
At the top of my list was the Tabasco Pepper Sauce factory located on Avery Island. Avery Island is about an hour and a half drive West of Baton Rouge, and in addition to being the location of the original factory, it’s also home to the McIlhenny family’s Jungle Gardens and Bird City.
Tabasco sauce was first produced in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny (from pepper pods obtained after the Civil War), and the name is still found bottles of pepper sauce to this very day. While the seeds are still grown on Avery Island for quality assurance, most of the peppers are now grown in Central and South America, and true to company tradition, they are still handpicked. Each worker is supplied with a little red stick (le petit bâton rouge) and peppers are compared to the color of the stick to determine ripeness. The sauce recipe is so unique, it was actually awarded a patent. The aging barrels are actually old white oak barrels previously used to age Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey! If you want to see the factory in action, you have to visit during the weekday…we went on a Saturday and were disappointed that it wasn’t running.
How do I know all this? Because the factory gives free tours all day. Just show up any time Monday-Sunday 9am-4pm for an educational tour of the plant (tours are conducted every 1/2 hour, so no need for a reservation).
Of course, at the end of the tour you are directed to the “Tabasco Country Store” gift shop. I have to admit, though, they have a lot of cool stuff and they have free samples of all of their sauces, including Tabasco-flavor-infused ice creams (no lie, they taste great.). I “picked” up a string of pepper lights for my patio! I love to stir-fry, so I picked up a bottle of Tabasco’s new “Sweet and Spicy” East Asian Style Chile Sauce. It’s a little sweet with a little heat.
E.A. McIlhenny, son of Tabasco sauce inventor Edmund McIlhenny was known as a naturalist and explorer and cultivated the 200 acres of gardens surrounding the plant. Ten’s of thousands of birds inhabit the little island and there are even a few alligators wandering around (and without fences, as seen in the photo below. I was literally 4 feet from this gator when I snapped the photo with nothing keeping him from snapping my leg off!).
I was totally surprised when I turned the corner and saw this beautiful Buddhist Shrine. It was like I was on a mountain top in Tibet! The centuries-old Buddha was created for the Shonfa Temple in Peking by the order of Emperor Hui-Tsung between 1101 and 1125. The Shonfa Temple was looted and the Buddha was stolen and sent to New York to be sold. Two friends of E.A. McIlhenny saw it and purchased it as a gift for him in 1937.