No trip to New Orleans is complete without visiting one (or more) of the historic Louisiana Plantations. While there are many to choose from, Houmas House Plantation and Gardens should be at the top of your list. Houmas House offers the ultimate Louisiana plantation experience, whether you are visiting for the day, or choosing to stay a while in their amazing cottages, Houmas House delivers! As one of the top plantations in Louisiana, Houmas House offers guests a glimpse inside a gorgeous Greek Revival plantation home that is surrounded by 38 lush acres of gardens and is home to acclaimed restaurants, Lantil’s Landing and the Carriage House.
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Getting to the Louisiana Plantations
You will find that many of the Louisiana plantations are located just outside of New Orleans on the historic River Road. This stretch of road, spanning 70 miles between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is famous for splendid pillared homes and shady old oak trees. Mark Twain wrote about this area saying, “From Baton Rouge to New Orleans, the great sugar plantations border both sides of the river all the way…”
Obviously, things have changed since Twain’s days. Today, this stretch of road has succumbed to time. The gorgeously restored plantations are surrounded by industrial plants and necessary 20-foot dikes now block the view of the mighty Mississippi River. Nonetheless, the New Orleans Plantations are well worth a visit, I mean Hollywood shoots movies here for a reason.
Of course, if you have your own car, or want to rent a car, then you can easily drive the River Road and design your own tour. Keep in mind that Houmas House is farther away from New Orleans than some of the other New Orleans plantations, but it is worth the extra drive, trust us!
If you don’t want to mess with driving, then by all means, book this New Orleans Plantation Tour. Just think, letting a tour guide drive you means you can have more mint juleps!
History of Houmas House
Like most Louisiana Plantations, Houmas House has quite a history. I don’t want to ruin the tour for you, so I’ll just give you a few of the highlights.
- The land was acquired in trade from the Houmas Indians
- The plantation once contained 35 frontage acres on the Mississippi River and over 12,000 acres of farmable land, making it the biggest plantation in this area
- The original house, the French House, was modest in comparison to the house you see today
- In 1829, General Wade Hampton expanded the house making it what it is today so it would be suitable for his wife
- Nicknamed the ‘Sugar Palace’
- Once the largest sugar cane producer in the country, producing over 20 million pounds a year during its peak in the 1830s
- Sold to General Burnside in 1858
- In 1890 the mansion and the French House were connected
- House underwent extensive remodeling in the hands of the various owners
- The current owner, Mr. Kevin Kelly, acquired the house is 2003 at an auction
- Mr. Kelly set out to recapture the opulence of the home restoring it to its splendor while adding the restaurant, inn, and gardens
Touring Houmas House
Upon arriving at Houmas House, find your way into the massive 8,000 square foot gift shop. This is where you will purchase tickets for your tour or better yet, check in for your stay at the inn! Houmas House offers a one hour guided tour of the mansion that costs $24/person. Tours are offered from 9:30 am until 7:00 pm. Don’t worry about timing your arrival perfectly, if you have time before your tour begins, you can roam the lovely gardens, have a drink or lunch at one of the restaurants or bars on sight, or shop the gift shop. I couldn’t resist a pair of sterling silver fleur de leis earrings and of course, a praline while I was browsing the gift shop!
Your tour will begin by the large bell located outside of the Turtle Bar. Your tour guides dress in period costume, so they are easy to find. Just listen for them to ring the large bell signaling that the tour is beginning.
The tour begins outside, and immediately you will notice that the Houmas House is different than most plantation homes in Louisiana. Take note of the red portion of the house, this was the original house built by Latil in the mid-1700’s. The main house is a beautiful Greek Revival style mansion with grand columns, broad double galleries, and the crowning jewel of the house, the fully restored Belvedere. While on the exterior of the house, take note of the twin garcionierre houses on either side of the main house. Their hexagon shape is unique and gives a fun vibe to the exterior perspective of the mansion.
Upon entering the main house, you will be awestruck seeing the incredible mural in the central hallway that Mr. Kelly commissioned from his head gardener. As you continue moving throughout the house, take note of the vast collection of antiques that surround you. I couldn’t help but admire all of the gorgeous artwork from not only local Louisiana artists but noteworthy European and American artists as well.
Several items got my attention, including a silver statue of Lincoln (be sure and ask your guide how Mr. Kelly acquired this piece) and a gorgeous French mantle clock that is said to have been traced back to Napoleon and Marie Antoinette. Marty especially loved the vampire slaying kit given to Mr. Kelly from Anne Rice, while I couldn’t get enough of this lovely dragonfly side table and the huge silver tea set. While in the dining room, take special note of the china, made especially for Houmas House in the 1830s. If you dine at one of the restaurants you just might see this china again.
Bette Davis fans will swoon over the Bette Davis room. The actress stayed here, and slept in that very bed, during the filming of Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte in 1963. Around the room, fans can see several black and white photographs from the shooting of the movie, and a glass case containing mementos from the filming.
The free-standing, three-story helix staircase is breathtaking. Hearing how the banister (which is original to the home) was painstakingly curved was fascinating to me. Once upstairs, step out onto the gallery and just imagine the view of the river before the dam was constructed. Breathtaking, I’m sure, I mean it’s gorgeous even now! During our visit, the Mississippi was rather high, only 1 foot below the dam, so we could easily see the boats cruising along the river.
After your tour of the mansion, be sure and take a self-guided tour of the gardens. Houmas House contains 38 lush acres of gorgeous gardens that change with the season. Around every turn, you will find quiet little sitting areas surrounded by beautiful foliage, water features, and fun sculptures. We were lucky enough to visit in the spring when the gardens were coming to life. The beautiful and fragrant azaleas were blooming and the koi were swimming gracefully around the koi ponds.
I loved visiting the Neptune garden and the Spring Tea garden. Everything was so beautiful and immaculately manicured. Of course, you can’t miss the oak alley leading up to the front of the house. Before the dams were put in, this oak alley contained 24 towering oak trees. When the dam was constructed, it pushed the road back toward the home, resulting in all but 8 of the oak trees being removed. These are actually the “baby” oak trees of the property. The large tree to the left of the pond, the Burnside oak, is said to be about 500 years old, and the oak tree beside The Duck Bar is even older, coming in at approximately 600 years old!
Houmas House Inn
For the ultimate experience, and a way to get some serious brownie points with your significant other, book a room at Houmas House Inn. After checking in at the gift shop, Marty and I were immediately greeted by a young man named Klay who grabbed our bags and whisked us away in a golf cart to our accommodations for the evening.
We were staying in one the many cozy cottages that Kevin Kelly had built on the property to serve as the Houmas House Inn. The cottages replicate the historic structures of old plantation life. Set up in rows and surrounded by beautiful oak trees and gorgeous landscaping, each cottage has its own front porch complete with rocking chairs to enjoy a nightcap or your morning coffee.
Upon entering our cottage, we were greeted with tall ceilings and beautiful windows overlooking the courtyard. I immediately felt right at home. You could tell that no expense was spared to ensure guests had a relaxing retreat. From the beautiful tile and granite bathroom containing designer toiletries to the cute little coffee bar, we knew we were in for a restful night.
As we were leaving for our dinner, Klay was at our beckon call to take us down the winding path at the back of the property to our reservation at The Carriage House. The Carriage House dining room invites you in with its gorgeous long table surrounded by smaller, more intimate tables around the room. This combined with the fabulous artwork, endless antiques, and huge windows overlooking the gardens made for a very special anniversary dinner for Marty and I.
I started with a mint julep and a crab and melon salad that both tasted heavenly! I followed up with rosemary chicken that melted in your mouth while Marty had some of the best lasagna we have ever tasted. I told the chef that we would put his lasagna up against all of the lasagnas we had in Italy and he would win! I think he was pretty happy to hear that. We finished our meal by sharing a rich bread pudding with whiskey sauce-sinful!
After dinner, we took the time to wander around the gardens at night. No expense was spared creating a romantic evening atmosphere utilizing lighting around the grounds. Marty and I felt like we had the place to ourselves as we didn’t see another soul for the rest of the evening.
After a restful nights sleep in our four poster bed, we awoke revived and refreshed the next morning, I slipped on one of the cozy robes provided by Houmas House and made my way outside to enjoy my coffee in one of those cute rocking chairs overlooking the courtyard. As I sat enjoying the crisp morning air and watching the male cardinal dart around the courtyard, I couldn’t help but think how grateful I am to have such an amazing experience with my husband. And with that thought, I went and woke him up to join me. I don’t know if he was too happy with that. LOL!
Sitting in the courtyard, I noticed Klay and another young man were waiting patiently in their golf carts down at the end of the path to take us to breakfast. I giggled at how they allowed us to see them but stayed far enough away to give us our privacy. Now, that’s service!
Breakfast was served in The Carriage House dining room, and Marty and I were the only ones there this morning. Josephine, our fun, and informative server had a table all set up and waiting for us. We enjoyed homemade dragonfly shaped biscuits with pecan butter and fig preserves (yum!) paired with juice and coffee before diving into bananas foster pain perdue and a bacon and gouda omelet. Like dinner, everything was amazing!
Departing Houmas House
Departing Houmas House was bittersweet for me. I wanted to stay another night to just relax and unwind in this beautiful setting. Being at a Louisiana bed and breakfast plantation was even better than I expected.
I reminded myself that when visiting, one cannot forget the fact that Houmas House once sat on thousands of acres of rich, fertile soil deposited by the mighty Mississippi River, which of course, meant lots of money for the ‘gentlemen farmers’, thus needing slave labor. While the stories of the plantation slaves are not the focus of the tours here at Houmas House, they cannot be forgotten or overlooked. For it is through learning about the inhumane and horrid conditions that we humble ourselves to ensure that history is not repeated.
**Our visit to Houmas House Plantation and Gardens was a sponsored press trip. Accommodations, restaurant visits, and activities were complimentary. As always though, Marty and I gave true and honest opinions of our experiences.