Photos and feature by Hannah Richardson
Whether you’re interested in the rich history and culture of the city, browsing the modern and antique shops or tasting the famous meat pies, the city of Natchitoches, Louisiana has something to offer.
Natchitoches (pronounced Nak-A-Tish), located in the northwest area of the state and along the Cane River, was established in 1714 by adventurer and entrepreneur Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, also making the site the first European settlement in the entire Louisiana purchase. Natchitoches was named after the indigenous Natchitoches people. As well as being the oldest city in Louisiana, Natchitoches holds a unique blend of French, Spanish, African, American Indian and Creole culture and architecture. The city has become a popular travel destination with its one-of-a-kind community full of history, culture, shopping and much more.
Natchitoches is also home to the Cane River National Heritage Area, which is one of the two located in Louisiana. The area’s landscape that covers 35 miles along the Cane River is one of the most picturesque stretches of plantation country in the southern region of the United States. A few jewels in the crown of the heritage area include the St. Augustine Catholic Church, which was founded in 1803 as the first Roman Catholic Church established by and for people of color in the United States, the Melrose Plantation, which became an artist retreat in the last century, especially for famous painter Clementine Hunter, and Fort St. Jean Baptiste, a historic site that features a replica of the original fort located by the Cane River Lake. Located in the Historic District of Natchitoches, the American Cemetery is one of the oldest European burial grounds in the Louisiana Purchase, with tombstones marked as old as 1744. These are only a few destinations you can find in the Cane River National Heritage Area. The next time you visit Natchitoches, be sure to book a guided walking tour to take a look at what the city has to offer by calling the heritage area at 318-356-5555 or search www.CaneRiverNHA.org.
Front Street is considered the “hub” in the city, and it’s there you can find some of the most popular shops around. The Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile boasts itself at the oldest general store in Louisiana, selling old fashioned hardware, homeware, gifts and nostalgic toys. Cane River Kitchenware sells kitchen gifts to bring back home, plus regional sauces and spices. The local clothing boutiques, such as The Hall Tree, Razzle Dazzle and Simply Chic Boutique, always has the latest “southern belle couture” in stock. Don’t forget to stop by the Bathhouse Soapery, the best handmade bath and body boutique around. The soapery sells body scrubs, mineral bath salts, bath bombs and more!
You might be feeling a bit peckish after a day full of stopping by the shops. Luckily, there are so many restaurants to choose from in the city! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and The Breakfast Nook serves the morning classics until closing time. Maglieaux’s on the Cane features a fine dining experience with its Italian-Creole cuisine, along with live entertainment on the weekends. Mama’s Oyster House serves authentic southern Louisiana meals and Papa’s Bar & Grill offers a wide variety of poboys, fried seafood and steaks. Of course, you haven’t visited Natchitoches without grabbing a meat pie. The best pies are served a Lasyone’s, Home of the Famous Meat Pie.
After visiting the city and you’re not quite ready to leave, or you need another day to see more of the city, don’t worry; there a plenty of bed and breakfasts for you to choose from. Natchitoches has some exceptional B&B’s. The Good House offers queen beds and Jacuzzi tubs, is furnished with antiques and guests can enjoy the pool and patio and a continental breakfast. You can even stay in the famous Steel Magnolia House, which was featured in the 1989 comedy-drama “Steel Magnolias,” starring Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Dolly Parton and Daryl Hannah. The historic home offers breakfast, WiFi, gardens and private baths.
Northwestern State University is also located Natchitoches. NSU is ranked as one of the most affordable colleges in the state and the city offers students a lifestyle of relaxation when class time is over. Often you’ll find students walking and chatting away on the riverbanks to wind down from studying.
If you asked any of the locals in Natchitoches when the best time to visit, most will tell you the Festival of Lights is when the city is at its brightest- literally. Over 300,000 Christmas and 100 lighted set pieces adorn the riverbank and downtown Natchitoches every evening from Nov. 19 into Jan. 6 of next year. Events kick off Nov. 19 with “Turn on the Holidays,” an annual event that starts off the holiday season with the turning on of the Christmas lights. At almost every event (not just limited to the Christmas events), there will be musical entertainment and activities. More events will continue until Dec 3, the day of the Festival of Lights Christmas Parade, with the famous choreographed fireworks show that evening. Front Street will especially lively every weekend until Jan. 6, but you can find something to celebrate the holiday season almost every day. Visit www.NatchitochesChristmas.com for a full list of Christmas-time events!
The city of Natchitoches has so much of what you’re looking for in a southern city- a foundation built on history but is not outdated. Locals that appreciate the beauty of the city and come together to preserve it, but also know how to have a great time with the nightlife entertainment the city has. The next time you visit Natchitoches, be sure to soak up all the city has to offer and you’re sure to have a memorable experience.