My sister in law Sarah is back this week to share about her charming hometown that is a perfect weekend getaway at Christmas time!
If you ever need a quick little getaway from reality, Natchitoches is a great place to go! You will be greeted with southern charm and hospitality in this quaint town. While Natchitoches (pronounced Nack-a-tish) has things to keep you busy year-round, my absolute favorite time to go is during the Christmas season! The town lights up with over 300,000 lights and 100 set pieces beautifully displayed along Cane River Lake (yes River Lake- it was a river but was dammed and is now a lake- still long and windy like a river, but no flow making it great for skiing, boating, fishing, and rowing).
If you read my last post on NYC, you know I like history. Natchitoches cherishes its history and is proud to say that they are the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase. Natchitoches was established as a French colony in 1714 and you can see the French influence everywhere, from the architectural style of Front Street, to the beautiful flower gardens, and the Fleur-de-Lys on every bench along the river. You can visit the Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site for a little history lesson.
Things to Do
Many of us pack our calendar with holiday activities every year and going to Natchitoches is always on my calendar. From the weekend before Thanksgiving to a week or so after the new year, Natchitoches is decking the halls with fun lights and a fabulous firework show every Saturday. The first week of December is the actual Christmas Festival, with a parade, inflatables for kids, a market to browse, Miss Merry Christmas, and so much more! In all honesty, I prefer to go on one of the other weekends because you get a similar experience without all of the crowds. There is also a Santa Claus House that is open nightly where kids can tell Santa all their Christmas wishes.
A fun side note- my great Uncle Charlie is credited as one of the men who helped set up the early light sets in in 1930s. The Santa Claus House was dedicated to him. The Santa Claus House was originally built in remembrance of a family member of mine. My Grandma has told me the story about her nephew, Barry. He wanted to go visit Santa one year when the family was in a neighboring larger town doing some Christmas shopping. But the line was too long, so Barry’s parents told him that they would try to come back. They never made it back that year to visit Santa. The next year, Barry passed away in a tragic accident.
His family wanted to make sure that the children of Natchitoches would always have an opportunity to see Santa. So, the first Santa Claus House was built on Cane River Lake and my family always makes sure that Santa is present during the Christmas season. My dad was Santa numerous times. The original Santa Claus House was small and the family, along with donations from the community and town, decided to replace it when I was a child. The original one now serves as a small chapel on my Uncle Charlie’s land, which is family owned now and serves as a gathering place for the extended family. The 2nd Santa Claus House is being replaced with an even larger one this year!
Here is a great information website for the Christmas Festival with a full calendar of events:
There is no place like Front Street in Natchitoches. It is so picturesque, with its French inspired architecture lining the calm Cane River Lake! There are so many cute shops to explore, including Kaffie Frederick General Mercantile– the oldest general store in the Louisiana Purchase. The street is bricked with the original bricks laid in the early 20th century, though the street went through a thorough renovation in 2008 where each brick was removed, cleaned, and then put back in place. There are several restaurant options on Front Street, along with a cute coffee shop that has free wifi.
A favorite for many visitors is to visit the homes used in the movie Steel Magnolias, starring Dolly Parton, Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Daryl Hannah, Shirley McLane, and Olympia Dukakis. It was filmed in Natchitoches and based loosely on women from the town. Most of the houses are privately owned though, so you cannot go in them.
Just outside of town, there are various plantations that you can tour. Melrose Plantation is beautiful and was home to famed folk artist Clementine Hunter, who worked on the plantation. Magnolia Plantation is a privately-owned home; however, the grounds and 20 historic buildings are open to the public. Oakland Plantation was once owned by the family of a close friend. It is now owned by the National Park Service and is open to the public. Beau Fort Plantation is closed to the public, but a beautiful one to drive by.
Where to Stay
I was born in Natchitoches and much of my mom’s family still lives there, so I always stay with my grandma when we go. Therefore, I cannot give my personal opinion on any of the accommodations. However, Natchitoches is known for its beautiful bed and breakfasts, many of which are in walking distance from Front Street. My husband and I got married in Natchitoches and many of our out of town guests stayed at the bed and breakfasts and had wonderful things to say about them. In addition, there are a couple of beautiful hotels downtown.
Chateau St. Denis is a boutique hotel that recently opened and has beautiful rooms. Church Street Inn is in a prime location, located in the center of town just behind Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. You should definitely take the time to visit this beautiful church which is where my husband and I were married in 2008.
You have many options for food here! For a famous Natchitoches Meat Pie, go to Lasyone’s on 2nd Street. The Landing is a great river front dining option, which a variety of food options- a lot of Cajun options including Fried Alligator- yum! For Italian, Maglieaux’s Riverfront Restaurant located on the circle at the end of Front Street is really good. Merci Beaucoup has Cajun and American options and is in a great location. Mama’s Oyster House and Papa’s Bar and Grill are both laid back options. Mama’s usually has a band on the weekend.
For more Travel Information, visit the Natchitoches website: https://www.natchitoches.com/
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