Louisiana’s iconic River Parishes region is rich in cultural contrasts.
Fourteen travel planners heard unvarnished descriptions of life on the area’s centuries-old sugarcane plantations, examined its Creole and Cajun influences, sampled its signature cuisine and embraced its outdoors on a four-day OnSite familiarization trip with The Group Travel Leader. Hosted by the Louisiana’s River Parishes CVB, these planners left Louisiana with a new appreciation for one of America’s most colorful destinations.
Included on the group’s itinerary were stately plantations like Oak Alley and St. Joseph in Vacherie, and Destrehan in Destrehan; alligator viewing in the bayous that characterize the area with Ragin Cajun Airboat Tours in Luling; zip lining across cypress forests with Zip NOLA in LaPlace; and delightful meals at local favorites like Bec’s at the Lake in LaPlace and the Truck Farm Tavern in St. Rose.
Read along as we describe sites you’ll want to include when you bring your group to this distinctly American destination.
• Arrival in LaPlace
• Garyville State Bank and Garyville Historic District
• Dinner at Pier 51 Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar
Travel planners were greeted at the New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport by tour host Willma Harvey of Louisiana’s River Parishes and Dayna James, owner of the United Front Transportation company, and made the brief drive to their hotel, the Fairfield Inn by Marriott LaPlace. The group departed that afternoon by coach for its first stop on a four-day site inspection tour.
The group traveled a few miles to an active restoration site, the Garyville State Bank and Historic District, where local tourism supporters are working to depict the area’s historic cypress logging and processing industry that dates to 1900. They were treated to a welcome reception at the town’s Garyville State Bank and then split into smaller groups to tour the town’s historic district.
Garyville State Bank and Historic District
The historic Garyville State Bank building opened in 1908 to serve the town’s thriving cypress mill, the Lyons Lumber Company. It consists of a brick bank building and adjacent structures that have been renovated by owner R.J. Ory to serve as meeting space. From the turn of the 20th century until the Great Depression in the 1930s, the town of Garyville was among the world’s largest cypress lumber centers, harvesting up to 100,000 board feet per day. Cypress was revered for its strength and used for building throughout the South and beyond. The planners toured the Lyons Lumber Company headquarters building, an old pharmacy, a museum that is being renovated and a Catholic rectory that is now a bed-and-breakfast.
Pier 51 Seafood Restaurant
The group enjoyed its first meal together at Pier 51 in LaPlace, where members chose from a menu of local dishes that included seafood gumbo, fried catfish, crab cakes and po’boy sandwiches made with shrimp, catfish and alligator.
• Breakfast at Chung’s Heavenly Sweets
• Ragin Cajun Airboat Tours
• Lunch at Atchafalaya Seafood Company
• Kayaking with Wild Louisiana Tours
• Zip lining with Zip NOLA
• Dinner at Bec’s at the Lake
Chung’s Heavenly Sweets
Louisiana River Parish hosts made sure the group’s breakfast stops were snapshots of small-town Louisiana. Chung’s Heavenly Sweets in LaPlace is owned by South Korea native Chung-Suk Cutno, who makes exquisite pastries and beignets. The group enjoyed numerous breakfast items while Cutno shared her story about finding her way to Louisiana.
Ragin Cajun Airboat Tours
The planners joined throngs of travelers in Luling in applying sunscreen and bug repellent before grabbing bottled water and boarding an airboat in soundproof headphones. The guide fired up the engine and motored out through a narrow bayou into larger waters. With stair-step seating, everyone had a great view and listened as he discussed alligators, their nesting habits and their territorial natures. He pulled into a couple of smaller bayous, where he threw marshmallows to alligators that sped over for a treat. Although the gators were the stars, the planners also enjoyed seeing herons and other birds in their native habitat.
Atchafalaya Seafood Company
Our lunch stop in Luling featured a favorite Louisiana recipe. Planners had a choice of crawfish etouffee, blackened tuna pasta or fried shrimp. Crawfish etouffee is created using butter, flour, onion, peppers, seasonings and crawfish tails, which yield a flavorful sauce or “smothering” that is served over rice. Several planners jumped at the chance to enjoy the traditional Cajun favorite.
Wild Louisiana Tours Kayaking
The planners had a choice of kayaking or zip lining on a sunny Louisiana afternoon, and several opted for joining Wild Louisiana Tours in paddling for a couple of hours in Shell Bank Bayou near LaPlace. The guide stopped numerous times to explain the marshland habitat, including the “knees” that grow up around cypress trees to support their root system; how to spot an alligator nest on a nearby bank; the colorful hibiscus flowers that line the shore; and the anhinga, or “snakebird,” that can only be seen while swimming from their long necks up, giving them a snakelike appearance.
A thrill-seeking group of planners chose to spend the afternoon in Louisiana’s treetops, where they strapped on harnesses to enjoy the new ZipNOLA zip-line course in LaPlace. The course was built in the Manchac Greenway and was busy with enthusiasts when the group arrived. Professional staff helped planners into their safety gear, and they began their adventure from the company’s impressive headquarters. The group’s five-line foray into the pristine wetlands included visits to two sky bridges and took them over wildlife such as alligators and turtles. It lasted an hour and a half and allowed them a bird’s-eye view of southern Louisiana’s native cypress trees and Spanish moss.
Bec’s at the Lake
Bec’s at the Lake sits on stilts near Lake Pontchartrain in Frenier Landing Fishing Village outside LaPlace. The group dined on fresh Louisiana seafood in a rustic setting highlighted by large windows with views of Louisiana’s best-known body of water. Owner George Becnel told the group that Bec’s hosts many groups, adding that several coaches a day are not unusual in high season.
• Breakfast at Honeydoux Café and Bakery
• Destrehan Plantation
• Lunch at Truck Farm Tavern
• 1811/Kid Ory Historic House
• Historic Riverlands
• St. Michael’s Catholic Church and Cemetery
• Crevasse Restaurant at Poche Plantation
Honeydoux Café and Bakery
The next breakfast stop was the proud creation of its 20-something owner, Katie Hymel, a graduate of the John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University, who came home to Destrehan to start her local eatery. The group chose from a wide selection of fresh-baked pastries, and Hymel’s youthful enthusiasm jump-started the day.
This historic sugarcane plantation sits near the levee on River Road in Destrehan. River Road is Louisiana’s landmark highway that runs along the Mississippi River for 70 miles between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The group received its tour from Dianne “Gumbo” Marie Honoré, a descendant of Jean-Baptiste Destrehan, who founded the plantation. Dressed in a bright skirt and straw hat reminiscent of the slave era, Honoré spoke with authority about life on this 235-year-old plantation. She described the living conditions and oppressive labor requirements slaves endured at Destrehan and described equally well the contrasting lifestyles of the plantation owners in the stately home that is still there.
Truck Farm Tavern
The Truck Farm Tavern graces River Road in St. Rose and served a meal that several planners rated as the week’s best. Owner Ron St. Pierre greeted the planners and offered them a choice of andouille crusted gulf fish with potatoes au gratin or grilled skirt steak with chili spiced potatoes. Most ordered the gulf fish and all offered accolades to chef Michael Degavage when he came to the table.
1811/Kid Ory Historic House
This plantation house in LaPlace rests where a group of slaves began a revolt in 1811 that lasted several days, beginning with the death of a white man on the property and culminating with the deaths of 95 enslaved Black men by direct confrontation with local militias or by execution after a hasty trial. The home also houses a museum that honors the life of Edward “Kid” Ory, the noted Creole trombonist and bandleader who helped create New Orleans jazz and played across the world from the 1920s to the 1960s with musicians like Louis Armstrong.
The planners discovered the soulful music that permeates southern Louisiana at Historic Riverlands Soul River Musical Journey in Reserve. Housed in the area’s first Black Catholic church, First Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church Sanctuary, this musical interpretation of the African American experience after slavery, through the civil rights era and into contemporary life is the creation of Rita Perrilloux. She and her husband, Steve, entertained the planners with African gospel music and stories about Black history in southern Louisiana.
St. Michael’s Catholic Church
The planners toured this historic church in tiny Convent and were treated to an interpretation of the life of Mimi Zilla, a free Black woman who owned and donated the land to build it. St. Michael’s was completed in 1833 and its Lourdes Grotto was added in 1876.
Crevasse Restaurant at Poche Plantation
The planners dined that evening at Crevasse Restaurant, a Convent local favorite that has a bar with live music. After dinner, several planners retired to the bar to listen to a three-piece band play a combination of country and Cajun-inspired music.
• Breakfast at Ferry Landing Café
• St. Joseph Plantation
• Oak Alley Plantation
Ferry Landing Cafe
The Ferry Landing Café in Lutcher is just off River Road and is the brainchild of owner Kerry Walker Tramonte. She told the group that the only place her two older sons would hang out with her and her husband was in a coffee shop, so the couple rented a small house on the historic highway and opened one. Their beignets were heavenly.
St. Joseph Plantation
On the last day in Louisiana’s River Parishes, the group split up and visited two of the most famous sugar cane plantations in America. Situated almost side by side in Vacherie, St. Joseph and Oak Alley have graced major motion pictures and magazine covers. St. Joseph Plantation, built in 1830 by the Scioneaux family using slave labor, is still owned today by the German family of Joseph Waguespack, who purchased it out of bankruptcy when slavery was abolished. Draped in huge live oak trees, the plantation offers visitors authentic looks at its slave quarters, a tiny schoolhouse, the home itself and numerous other structures that remain. Its authenticity has been captured in films including “Twelve Years a Slave” and Oprah Winfrey’s “Queen Sugar.”
Oak Alley Plantation
Jacques Thelesphore Roman built Oak Alley’s estate in Vacherie in 1836 following his mother’s death. More than 100 slaves were property there, and many were put to work building the resplendent home that remains today. Now owned by the Oak Alley Foundation, the simple driveway leading to the sunlit home, lined by massive 300-year-old live oaks, provides one of the old South’s most photographed images. The planners toured the home, or “big house,” in small docent-led groups. Most also sat down for the presentations about slave labor and living conditions that are offered near the plantation’s slave quarters. Oak Alley’s east and west gardens, blacksmith shop, restaurant and gift shop make it a comprehensive plantation stop for groups.
For more information about Louisiana’s River Parishes contact:
River Parishes Tourist Commission