St. Francisville, a sleepy little town you'd miss if you were going too fast, is the perfect place to daytrip if you're looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of New Orleans. Just a little over a 100 miles away, St. Francisville is a vibrant hodgepodge of people, food, architecture, and Louisiana charm.
Situated high on a bluff above the Mississippi, River it's said to be the second oldest town in Louisiana (Natchitoches claims itself the first). St. Francisville began as a cemetery in the 1770's as the bluff attracted early Spanish Cauchins in need of a highland burial ground.
Where To Go and What To Do
St. Francisville is located deep in the heart of plantation country and is home to more than 150 historic structures scattered throughout downtown and the immediate area. Most historic sites are open from 9 to 5 daily. We recommend starting at one of the two must-see historic homes, Rosedown or Oakley, and go from there. There are a total of seven homes to tour in the area, but these two have been restored the best and feature the most to see on the grounds.
Dating back to 1834, Rosedown was originally the heart of a nearly 3,500-acre plantation. Make time to take the guided tour; it offers the best glimpse of what life at Rosedown was like. The home is one of the most intact, documented examples of a domestic plantation complex in the South. Be sure to walk the grounds. The gardens offer glorious displays of massive azaleas underneath 10-foot camellia bushes and the much photographed live oak allée.
Oakley Plantation sits upon the Audubon State Historic Site. That's because John James Audubon, renowned ornithologist, naturalist, and painter, tutored the owner's daughter for a short time around 1821. Born in Haiti, his time at Oakley was his first introduction to the region, and its lush forests and wildlife ultimately inspired him to paint 80 of his famous Birds of America paintings in and around St. Francisville, 32 of them at Oakley alone. The ones you'll see today at Oakley are first edition prints. The house is older and much simpler than Rosedown, but inside you can see several rooms that look as if it was still the 19th century. There is also a museum on site.
Be sure to also check out the Myrtles Plantation, purportedly one of “America’s most haunted homes,” to catch the twilight tour, which features spooky accounts of Chloe, the spurned mistress turned jewelry-snatching spirit, and poor Mert, a ghost cat who still stalks the grounds. Also be sure to visit Afton Villa Gardens. This is the site where the ruins of a 19th-century Gothic Revival mansion have been transformed into a landscaped terrace with swaths of azaleas.
After you take in some history, St. Francisville offers a variety of activities to do and places to visit next. St. Francisville is not very big, so it is easy to wander around by foot. Be sure to stop by the shops that line Ferdinand Street. Also, take a stroll down Royal Street to see some of the most beautiful private homes in the region. The more adventuresome can hike, bike, ride horses, or bird-watch in the hills and woods around St. Francisville. Tunica Hills and Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge are both nearby for the wild-at-heart.
Where to Eat and Sleep
One thing that makes St. Francisville a delightful trip is the wealth of affordable bed-and-breakfasts and unique hotels. Stay at the centrally located St. Francisville Inn, a restored nineteenth-century Victorian where locals and guest gather on the oak-shaded front porch. For the hip at heart, across Commerce Street, the historic district’s main drag, the renovated 3-V Tourist Court rents retro cabins that date to the dawn of the motor age. Or you can always sleep over at the Myrtles, but beware, the tour guides repeatedly warn, “you are being watched.”
As for where to eat, you've got several good choices. There's the Magnolia Café with po'boys, burgers, salads, and sandwiches. The low-key restaurant features national touring bands weekly. For a fine-dining experience, don't miss The OxBow Carriage House Restaurant at The Myrtles Plantation. With a great wine list and everything from Angus beef steaks to crawfish étouffée, it is a favorite. For a more casual meal, head to Francis Smokehouse and Specialty Meats for fried chicken, po’boys, burgers, barbecue, and house-made boudin. A Southern dinner of a different sort can be found at Al Aqaba, where Middle Eastern and Cajun cuisines are perfectly intertwined.