Rich history and small-town friendliness are backdrops for the visitor experience in central Louisiana. At the heart of the region is Alexandria, where Native Americans once ruled. Descendants of the area’s original settlers, they shared their culture and traditions with travelers. Marksville, located in Avoyelles Parish, is home to one of the earliest Native American civilizations in the country. With its roaming buffalo, the Adai Indian Nation Cultural Center near Robeline also is worth a stop. The Los Adaes State Historic Site there was the site of a Spanish presidio and mission, and was the capital of the province of Spanish Texas for 44 years.
Visitors will want to explore the Cane River National Heritage Area, which begins just south of Natchitoches and runs for 35 miles along Cane River Lake. Many historic sites, including Creole-style plantation homes, are open to the public here. Melrose Plantation
, located 16 miles south of Natchitoches, tells the remarkable story of a slave woman who gained her freedom and helped her family become one of the wealthiest families of color in the nation at the turn of the 19th century. Other plantations in the region include Kent Plantation House
, a former cotton plantation that is Central Louisiana’s oldest standing structure; and Cheneyville’s Loyd Hall
, an 1820s home and 640-acre farm.
More history beckons outside of the heritage area. The Merryville Historical Society Museum consists of an 1883 log cabin and a museum containing 19th-century items. Visitors interested in agricultural heritage can pick the Cottonport Museum and the Long Leaf’s Southern Forest Heritage Museum as must-sees.
During the Civil War, Union troops burned Alexandria; from the ashes came the Victorian architectural style that is prevalent today. In Simmesport, the Yellow Bayou Civil War park maintains the battle’s trenches, and Pineville’s Mt. Olivet Episcopal Church, dating back to 1858 and recently restored, served as Union headquarters. Many years and wars later, Generals Patton, Marshall and Eisenhower mapped out strategies here during the Louisiana Maneuvers, just before World War II.
Upriver, Winnfield was made famous by the colorful politics of the Long brothers. The Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield showcases memorabilia from the turbulent 1920s and ’30s.
For a colorful time of another stripe, you’ll want to visit beautiful Hodges Gardens State Park in nearby Florien
Campers and hikers will enjoy Kisatchie National Forest, with the Wild Azalea National Recreation Trail, nearby Kincaid Lake, and Indian Creek Lake and Recreation area. Toledo Bend is a very popular fishing area, and also draws visitors for birding, canoeing and hiking. Golf courses abound in the region, notably including Cypress Bend Golf Resort & Conference Center, near Toledo Bend, and Oak Wing Golf Club in Alexandria. Both are on the Audubon Golf Trail.
The Louisiana Country Music Hall of Fame in Marthaville is a testament to the Anglo-Scots-Irish settlers who came to the area. The museum is located at Rebel State Historic Site, just west of Natchitoches.
Fans of famous musicians Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley and the late Pee-Wee Whitaker will want to stop in Ferriday, just west of the Mississippi River, where the Delta Music Museum showcases Louisiana’s musical heritage.
The area’s culinary heritage consists of rib-stickin’ home cookin’, whether that’s fluffy, buttery biscuits or an alligator jambalaya. The food the area is most famous for, however, is the meat pie – a pastry crust, folded in half, stuffed with spicy meat and pine nuts and baked. Indulge in one (or two!) at Lasyone’s Meat Pie Restaurant in Natchitoches.
Lecompte is home to Lea’s Lunchroom, a great little restaurant that’s been serving since 1928. Baked-ham sandwiches started out as the specialty, but their melt-in-your-mouth pie with its tall, fluffy meringue is a sweet feast for the taste buds.