The holiday season has come and gone. We cant count on quenching our thirst for birds, bulbs and bees for another two months.
|Oak Alley plantation in Vacherie, La., is located at the end of a sweeping esplanade of 28 lives oak trees dating from the 1600s Louisiana Office of Tourism photo
Yet you can rekindle the home fires and get a jumpstart on spring by exploring any number of nearby attractions. In Arkansas, Louisiana or Mississippi, the choices for a mid-winter pick-me-upor a romantic weekend getawayare limited only by the imagination. Try one of the following locales as an antidote to the post-holiday blues and see what a difference painting the town red can make.
Even Scrooge could find an after-Christmas romance if he went looking for it in the small Ozark mountain hideaway known as Eureka Springs. This northwest Arkansas resort town, incorporated on Valentines Day in 1880, is all about pampering and renewing frazzled spirits. Explore the historically preserved Victorian-era downtown, with its collection of boutiques, galleries and restaurants. Drink in breathtaking hilltop panoramas dotted with gingerbread-laden cupolas. Sample spas whose masseuses specialize in relaxing overworked and overstressed muscles.
Spas are located in properties that, in a bygone era, catered to both gangsters and bluebloods. The Palace Hotel and Bath House, opened in 1901, is an example. At the Palace, guests enter through the hotels preserved marble foyer before descending downstairs to the spas oversized, claw-footed bathtubs filled with mineral-infused water (designed to loosen up tired muscles during a pre-massage soak). Upstairs, oversized guest rooms draped in velvet and chintz exude Victorian charm while offering contemporary comforts like whirlpools and mini-bars.
Another notable facility providing massage and other feel-good treatments is the New Moon Spa housed in the grand dame of Eurekas hotels, The Crescent. Long distinguished, The Crescent completed a multi-million dollar renovation last spring. The 1886 ramble of a hotelset on top of West Mountainproffers a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside from either its back-porch balcony or its third-floor observatory. Both lookouts are equipped with telescopes for stargazing on a crisp, clear night. An open-air ride in a horse-drawn carriage departing from the hotels lobby entrance adds another element of charm and romance.
With so much priming, dont be surprised if you decide to pop the question or renew your marriage vows. Thousands of visitors annually do the same, causing Eurekas growing reputation as the marriage capital of the South. Eureka Springs offers everything from the most elaborate to the simplest ceremonies. Choose surroundings that range from subtle to inspiring , like the towns spectacular Thorncrown Chapel. The states no-wait marriage license policy encourages additional spontaneity.
Louisianas capital city of Baton Rouge provides a perfect focal point for travelers set on exploring the treasure chest of pre-Civil War mansions that adorn the Mississippi River Delta.
From the 27th floor of the states magnificent Capitol, youll have a birds-eye view of the Mighty Mississippis glide toward the Gulf of Mexico. The two-elevator trek to the observation deck rooftop also provides an excellent orientation of Baton Rouge, with sightings like Spanish Town, a near-downtown neighborhood influenced by Canary Islanders who settled there shortly after the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.
Take time to explore the Capitol grounds that include the 1823 Pentagon Barracks, former military quarters for Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. The 1838 Old Arsenal Powder Magazine features interactive exhibits on life in a Civil War bunker; it will help set the stage for a river road exploration.
Whet your appetite for plantation lore with a visit to one of the areas oldest, Magnolia Mound, the 1791 home of French Creole planters. Plan to visit on a Tuesday or Thursday, when costumed docents demonstrate open-hearth cooking. Then, join a tour that leads you through former slave quarters and up to the surprisingly compact mansion for a different perspective on antebellum life.
Other fascinating plantations, each with its own personal history and architectural style, dot the Great River Road from Baton Rouge to New Orleans.
Tezcuco in Darrow also houses a Civil War Museum with the River Road African-American Museum. Oak Alley in Vacherie features a sweeping esplanade of 28 live oak trees dating from the 1600s, and a restaurant that serves Cajun specialties like jambalaya, filé gumbo and fresh-from-the-oven bread pudding. Travelers to Vacherie also will find the plantation Laura, where Senegal slaves fostered stories later collected into the Brer Rabbit tales. Present-day guides pepper tours with narratives spun from matriarch Laura Lacouls memoirs. Afterwards, a visit to B&C Seafoods Cajun Deli, located next to Laura, should tantalize the tastebuds for a Louisiana-style picnic before continuing the trek along the road.
What could be more romantic than a moonlight walk down a stretch of white sand? The 26-mile beachfront off Mississippis Beach Boulevard (U.S. Highway 90) is a beachcombers paradise. Begin exploring the area in Biloxi or Gulfport, where a leisurely drive along the boulevard nets you glimpses into historic neighborhoods dotted with live oaks and antebellum architecture. Then, hop a ferry to Ship Islandnamed one of the countrys top 10 beaches and one of five barrier islands constituting Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Accessible only by private or charter boats, the islands hold a treasure trove of marine plants and wildlife. Just 12 miles offshore, Ship Island also hosts Fort Massachusetts, a Civil War stronghold and one of the last masonry forts built by the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
After strolling the beach, get ready for the gulf coasts nightlife, tinged with a variety of entertainments, including 12 casino resorts. Visit a restaurant and order a sample platter of the catch of the daycrabs, shrimp, oysters, and crawfishcooked with spicy local flair.
The next day, learn about the gulfs aquatic life at the J.L. Scott Marine Education and Aquarium in Biloxi. Round out a visit with a shopping spree at outlet stores just off Interstate 10, or search for one-of-a-kind finds at a weekend flea market just off the interstate in Pass Christian.
Before returning home, drive down the coast for another look at Mississippis moonlit-drenched shores and breathe in the aroma of amour.
Margaret Dornaus is a contributor from Springdale, Ark.