For More Details
For more information, contact: Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-638-7352, www.eurekasprings chamber.com
Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, 1-800-346-1958, www.lafayettetravel.com
Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-221-3536, www.vicksburgcvb.org

Travel Assistance
Visit your nearest AAA service office for maps, TripTiks and TourBook guides.
Order travel materials online or use our online travel research tools.

Some enchanted evening
Look for love in these scintillating Southern getaways, close to home and your heart

By Margaret Dornaus
Published: Jan/Feb 2001

Vermillionville, the 23-acre Acadian/Creole folk life museum in Lafayette, La., teaches visitors about a culture laced with peril and passion. ./ ©Danny Izzo-Nouveau Photeau
Southern travelers looking for romantic getaways have only to cruise their backyards to discover hotspots for fueling the languishing fires of midwinter romance. The possibilities for being struck by one of Cupid’s arrows reach far beyond such familiar destinations as Charleston, New Orleans or Savannah. For extra spice this Valentine’s Day, sample a different medley.

Rub-a-dub-dub in a Eureka Springs tub

The romantic warmth of Eureka Springs could thaw even the most hardened heart. For generations, this northwest Arkansas charmer has lured travelers with its siren’s song. One look at the village’s meandering, hillside streets–skirted by historic hotels and cottages laced with delectable gingerbread petticoats–and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped out of the rat race into the pages of a Victorian romance.

American Indians and later, the Victorians, believed Eureka Springs’ waters had healing powers. Ages after most of its abundant mineral springs have ceased to bubble up from the underground streams, this Ozarks village is again enjoying a reputation as an effervescent spa town. Today, signs advertising treatments ranging from mineral soaks to facials, massages to Reiki healings, sprinkle the landscape.

The 1901 Palace Hotel and Bath House is from an era that catered to gangsters and bluebloods. Guests enter the spa through the hotel’s preserved marble foyer before descending downstairs to oversized, claw-footed bathtubs filled with mineral-infused water. Upstairs, equally oversized guestrooms 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 historic Crescent Hotel, established in 1886. Long distinguished, The Crescent recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation guaranteed to increase guests’ comfort level. Set atop West Mountain (the town’s highest point), this hotel offers a panorama of surrounding countryside. On a clear winter’s night, horse-drawn carriages departing from the lobby entrance entice lovers to gaze on starry Ozark skies.

Trendy boutiques, art galleries, restaurants–and off-season prices–add to the charm of Eureka Springs.

J’aime Lafayette

Nothing lifts a sagging spirit like a fais-do-do (street dance) set to the washboard beat of Zydeco. To put some pep in your dance partner’s step, head to Lafayette, the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun Country, and go native with a two-step through the blue bayou territory.

A cultural mix of Cajun and Creole, Lafayette is defined physically by its most prominent feature, the Atchafalaya Basin. An 860,000-acre complex of swamps, lakes and water prairies, the basin cuts a 15-mile-wide swath across southern Louisiana.

Here, everything from crayfish to alligators reigns supreme. In winter months, the country’s last great river basin swamp hosts a huge gathering of coots (the feathered kind), egrets, ibises and herons. It’s also the south-central United States’ largest nesting site for bald eagles.

This area also inspired a romantic poem written in 1847 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Evangeline.” It’s a tragic story of lovers Evangeline and Gabriel, who were separated on their wedding day during the expulsion of the Acadians from Acadie. The Evangeline legend appears again in the 1907 novelette by Felix Voorhies, in which lovers Emmeline and Louis are reunited beneath an oak tree by Bayou Teche in St. Martinville.

Learn more about the Cajuns’ harrowing history of Canadian expulsion and relocation in Louisiana by visiting the Jean Lafitte National Park’s Acadian Cultural Center or the 19th-century collection of houses in Acadian Village and Vermillionville, the 23-acre Acadian/Creole folk life museum.

From Jan. 6 on, Lafayette’s Lenten season is charged with anticipation. And come Mardi Gras week (Feb. 23–27), you can join in Fat Tuesday’s mayhem as costumed krewes revel through city streets. Or, scour the countryside for the more traditional Courir de Mardi Gras (Mardi Gras Run) that mirrors the medieval tradition of ceremonial begging as horseback riders sing for their communal supper–gumbo, naturally.

Afterwards, bed down for the night in accommodations ranging from Cajun bed-and-breakfasts to houseboats that sway gently to an Atchafalayan tree-frog choir.

Remember, cher, the language of love (French) is spoken here. A few well-placed sweet-nothings work wonders when whispered in a waiting ear.

Dance to moonlight on Vicksburg’s verandahs

A week in Vicksburg–with each night spent in a different antebellum-era bed-and-breakfast–would not exhaust this historic riverfront town’s romantic resources. Wherever you wander, majestic mansions flanked by wraparound verandahs–or balconies of lacy wrought iron–beckon you to linger out-of-doors, even in winter. Many, like The Corners or its neighboring Cedar Grove Inn, feature breathtaking views of Mississippi River bluffs. Arm yourself with an after-dinner partner and prepare to soak up the moonlit night.

Once inside, you’ll find Vicksburg’s inns appointed in equally alluring fashion. Antique bedroom suites offset by Oriental carpets, floor-to-ceiling stained glass and dizzying elliptical staircases are some of the details that elicit the glamour of period-set films and the lure of magnolias. Like the town, each of the inns displays its war wounds as proudly as an aging veteran.

Take, for example, the stately Cedar Grove, completed in 1852. The inn, John Klein’s wedding present to his bride, took a direct hit from a Union gunboat. During the 47-day siege that found residents holing up in caves on Vicksburg’s perimeter, Ulysses S. Grant laid claim to the strategic river city nicknamed the Gibraltar of the Confederacy. Cedar Grove’s souvenir of that battle is a cannonball eloquently lodged in the inn’s formal parlor.

Other inns and tour houses around town have equally compelling histories. Originally home to Civil War diarist Emma Balfour, the 1835 Balfour House served as Union headquarters after Vickburg’s July 4, 1863 surrender. The post-Civil War Belle of the Bends, meanwhile, draws thematic inspiration from a nautical tradition that innkeeper Jo Pratt traces back to her grandfather, who was riverboat captain Tom Morrissey.

Overnight options extend beyond these paeans to the past, of course. For those whose taste runs to the new and shiny, Ameristar, Harrah’s the Isle of Capri and Rainbow offer accommodations just yards from splashy riverfront casinos.

Still, there’s something about a moonlight-draped verandah.

Margaret Dornaus is a contributor from Springdale, Ark.


Contents may not be reproduced in whole or in part unless expressly authorized in writing by AAA Traveler Magazines.