Cook up a weekend in central Louisiana that’s sure to satisfy.
By Deborah Reinhardt
Gabrielle Brister, Pat Thompson and Carolyn Elliott busied themselves in the kitchen. There was much to be done in preparation for the 10 guests who would soon be at Kent Plantation House in Alexandria, La., for breakfast. Hours ago, the ladies built a fire in the stone hearth so the smoked ham could be baked, but biscuits had to be mixed and baked, grits stirred and coffee brewed.
Above: The Alexandria Zoo glows with cheer during Holiday Light Safari. Zoo photo
Below: Tours of Kent House are regularly conducted. Louisiana Tourism photo
With almost 30 years of volunteer service between them, Brister, Thompson and Elliott–each wearing long white aprons and ruffled caps–are part of the corps that prepares meals in Kent House’s open-hearth kitchen. Cooking demonstrations are held weekly from October to April in the building that dates to 1860, and meals are prepared for visitors during special times of the year.
Whether a home is from the 19th or 21st century, the kitchen usually stands at its heart, and Alexandria and neighboring Pineville in the center of Louisiana have fused culinary traditions from the northern and southern sections of the state into a tasty recipe for a quick getaway.
A helping of history
Kent Plantation House (3601 Bayou Rapides Road, Alexandria) was completed in 1800 and is the oldest standing structure in central Louisiana. This historical gem gives visitors a look into Creole family life between 1795 and 1855 with tours, demonstrations and events. Sugar Day, Nov. 12, is the largest event of the year. Visitors can see cane syrup being made in the reconstructed 19th-century sugar mill. Demonstrations in blacksmithing, doll making and butter churning also will be given, and vendors will sell period crafts and food.
On Nov. 29, an event to kick off a year-long celebration of Louisiana’s bicentennial will be at Kent House and will feature food, music and the unveiling of a commemorative postage stamp.
The Louisiana History Museum (503 Washington St.) has 40 exhibits about the Louisiana frontier, the Civil War–even dinosaurs. Extensive genealogical records attract visitors who are piecing together a family history.
Another slice of the past is well preserved in Pineville. Mount Olivet Chapel and Cemetery (335 Main St.) is the city’s oldest standing structure and was used as Union headquarters and hospital during the Civil War, allowing it to be spared from burning.
A recent $1.3 million restoration has returned the pre-Civil War Episcopal chapel to its original condition. St. James Episcopal Church has owned the cemetery since 1858.
Military history is interpreted at Camp Beauregard in Pineville at the Louisiana Maneuvers and Military Museum (409 F St.). Housed in a replica World War II barracks, exhibits tell the story of hundreds of thousands of soldiers who trained at Camps Beauregard, Polk, Livingston and Claiborne during the Louisiana Maneuvers. Admission to the museum is free.
A cup of cultural attractions
Mix a few cultural offerings in with historical pursuits to round out a weekend in Alexandria/Pineville. Check out the list of holiday activities, the 12 Nights of Christmas, that’s compiled by the city and promoted by the convention and visitors bureau. One of the events will be Dec. 3 at Kent Plantation House, “An Old-Fashioned Christmas,” that includes period crafts and a visit from Papa Noel.
A holiday concert performed by the Rapides Symphony will be at 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 4 at the Coughlin-Saunders Performing Arts Center, 1202 Third St., in Alexandria.
The Holiday Light Safari will be at the Alexandria Zoo, 3016 Masonic Drive, Dec. 1–3, 8–10 and 15–23. Twinkling lights, visits with Santa, musical entertainment and holiday treats are part of the fun. Don’t miss a chance to see the zoo’s two white tigers.
More lights are on display at Alexander Fulton Mini Park in downtown Alexandria. The display opens Dec. 1 for Holiday Magic Downtown with entertainment, including carols.
Several art galleries, as well as the Alexandria Museum of Art and the River Oaks Square Arts Center, participate in Second Saturday Market. This is a great opportunity to purchase original pieces tax-free from galleries in the downtown arts district. The museum also will present Deck the Galleries on Dec. 8 when local schools participate in a tree-decorating contest. Holiday stories and refreshments also are included in this free event.
Finish up more holiday shopping at one of several antique shops in the region or look for deals at the Alexandria Mall, 3437 Masonic Drive.
Where to stay and eat
There are 2,300 hotel rooms in Alexandria/Pineville, so you’re sure to find a comfortable place to overnight. An exceptional boutique hotel near the airport, Parc England, is adjacent to the Oak Wing Golf Course and less than 15 minutes to downtown Alexandria. Resembling an elegant country estate, Parc England’s king room and suites (parlor or grand parlor) are spacious and comfortably elegant. A cozy bar and an exceptional restaurant, Bistro on the Bayou, are here for guests to enjoy.
Like many cities in Louisiana, Alexandria/Pineville has its share of restored plantation homes that serve as bed-and-breakfast inns, and these provide another facet to lodging choices. Loyd Hall in nearby Cheneyville has five cottages and two luxurious plantation home suites open to guests. Built in 1820, Loyd Hall is the center of a 640-acre working farm, yet guests are about 30 minutes from Alexandria.
Enjoy an excellent dinner in an unusual setting at the Diamond Grill, 924 Third St. in downtown Alexandria. This AAA Three Diamond restaurant is inside the former Schnack’s Jewelry building, and the preserved 22-foot ceiling and ornate plaster are part of the historical details in this elegant space. Try the Louisiana Gulf shrimp and crab appetizer that’s beautifully presented in a martini glass. Then treat yourself to the small filet mignon that’s topped with blue cheese and served with roasted garlic potatoes and sautéed fresh corn.
For lunch, try the cream of shrimp soup at the Cottage Restaurant, 1465 Dorchester, in Alexandria. After your meal, check out Delicious Art a few doors down (1434D Dorchester) for possible holiday gifts of juried arts and fine crafts.
Food can be comforting, and in Alexandria/Pineville, terrific restaurants, welcoming inns and hotels, plus plenty of cultural and historical pursuits, come together to make a comfortable holiday weekend getaway.
Deborah Reinhardt is managing editor for AAA Southern Traveler.