On the banks of the Cane River, Natchitoches (pronounced Nah-kuh-tish) is the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase. It is compact in layout and features countless beautiful gardens and charming examples of colonial architecture. Natchitoches is locally famous for its annual Christmas celebration, when the whole city is festooned in colorful lights. The people of Natchitoches are friendly and inclined to fill you in about local history—they're particularly proud of the fact that their town was the location for the movie Steel Magnolias. Among the sights in town are the Roque House Museum, Old Lemee House, the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception and Fort St. Jean Baptiste. The local culinary specialty is known as the Natchitoches meat pie—a spicy, meat-filled fried pie encased in a flaky outer crust. Try one at Lasyone's and follow it up with a slice of the local dessert specialty, Cane River Pie. Natchitoches and the Cane River Plantations are home to Creoles whose histories can be traced back to colonial days. Clementine Hunter learned to paint at nearby Melrose Plantation. A trip to this part of the state is not complete without exploring the Cane River Creole National Historic Park. This is part of the U.S. National Park Service and is a font of Creole culture history.

The Bayou Folk Museum, onetime home of 1800s feminist author Kate Chopin, is in nearby Cloutierville. A number of plantation homes can be seen in this area, including the Magnolia Plantation, famous for its well-preserved slave quarters. Natchitoches is worth a full-day visit, maybe two. 210 mi/340 km northwest of New Orleans.

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