Houmas House: What it’s Like to Stay in a Louisiana Plantation Home
“Well think about it – if you had 300,000 acres gentlemen, when was the last time you’d seen a woman, besides sisters and cousins? Cousins was looking good!” When our tour guide, Susan, exclaimed these words to my group, in her classic Southern drawl, I wasn’t sure what I was more astounded by – the accusations of incest or the huge amount of land Houmas House had in the 1800s. Both facts were equally fascinating, and just two of an abundance of bizarre details surrounding this former Louisiana sugar plantation in the USA's Deep South. From the moment I set foot on the estate, it was impossible not to be completely enamoured with it – quirks and all.
We arrived at Houmas House after dark, and while it was hard to make out the mansion itself, we admired the palm trees and well-manicured gardens – illuminated only by small lamps and the headlights of gulf buggies. These are the easiest way to get around the grounds. Today there are 38 acres of gardens, but as I’ve already mentioned, in its sugar-producing heyday the estate extended to hundreds of thousands more in land holdings. It was already 9pm, so several buggies whizzed up to our coach, loaded us (and our luggage) up and zipped us around to The Inn, so we could drop off our bags. But it wasn’t bedtime just yet…
The Turtle Bar
…In fact, it was the perfect opportunity for a nightcap, and a few snacks. Luggage abandoned at The Inn, a buggy driver took us on a ride (accompanied by Maggie, one of the house dogs, riding shotgun) to the Turtle Bar. Historically the estate’s ‘garconniere’ (a building where the boys of a certain age would live, so they didn’t fraternise with the girls of the house), the Turtle Bar has since been transformed into a well-stocked drinking establishment – famed for its delicious mint julep. We requested a surprise cocktail, and were presented with a fruity concoction. I couldn’t tell you what was in it, but it was delicious. Even more enjoyable were the surroundings in which we enjoyed our drink – rows and rows of spirits and bar stools gave way to grand armchairs and a huge dining room. It really was a hodgepodge, but the atmosphere was undeniable.
The Inn at Houmas House
That cocktail may have been delicious, but after a 10-hour flight from London to New Orleans (on British Airways’ new direct Heathrow-Louis Armstrong route), it just about finished me off! It made reaching my room and slumping into a bed that was big enough for three people even more of a reward though. A few z’s later and I awoke to the sound of a bird chirping cheerily outside. Refreshed, I took the opportunity to explore my surroundings.
No one room at The Inn is the same. In fact, it’s not exactly an inn in the traditional sense – it’s actually a selection of quaint, characterful cottages, furnished in an old-world style, in keeping with the romance of Houmas House itself. The ceilings are high and bedrooms spacious, with each one boasting a luxurious marble bathroom (complete with L’Occitane products), and some even offering a separate living area. Most importantly, each room has a porch, so you can sit outside and watch the world (or the Mississippi River) go by.
Our overnight stay included breakfast and a tour of the house. The former included tea, coffee, juice, a dragonfly biscuit with pistachio butter, and bacon, scrambled eggs and grits. Plenty to get you going in the morning. As for the tour, well, that might just have been my highlight…
We gathered around a big bell just outside the house at 10am. Susan (our aforementioned tour guide, or rather, historical interpreter) pulled the rope and immediately the sound peeled throughout the grounds – signalling the start of the tour. Dressed in a vibrant pink period dress that she had made herself, Susan immediately commanded our attention and led us through the heavy front doors of the antebellum mansion.
I don’t want to completely give the game away here, but inside she regaled us with tales about the many pieces of art on display, told us stories about ghosts, and shared the history of the home which, at the height of its plantation days, produced 20 million pounds of sugar each year. We saw elaborate bedrooms, a gravity-defying spiral staircase and a kitchen which still had all the traditional 19th century utensils. It was a fascinating snapshot of Houmas House and New Orleans’ past, brought vividly to life with Susan’s charismatic manner and vast knowledge. As we moved from room to room, it felt as though she was transporting us through time, into the heart of the captivating Deep South, and each one of us was transfixed under its spell.