Finding the twinkle in the Louisiana Holiday Trail of Lights
There are eight enchanted cities to discover on Louisiana’s Holiday Trail of Lights, which guides visitors on an imaginary one-horse-open-sleigh kind of journey throughout North Louisiana from mid-November through the New Year.
The holly-jolly towns that have been decking the halls for visitors for 30 years include Shreveport-Bossier City, Minden, Monroe-West Monroe, Natchitoches and Alexandria-Pineville.
Traveling from one town to another, each offers a unique experience, and I got the impression of being in a Thomas Kincaid Christmas painting by night.
With Shreveport/Bossier City as a starting base, our destinations lie east on IH-20 and south on IH-49, where an adventurous, sight-seeing journey filled with lights, parades, fireworks, dining, shopping, museums and more await. This would include exploring centuries-old plantations and tasting the best food Louisiana has to offer.
We were thrilled by the most recent Holiday Trail of Lights tour in Shreveport/Bossier City, which is located in the northwest corner of Louisiana, where we found restful and conveniently located accommodations at the Courtyard by Marriott. This area boasts a bustling film industry, and casino resorts that bring top-notch entertainment year around, not to mention the colorful local festivals and the Outlets at Louisiana Boardwalk.
During the holidays in Shreveport/Bossier, Santa Bob and Mrs. Beth Claus might magically appear anywhere spreading holiday cheer throughout the season! Santa Bob is a card-carrying member of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, and takes his vocation very seriously.
By planning ahead, a visit could be coordinated with the Les Boutiques De Noel which converts the Bossier Civic Center each year into a mecca for holiday shoppers. More than 10,000 gift-searching visitors peruse 100 holiday-themed booths, which represent 10 states, with proceeds going to the Shreveport Opera.
Merely separated by the Red River, Shreveport and Bossier City are like getting two cities for the price of one. Plan an afternoon to take in a screening at the IMAX Dome Theater, which is located at Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center in Shreveport. Featuring more than 290 science, space, technology and math exhibits, it’s an exciting, fun place to bring the entire family.
A cheerful way to beat holiday-shopping stress is to sample the frozen eggnog daiquiris at Tony’s Discount Beverage. Enjoy this Shreveport tradition with take-out service, thanks to manager Joseph “Bubba” Cordaro and the wide variety of additional flavors offered.
The Outlets at Louisiana Boardwalk, which is the largest outlet, dining and entertainment destination in the State of Louisiana, gets all decked out in preparation of the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. There are more than 70 retail stores and restaurants, including Santa’s Wonderland at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, to keep every shopper happy.
We were there just in time for the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the Louisiana Boardwalk. The local entertainment and tree-lighting with snow was the perfect way to kick off the holiday season. Who cares if it was fake snow; children of all ages loved it.
Another local special experience is Christmas in Roseland, where The Gardens of the American Rose Center is transformed into a winter wonderland filled with a million twinkling lights. These festivities are sure to put a twinkle in your family’s eyes.
While in Shreveport/Bossier start checking off your gift-shopping list with a visit to Shelby Lane’s Closet – a one-of-a-kind experience. It’s a fantastic stop for do-it-yourself holiday crafts of repurposed wood. Chef Pansou of Soumas Heritage Creole Creations prepared our lunch at Shelby Lane’s Closet, putting her touch of “The Islands” in every bite. One can’t go far in Louisiana without finding amazing Creole food.
From Shreveport/Bossier, we drove 30 minutes east on I-20 to Minden, which is known for the Fasching Fifth Season Festival celebrating the community’s German heritage, and the Winter Wonderland Festival. After enjoying a delightful driving tour of the charming, twinkling streets, we checked out Second Hand Rose, an eclectic and very interesting shop filled with Coca Cola memorabilia, antique jewelry, housewares and much more. Visitors take away more than a shopping experience, as the shop’s eccentric owner’s delightful stories capture the hearts of all who enter. Millie Rose welcomes everyone with a smile, a song and a great yarn or two.
Also in Minden, we found a unique Mexican cafe, Habascus, where we were served the biggest burrito ever imagined – enough for a half dozen diners! The restaurant just got wonderful publicity when “LA Rider TV” filmed there.
One hour further east from Minden on IH-20, we visited and explored Monroe-West Monroe. While in Monroe, we toured the Biedenharn Museum and Gardens, which were beautifully decorated for the Holiday Season. Each room of the mansion characterized a unique theme designed by Monroe Garden Study League. Joseph Biedenharn was the creator of the Coca-Cola formula, and the house and furnishings reflect his abundant affluence of that time period.
Taking great pride in preserving military history memorabilia, The Chennault Aviation and Military Museum, also in Monroe, would delight any history buff. Admission is free and is well worth the time spent there.
The Christmas on the River Festival is hosted by Monroe-West Monroe each year, with parades and displays of dancing lights all season long. Even during the holidays, evidence of “Duck Dynasty” appears to be sprinkled throughout.
If you love antique shopping, you’ll love shopping and dining in Antique Alley in Monroe-West Monroe. The 30 different shops, located primarily on the banks of Ouachita River, beckon treasure hunters to enter.
The next day we drove two hours south on IH-49 from our Shreveport-Bossier City base to the Alexandria-Pineville area, bypassing Natchitoches along the way, with plans to visit there on our return trip.
Dinner at Diamond Grill in Alexandria was excellent, and prepared us for our exploration of the Alexandria Zoo Holiday Light Safari. With thousands of lights glistening all around, it gave the impression of a sparkling winter wonderland. Generally held on weekends during the month of December, this safari will excite the entire family and lend credence to the statement credited to Jack Hanna that this zoo is one of the “best small town zoos in America.”
Just 16 miles south of Alexandria is Loyd Hall Plantation House (circa 1820), a bed and breakfast that is the epitome of southern charm and history. This is where we spent the night, and even after hearing a hint at stories that the place was haunted, I slept very comfortably in one of the cozy cabins. The next morning we enjoyed a delightful breakfast in the big house, and were excited to hear more about the ghostly rumors during a grand tour.
Next we toured the historic Kent Plantation House, which is said to be an authentic Creole plantation, and is one of the oldest standing structures in the state of Louisiana – the oldest known standing structure in Rapides Parish (circa 1794). A tour of this plantation offers visitors a look at many structures from that era, such as the milk house, open hearth kitchen, slave cabin, Eden building, barn, blacksmith shop, sugar mill and cemetery.
We also visited the Inglewood Plantation, which is an organic vegetable and chicken farm with pecan and fruit orchards and a nature preserve. The farm hosts a weekly Harvest Barn, which takes place on Tuesday afternoons and Saturdays, provided a place for plying their wares, such as produce, fruit, meats, eggs and other local organic products. Inglewood is one of the few plantations to survive the ravages of the Civil War.
We checked out Atwood’s Bakery, a local favorite for lunch and sweets, before heading to Melrose Plantation, an antebellum historic house/museum, which was built by Marie Thereze Coin-Coin, an enslaved woman, with Frenchman Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer. Many of their Creole descendants still live in the area.
As an interesting side story, the plantation house and the setting for Solomon Northup’s book and recent movie by the same name – “12 Years a Slave,” now stands on the campus of Louisiana State University in Alexandria, and is used for American History studies.
Our last stop was my personal favorite – the oldest city in Louisiana – Natchitoches (Nak-a-tish) for the “Turn on the Holidays” event. Natchitoches, founded in 1714, comes from a Caddo Indian word meaning “Chinquapin eaters.” This city, which is nestled along the Cane River, is currently celebrating 300 years and has hosted many events commemorating their tri-centennial throughout 2014.
Historic Natchitoches transports visitors back in time. Quaint shops and restaurants line the street overlooking the river. The oldest store in Louisiana is located here – Kaffie Frederick General Mercantile. What a treat to explore. Here you will find a house built in the 1830’s where the movie “Steel Magnolias” was filmed in 1989. In 2013, it opened as a bed and breakfast. Can you imagine spending time in that house with so much southern charm and history?
Touring the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Regional Museum in Natchitoches is a must for the sports enthusiasts. The architectural style of this 27,500 square foot contemporary building compliments Louisiana’s rich sports heritage.
We waited with excitement in the air for the “Turn on the Holidays!” event to start, which includes fireworks and live entertainment. The light displays and fireworks reflecting in the river bring holiday enjoyment and delight, infusing a nostalgic feel to the season.
This year Louisiana’s oldest celebration, The 88th Annual Festival of Lights, is sure to bring abundant excitement to the holidays – culminating the end of Natchitoches’ tri-centennial events. The city hosts 10 hotels and more than 30 B&B’s.
We headed back to Shreveport-Bossier City to wind down our Louisiana Holiday Trail of Lights tour. Accommodations at the delightful and charming “2439 – A Bed and Breakfast” located in Shreveport on Fairfield Avenue were perfectly nostalgic. Our complimentary breakfast was sublime, and topped off the comforts of this extremely fascinating establishment, which was once highlighted in Southern Living.
For more information and dates for scheduled events in north and central Louisiana, visit holidaytrailoflights.com
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