Easy Southern Escapes: Natchez, Mississippi

by  Melanie Warner Spencer | Oct 2, 2015
The River in Natchez
The River in Natchez / Melanie Warner Spencer

Plantations, a tavern in the oldest standing building in the Mississippi territory, casino action, blues bars, and charming B&Bs are just a few of the points of interest in Natchez, Mississippi. Established in 1716 by French colonialists, the city -- located in the southwest corner of Mississippi, 90 miles from Baton Rouge, Louisiana and just under three hours from New Orleans -- is situated on a scenic bluff and is imbued with history, beauty, and the romance of the Mississippi River. Here's what do, see, eat, and drink during a long weekend in Natchez.

Activities: Said to have one of the highest concentrations of plantations in the United States, the Natchez Fall Pilgrimage through October 12, brings historic home lovers from all over the country into town to tour antebellum houses and enjoy concerts, festivals, and the city's robust food scene. The Great Mississippi River Balloon Race on October 16-18 at the Rosalie Bicentennial Gardens features live music, rides, games, and access the Blufftoberfest biergarten on October 17, featuring beers from local and Louisiana craft breweries. Tickets vary from $5 to $30, depending on the day. Catch a show at one of the many blues bars in town. Biscuits & Blues and Bowie’s Tavern will get you started on the right note. Take a carriage tour through town or just amble along the streets and through the historic home-filled neighborhoods on a self-guided walking tour. Gamblers can roll the dice at the lodge-like Magnolia Bluffs Casino.

Food & Drink: The circa-1789 Kings Tavern, owned by Douglas Charboneau and Chef Regina Charboneau, the latter known for her work as Chef de Cuisine for the American Queen Riverboat, serves up wood-fired flatbreads, craft cocktails, and even offers mixology classes. Next door, the Charboneaus also run the Charboneau Distillery, crafting local rum and offering tours. Built in the late 1700s or early 1800s -- no one really seems to be sure -- the Under the Hill Saloon is a can’t-miss stop in Natchez. This perfect dive bar has also been a grocery, brothel, general merchandise store, and a warehouse. An unexpected lounge room past the bar will surprise visitors with its lush and exotic courtyard. The Natchez Brewing Company began brewing and selling its beer in the spring, and is now open for tours. Check the site for tour days and times. Coffee lovers can get their fix at the Natchez Coffee Co. (which also has a popular daily, diner-style breakfast service) or Steampunk Coffee Roasters. Sandwiches and burgers are just a taste of the casual fare at the Camp Restaurant. The upscale casual sports bar is a great place to watch the game, but isn’t just for sports fans. For fine dining and brunch, visit the Castle Restaurant (which looks like an actual castle) at the Dunleith Historic Inn. Also offered is the Castle Pub -- a cozy English-style tavern offering any and all libations, but the mint julep with freshly picked mint from just outside might be all you need.

Museums and Tours: Music lovers won’t want to miss the Delta Music Museum, which celebrates the tradition of the Delta blues and Mississippi rock and rollers such as “The Killer” Jerry Lee Lewis (free). The circa-1800s St. Mary Basilica is known for its 12 stained glass windows and three Gothic style Carrara marble altars made in Italy. The site of a preparatory school, college, and later a military college, Historic Jefferson College has a collection of circa-1800s classroom buildings, residences, and other structures that will captivate history buffs.

Stay: The Dunleith Historic Inn has rooms ranging from $200 to $350 from October through May and is the epitome of Southern grandeur. With four opulently appointed rooms in the Main House, three luxurious Courtyard Rooms and additional private quarters available in the Dairy Barn (which is a three-bedroom cottage with a full kitchen) this elegant, circa-1856 Greek revival manse is seated on 40 acres, which include the original 1790s carriage house and three-story brick dependency, among other buildings. A National Historic Landmark, the Main and Courtyard rooms include fireplaces, and all guests get a complimentary Southern breakfast buffet for two at the Castle Restaurant. The grounds also include an outdoor swimming pool, bocce ball, croquet courts, and wine tastings by appointment.

Getting There: Fly into New Orleans and drive two hours and 48 minutes on Interstate 10 to North US-61 and North US-425.

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