Life moves fast nowadays. We’re constantly on the go, showered with ads, lightning deals, or swamped in traffic. Smart phones ensure we’re always in touch and on call and never really leave the office.
My girlfriend and I decided we needed a little break from the chaos Baton Rouge brings. So we traveled 85 miles north on Highway 61 to Natchez for a weekend getaway. Many of you may be familiar with a little town you’ll pass along the way called St. Francisville. If you appreciate what it has to offer, then you’ll really love Natchez.
We arrived around noon on a Saturday and went straight downtown for lunch. Slick Rick’s hit the spot with its casual fare of sandwiches and burgers. From there, we walked down Main Street to the bluff overlooking the river to take in the views. It doesn’t take long to notice the historic feel and quiet atmosphere of the area. We followed the river a few blocks up to a quaint coffee shop called Steampunk, whose red brick building dates back to 1868.
Well-caffeinated, we headed back to the car. When I think of leisure and old Southern charm, I think mint juleps, so our next stop was Monmouth Historic Inn.
Monmouth is known for its lush, colorful gardens. It’s an idyllic setting for relaxation. Refreshing Mint Juleps are served in sterling silver tumblers by their bartender Roosevelt. The venue was setting up for an outdoor wedding ceremony, and we watched as the bride and groom took their photos. Tempted for another cocktail, we decided it best to check in at our bed and breakfast, The Elms.
With a glass of complimentary wine, we sat in the rocking chairs out on the wide galleries of The Elms. I chatted with the proprietor, Mark, a bit about life in the town. He first mentioned how the house has been in his wife Esther’s family since the 1870s. Walking was his preferred method of transportation. Anywhere he had to go in town, he walked, and felt safe doing so. If you appreciate history and Southern tradition, there’s no better place to be or visit, he felt. However, he was less optimistic about the current downturn in growth. He said population of Natchez has been steadily declining since 1960. All the major industry has left, and the majority of the bright, young people who grow up there seek opportunity elsewhere.
The daylight was waning and I gathered up the troops to head to the area known as “Under the Hill,” which holds restaurants and bars. We first went into the Under the Hill Saloon, which claims to be the oldest bar on the Mississippi. Mark Twain is said to have frequented it when he worked on riverboats in his day. They named the guesthouse, which was used as a brothel, after him. The restaurants there were packed, so we watched the sun go down before heading back uphill for dinner. We landed at Biscuit and Blues, another casual place with live music. I had the catfish po’boy, which was plenty good. It took a while for them to deliver the homemade biscuits, but once they did we no longer complained. To say they literally melt in your mouth is not a stretch.
We exited the restaurant and strolled through downtown for a little window shopping. The night was breezy and cool, but bad weather was approaching. We stopped outside the Eola Hotel, a relic of an opulent past. Mark called it “The New Orleans of the 1920’s you dreamed about.”
Inside now, it’s dark and eerie, as if people had been in the middle of renovating and suddenly dropped whatever they were doing and never came back. We noticed a single bedroom light on, which struck us as very odd for a supposedly abandoned building. We eventually returned to The Elms to wind down for the evening.
Early on Sunday morning, we were awoken by tornado sirens going off. We immediately ran downstairs to find shelter. The rest of the guests came down and joined us. I was somewhat reassured when Esther told me the space we were in was built in 1804 so that told me it’s survived many storms and wars through the years. A long forty minutes later, the sirens were cut and the worst was behind us. We all stayed congregated until breakfast. A fruit bowl, along with pancakes, bacon, eggs, fried potatoes, orange juice and coffee, was served. There were 11 of us gathered around, most from the southern parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, and we traded stories of past experiences with tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods, of which there seemed to be no shortage. Then we set about a normal Sunday, as best we could.
Still sleepy, we were slow to collect our selves and belongings and depart The Elms. First, we decided to pay a visit to the cemetery on the north side of town. Navigating through the residential section, the streets are lined with large Antebellum homes. Prior to the Civil War there were more millionaires living in Natchez than any U.S. city.
We arrived at the cemetery, with its rolling hills and 19th century ironwork. We drove around its narrow, windy paths and got a little lost before few made our way out and on to St. Mary’s Basilica Catholic Church. The tall steeple can be seen from anywhere in town. Once you step foot inside, you make sure to shut the door carefully and try not to make a sound. Inside the cathedral is breathtakingly immaculate. If you do need to speak, you feel the need to whisper, even though there’s no one else around. That, a friend recently told me, is the definition of a sacred place.
We headed back down the hill and grabbed some lunch at The Camp. Again, another casual place with burgers and sandwiches. The shroom burger I ordered was messy and drippy, but flavorful.
Lastly, I had to fuel up for the road so we returned to Steampunk. This time we were treated to a lesson on the perfect pour over coffee by local barista Robert Williams. Robert said his obsessive personality was to blame for his expansive knowledge of coffee and love for latte art.
We had originally planned to stay longer that day but between work and doggie day care, our busy lives beckoned us back home early. If you do travel to Natchez, I’d say take the time to explore, read the historical markers, tour some plantations, chat up some locals, sit out on the porch or gallery, sip iced tea or a mint julep. In short: Imagine a simpler life and feel time passing you by.