A destination for history buffs and foodies alike.
Magnolias and camellias in bloom, and a touch of spring is in the air. It’s early February in Natchez, Mississippi, and if this southern destination isn’t on your radar, perhaps it should be. Founded in 1716, it’s the oldest settlement on the Mississippi River and is full of history, grand antebellum mansions, and culinary delights.
The most popular time to visit Natchez may be during the spring or fall pilgrimage season, when many private homes and plantations open their doors to the public for tours. February, however, is a great option for those looking to escape the northern winter weather and enjoy the sites with very few other tourists. The mild temperatures and low humidity make it a great time to explore Natchez.
Upon arrival, the best way to get a taste for all the city has to offer, is to take one of the many tour options available. Whether it be one of the self-guided walking tours, the City Sightseeing Hop on, Hop off bus, or the quaint, horse drawn carriage ride of Southern Carriage Tours, you’ll be provided with a more intimate view of Natchez today, as well as a glimpse into it’s past.
It’s been said that in 1860, Natchez had more millionaires per capita than New York City. The wealthy displayed their money in grandiose fashion through their lavishly built and furnished homes. While many made their vast fortunes from the slave trade or production of cotton, they did not live at their plantations. Plantations were commonly laid out in the rich, but flood-prone river delta, so instead, they built their ‘town houses’ in Natchez, perched high above the Mississippi. Here, far away from the day-to-day misery of the slaves whose servitude maintained their lavish lifestyles, they were free to attend parties and flaunt their prosperity.
Due to the city’s quick surrender during the American civil war, there are an abundance of antebellum homes that remain, and no trip to Natchez is complete without a historic mansion tour. Many of the grounds are free to tour, and are filled with elegant gardens and century old, majestic, live oaks. For those homes that do charge, the fees are quite reasonable and well worth the cost. While most offer daily tours year round, its best to check their websites, as tour times change depending on the season.
Rosalie Mansion (pictured below), offers a well guided tour, providing in-depth and fascinating details about the families who’ve lived there. Adding to it’s charm and beauty, the majority of the furnishings at Rosalie are original, including a large set of John Henry Belter, hand-carved rosewood furniture, created in the “Rosalie” style that became it’s namesake. Please note that while photography is not allowed inside the house, this is a tour you will not soon forget and is highly recommended.
Melrose Mansion (pictured above), acquired by the National Park Service in 1990, offers another exceptional tour. This home is filled with it’s original opulence. Hand-carved furniture, glamorous gilded mirrors and chandeliers, as well as the original painted oil cloth flooring make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Many of the original buildings, including the stables, milk house and slave quarters are still standing and can be toured free of charge. Tours of the grounds are also free, and should not be missed, especially while the camellias are in bloom. The fee for the mansion tour is $8 for adults and photography is allowed, so be sure to bring your camera and capture the elegance that is Melrose.
While there are many more mansion tours available in Natchez, there are also additional sites that should not be missed. One of these is the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum has many exhibits portraying the lives of African Americans in the days of slavery up to current culture. There are docents available to provide further details as they guide you through the artifacts of black history filling the museum. There is no fee to tour the museum, and donations are accepted.
The Stratton Chapel on Pearl Street holds an amazing collection of photographs, titled Natchez in Historic Photographs. Life in and around Natchez, as well as family portraits, are displayed in various rooms on the 2nd floor of the chapel (accessible by elevator). If you prefer your history in a visual display or are simply a lover of photography, this assemblage should not be missed. The photos date from approximately 1845 to 1910, and the fascinating fashion, hairstyles and architecture captured in these pictures are worth the trip alone. There is no fee to view these wonderful photos, and donations are accepted to offset costs. No photography allowed.
In addition to it’s rich history, Natchez has many great places to grab a bite to eat. For a city with a population of less than 15,000 people, there are a surprising large number of gastronomic delights that will satisfy any appetite. If you like the nostalgia of window service, you’ll love what’s being served up at The Malt Shop. This unassuming corner joint is not to be missed when in Natchez. There is an extensive menu, however, the delicious catfish sandwich and Cajun curly fries are recommended. Enjoy numerous flavors of shakes or malts, and while you are waiting for your order, create a lasting memory by adding your initials to the picnic table out front.
If a sit down restaurant is more your speed, there are plenty of options available. Bring your appetite to Pearl Street Pasta, where the service is charming and the portions are large. The Cajun Shrimp pasta or the blackened, seared tuna is a delicious option for seafood lovers, while the Eggplant Parmesan is sure to satisfy the vegetarian in your group. Or check out the King’s Tavern, circa 1789. It’s the oldest standing building in the Mississippi territory and is rumored to be haunted. Not to be missed are the bacon wrapped artichoke hearts with spicy aioli or the biscuit crusted, crawfish pot pie, served with a house salad with preserved lemon vinaigrette and shaved parmesan.
To satisfy your sweet tooth, day or night, you must try The Donut Shop. If you love donuts, do not drive past this bright, blue building, located at 501 John R. Junkin Drive. They have a large variety of fresh donuts, including the best apple fritters, and will leave you wanting donuts for every meal. Please note there is only window service available, as well as covered, outdoor seating, and they are closed on Mondays. Highly recommended!
There are many more restaurants that I highly recommend checking out, a few of which are listed below:
- Biscuits & Blues
- Cotton Alley
- Jug Heads Fish Fry
- Natchez Coffee Company
- Slick Rick’s
- Roux 61
- The Camp
If you are looking for an affordable, and interesting destination, complete with southern charm, hospitality, and delicious food, then look no further than Natchez, Mississippi. For a visitor’s guide, click here.
Did you know the resurrection fern is a remarkable plant that can lose about 75 percent of its water content during a typical dry period and perhaps up to 97 percent in an extreme drought? During a drought, it shrivels up to a grayish brown clump of leaves. When the plant is exposed to water again, it will “come back to life” and look green and healthy. The picture below was taken one day after it had rained in Natchez, so the top part is still green. While the fern gets its name from this supposed “resurrection,” it never actually dies during the process. This is quite fascinating, as by contrast, most other plants can lose only 10 percent of their water content before they die.