If you had asked me a week ago what is the best weekend getaway from DFW, I would have said, without hesitation, Fredericksburg, TX. In the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg is steeped in German history, natural beauty (Texas-style), fun shopping, and hospitable bed & breakfasts. And, being 5 hours from DFW (or 8.5, if you have 3 kids under age 4 with you…long story), it’s a doable trip for a long weekend.
But then, I went to Natchez, Mississippi. And I fell in love.
Natchez, at the southwest corner of Mississippi, sits high on a bluff 200 feet above the Mississippi river. Its history includes many layers of Native American, French, Spanish, and British colonization, but the real story (at least visually) is its antebellum heritage of romantic homes and colorful history based on the economy of King Cotton. It truly has everything – historical sites, great shopping (including loads of antiques!), beautiful scenery, and gorgeous B&B’s. And, best of all, it’s within a 6-7 hour drive from Dallas-Fort Worth.
My sister and I just had a tremendous girl’s getaway weekend in Natchez. Following is a quick rundown of what the town has to offer – or at least, what we found in our first trip. I’ve no doubt there will be many more in the years to come.
What to See:
At one point just before the Civil War, Natchez is said to have had the largest number of millionaires per capita in the U.S. – and those wealthy plantation owners built beautiful “town” homes in Natchez to socialize and display their wealth. Because the city officially surrendered to the Union during the Civil War, many of those homes were used for Union army operations and hospitals, instead of being destroyed. Today, with over 1000 historical structures listed on the National Register, Natchez seems almost frozen in time, and everywhere you look is a visual reminder of the grace and wealth of the Old South. There are more homes available to tour than we could possibly have done in our weekend trip, so we focused on the “biggies” – Stanton Hall (pictured above), Rosalie, and Longwood (pictured here). We also, as a part of the “Girlfriend Getaway” packaged we’d booked through our hosts at The Elms bed & breakfast, got additional tours of The Burn and Linden (don’t miss Ms. Jeannette’s Milk Punch Tour at Linden!). More than just seeing the homes and the furnishings, these tours tell you the stories of the people who built and then fought to keep these grand homes through the Civil War, the collapse of the cotton economy, the Great Depression, and beyond.
What to Do:
Natchez is the starting point of the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444-mile highway that closely follows a trail used by Native Americans, explorers like Merriwether Lewis, settlers, and future presidents. It is now operated by the National Park Service. Near Natchez, you can visit an old historic “stand”, or inn, that offered shelter along the way at Mount Locust Inn. Even more interesting, I thought, was to visit the ghost town of Rocky Springs, which has disappeared entirely with the exception of a beautiful church and cemetery, but was a bustling rural community of over 2600 residents in 1860 – just 150 years ago. Its historic church is pictured to the right, and until early summer 2010, offered weekly church services but is now available only for special events, though it is open to walk through during park hours.
I also highly recommend taking a Natchez Ghost Tour. The 1.5 hour ride through Natchez includes stops at historic buildings and homes, with stories of hauntings of ghosts by everyone from outlaws to tragic children. The owner/operator, Eric Williams, is a bit over the top (just check out his website for an example), but he made the tour highly enjoyable. While I do have to discount just how many hauntings he claimed exist (if any) since Ghost Hunters isn’t permanently filming in the city, it was a fun way to spend an evening when most things in town close down at sunset or earlier.
Where to Shop:
There are so many antique stores, boutiques, and cute shops lining the historical downtown of Natchez that we didn’t have a chance to see them all. However, let me just say we got some DEALS on antiques and other unique items – enough so to make it more than worth eating our return trip air tickets and paying to drop off our rental car at DFW so we could cart our haul back home. Make sure to check out these antique stores: Vintage Retreat (100 State St), Primitives (505 Franklin St), Fleur de Lis (415 Franklin St), and Natchez Antiques (701 Franklin St), which is where we got the majority of our haul. For non-antique but totally cute, giftable items, hit Darby’s (410 Main St — pricey stuff, but some deals can be found – and you can taste test their famous fudge while you browse!), and the gift shops of the historic homes. (I thought the Rosalie shop was the best, and bought some cute items for my kids there.)
Where to Stay:
Antebellum homes plus Southern hospitality plus scrumptious home-cooked breakfasts equals a bed & breakfast traveler’s dream. There are around 40 B&B’s in Natchez, many of which are in gorgeous mansions surrounded by lush gardens. You have several opportunities to sleep in the homes of the old cotton planters, often being hosted by the descendants of the families that built the homes. Many of these are reviewed on TripAdvisor.com, which is where we found our beautiful B&B, The Elms. This home is steeped in history, and we were hosted by a fifth generation owner — who also happens to be a celebrated artist and Top 20 Woman Chef according to USA Today (see history of The Elms). If hotels are more your style, two large ones are located in the historic downtown area, including the 119-room Natchez Grand Hotel and the 131-room Natchez Eola Hotel.
Where to Eat:
Even though our trip was only two days long, we did sample many of the “must-do” restaurants in Natchez. The highlight of my off-my-diet-all-you-can-eat weekend was the Natchez beignet at Biscuits & Blues, a yummy restaurant in the historic downtown on Main Street. Another must for their great tamales and “knock you naked” margaritas is Fat Mama‘s, where I also purchased one of my favorite finds for the weekend – a crab wall hanging made from Sam Adams bottle caps (looks much cooler than it sounds, see the pic!). A somewhat mediocre BBQ joint topped off our weekend, but we just had to check it out after seeing the name: The Pig Out Inn (because this was my goal for the weekend – to pig out!), with the motto of “Swine Dining at Its Finest.” Too bad they were out of T-shirts that night, because I would have bought one each for the whole family.
How to Get There:
The only downside to Natchez is that you will need to spend part of your vacation time traveling there. The closest airports are in either Baton Rouge or Jackson, MS (where we flew). From there, you have a 90 or 110 mile drive to reach the town. I suggest driving the entire way; it’s an easy drive across I-20, and you’ll see pretty scenery in East Texas and Louisiana along the way. We made it home from Natchez to DFW Airport in 6.5 hours – and that was after taking a 2-lane highway across the entire state of Louisiana so I could check out Natchitoches (which also looks pretty darn cute!).
In the spring and fall during “pilgrimage” weeks, many additional homes are available to be toured, many of which are private residences. Check out the Natchez Pilgrimagewebsite for dates and house tour schedules. Additionally, 2010 will see the 6th Annual Great Mississippi River Balloon Race, which is held in Natchez in October.
After our great weekend in Natchez, my sister and I are already planning another girl’s weekend…this time including our other sis, our Mom, and all my nieces. I hope you also get a chance to visit this gem of the South soon!