The first thing you need to know about Natchitoches, Louisiana, is how to say its name. Thanks to 300 years of French colonial history, the proper pronunciation of all those letters is “NACK-a-tish.”
Established in 1714, the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Territory is one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations and recipient of its Main Street Award. Loaded with eclectic shops, its 33-block National Landmark Historic District echoes a European past with houses that sport wrought-iron balconies, restaurants that offer cuisine from Creole and Cajun to barbecue and Cuban, and a few bricked streets. All sit on the long, narrow Cane River Lake, which meanders through town.
“Natchitoches is a little city with a big history,” said Katherine Johnson, group tours and special events manager for the Natchitoches Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It surprises you because it’s such a small place but has such authentic Creole-Cajun cultural experiences with many tie-ins that groups can use to create a more memorable meeting experience, all with a quaint Southern charm.”
It is the same charm that led Natchitoches to being chosen as the filming site for the classic Southern movie “Steel Magnolias” in 1988. Among the 17 sites on a “Steel Magnolias” tour are the Northwestern State University Field House and the Steel Magnolia House, one of two historic homes that team up as a bed-and-breakfast with enough rooms for a small corporate retreat.
Anchoring the city’s downtown historic district is the 87-room Chateau St. Denis Hotel, with 4,000 square feet of flexible space. Across the street, the Natchitoches Events Center, with floor-to-ceiling windows, adds another 20,000 square feet to host 1,000 people. Up to 100 can meet at the 20-room Church Street Inn, the first boutique hotel in the historic district.
Late-1700s vintage, the Prudhomme Roquier House, one of the most architecturally significant homes in the district, can accommodate 300. And recently bricked Lafayette Street can seat 180 for an outdoor crawfish boil or up to 250 for food booths, a bar and a band.
Outdoor recreation and team-building opportunities abound, with water sports, fishing excursions, skeet shooting and hiking. And at Christmastime, Natchitoches morphs into the “City of Lights.”
It’s easy to see why April’s Southern Living magazine proclaimed it “The Best Small Town in Louisiana.”
Known for its “picturebook architecture,” the Chateau St. Denis Hotel, in the Southern Living Hotel Collection, has balcony rooms, a French Quarter-style brick courtyard and meeting space for 330. All have picturesque downtown views.
Also embracing French colonial heritage, the Natchitoches Events Center caters local cuisine at its functions. Attendees can savor meat pie, Louisiana seafood and Creole entrees.
Nearby, the Church Street Inn, built in 1961 as a bank, has an outdoor patio that works well for receptions. It’s within walking distance to lovely Cane River Lake and to Northwestern University, which boasts nearly 40,000 square feet of meeting space, including a boardroom.
Sports and History Museum
The stunning $23 million, 27,000-square-foot Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest History Museum stands appropriately in the Natchitoches National Historic District. Here, interactive media, high-definition videos and touch screens reveal the stats and life stories of such natives as Archie Manning, “Pistol” Pete Maravich, Shaquille O’Neal and New Orleans-born Audrey “Mickey” Patterson, the first African-American woman to win an Olympic medal.
A private museum meeting room can accommodate 40.
“The building that houses both entities is beautiful and has won architectural awards,” said Jennae Biddiscombe, branch director of the museum. “After a meeting here, attendees can take a guided tour.”