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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Meet in the Bayou and Beyond

In Louisiana, small towns are anything but sleepy.

Packed with historic architecture and abundant natural beauty, these affordable, accessible and modestly sized destinations give meeting planners and attendees a lot of bang for their buck. In these five towns, you’ll find friendly locals, rich culture and unforgettable food.


The only hard part about visiting Natchitoches, a charming city in the north-central part of the state, is figuring out how to say its name. A Caddo Indian word meaning “place of the paw-paw,” it’s pronounced “Nack-a-tish.” Visitors quickly catch on and often fall in love with the colonial European ambiance of the city and surrounding parish.

“We’re the oldest city [in the state] — four years older than New Orleans,” said Arlene Gould, executive director of the Natchitoches Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Natchitoches has three primary meeting facilities. The Natchitoches Events Center features 40,000 square feet of event space, including a divisible 15,000-square-foot exhibit hall and three 1,200-square-foot meeting rooms. Northwestern State University can seat up to 250 people theater-style in its 40,000 square feet of space, and the Natchitoches Conference Center can handle groups of up to 250.

After their meetings, attendees can stroll the brick streets of the 33-block historic landmark district that runs along the Cane River. Made famous in the 1989 film “Steel Magnolias,” the area has a bounty of original shops, including the Natchitoches Art Guild and Gallery. Visitors can relax on a carriage ride or cruise aboard the Cane River Queen or enjoy a delicious meal overlooking Sibley Lake at Mariners Restaurant, which can accommodate groups large and small.

St. Francisville

Thirty-five minutes north of Baton Rouge and less than two hours from New Orleans in Louisiana’s “Hill Country,” St. Francisville has maintained its small-town character as it offers a vibrant cultural and culinary scene and myriad outdoor recreation options. The many bed and breakfasts in the area include the Myrtles, known as one of the most haunted homes in America. The Tunica Hills wildlife area is famous for its Sunken Road, a trail that has been used for over 10,000 years, while the Cat Island Nature Reserve is home to the largest bald cypress tree in North America. Artist and naturalist John James Audubon lived at what is now Oakley House at Audubon State Historic Site, where he began work on at least 32 of his paintings of North American birds.

For meetings, the spacious grounds of Hemingbough are home to peacock-adorned gardens, a Greek Revival amphitheater that overlooks a 47-acre lake, and a ballroom that accommodates seated banquets for several hundred people. Downtown, the Mallory,a renovated hardware store, has a full prep kitchen and bar, a 20×30-foot  stage, a grand ballroom and a side gallery. An eight-room boutique hotel, pizza restaurant, speakeasy and a brewery will be opening in the next few months.

“There’s a lot going on here,” said Devan Corbello, executive director of the West Feliciana Parish Tourist Commission. “Local musicians are playing at coffee shops, restaurants and dive bars weekly. The Saint has made OpenTable’s Top 100 restaurants twice in the last three years, and we have a free trolley serving the community and visitors every weekend.”


Small but mighty, Franklin lies south of Lafayette on Bayou Teche in the heart of Cajun country.

“We have over 400 historic properties listed on the National Register,” said Carrie Stansbury, executive director at Cajun Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau. “The beautiful main street still has lamp posts in the middle of the boulevard. And the people who own the stores and shops in town are going to be super friendly to visitors.”

Visitors can stay in luxury at the Albania Mansion, the Arlington Mansion and the Fairfax House, all stunning historic properties. Downtown, the restored Teche Theatre for the Performing Arts seats up to 100 people, while the nearby Cypress Bayou Casino Hotel has 102 rooms, including 10 suites, meeting facilities and a 19,700-square-feet entertainment and event pavilion with seating for over 2,000.

When meetings have adjourned, attendees can take swamp tours in the Atchafalaya Basin. The nation’s largest river swamp, the basin is bigger than the Everglades and home to 250 species of birds, as well as 65 species of amphibians and reptiles. Other possibilities? Group excursions to nearby Avery Island, home of world-famous Tabasco Sauce.

Monroe and West Monroe

Located 90 miles west of Jackson, Mississippi., and 250 miles east of Dallas, there’s a lot going on in Monroe and West Monroe, picturesque twin towns on the banks of the Ouachita River and Bayou Desiard.

“Antique Alley is located in the historic district of downtown West Monroe,” said Karen Laban, president of the Antique Alley Merchant’s Association. “And we’re also a cultural district. We have over 80 different businesses located in the downtown area consisting of antique stores, boutiques and specialty shops.”

At the Biedenharn Museum and Gardens, visitors can learn about Joseph Biedenham, the man who first bottled Coca-Cola and also founded Delta Airlines. Football legend Drew Brees has packed a ton of fun into his Surge Entertainment Center, with bowling, golf simulators, karaoke rooms, arcade games and much more. The newly opened 110,000-square-foot West Monroe Sports and Events has basketball, pickleball, a fieldhouse, and meeting and party rooms.

Meeting planners have plenty of hotel and venue choices.  There are around 2,000 hotel rooms in the area, including the 260-room Clarion Inn and Suites Conference Center, with 21,000 square feet of meeting space. The largest meeting complex, the Monroe Civic Center, has five facilities, including a 22,000-square-foot convention center, a 14,000-square-foot conference hall, a 7,600-seat arena and a 2,000-seat theater. For a smaller, more rustic setting, the Bayou Pointe Event Venue on Bayou DeSiard  accommodates 450 for banquets and 750 for receptions in its main ballroom.

After hours, attendees can enjoy a pint and a pizza at the family friendly Flying Tiger Brewery or any of more than 100 locally owned restaurants. The complex also features a 14,000-square-foot divisible conference hall and an arena with 46,025 square feet of exhibit space and seating for 7,600.


With a name like Thibodaux, this town has to be Cajun. Located at the top of Lafourche Parish, 35 miles south of New Orleans, Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou is home to the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute, the only culinary school in the state that offers a four-year culinary degree. Visitors can immerse themselves in the Cajun way of life at attractions like the Jean Lafitte Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center or Laurel Valley Village, the largest surviving 19th– century sugar plantation in the U.S.

Meeting facilities and conference centers include the Oaks of Thibodaux, the Thibodaux Regional Wellness Center and Nicholls State University. The Hampton Inn and Suites in Thibodaux has 109 rooms. The local tourism bureau also offers a $1,000 meeting incentive program.