advertisement

On the shores of Lake Peigneur, this is a place of huge oak trees, 350 years old or more, draped with Spanish moss. Originally known as Jefferson Island, it isn't a proper island, but a piece of land held up higher than its surroundings. Actor Joseph Jefferson, who gained national fame for his portrayal of Rip Van Winkle, purchased the land in 1869 and erected an extravagant three-story home, much of which he designed himself. Although Jefferson did more than a little landscaping and gardening on the grounds, the Bayless family, which bought the estate in 1917, was responsible for the colorful panorama you see today.

The gardens were well developed when disaster struck in 1980 -- the lake disappeared after an oil company drilled into the salt mine, creating a gigantic whirlpool so powerful that it sucked in all the waters of the lake and huge portions of the adjacent gardens. The gardens have been rebuilt but have been reduced from their original 65 acres to a mere 25. Of course, that was before Hurricane Lily ripped through, damaging both house and gardens. But it's all restored, after a closure of 2 1/2 years. A tour takes you through Jefferson's old home and gives you an idea of (wealthy) life 100 years ago. Pirate Jean Lafitte's brother-in-law was rumored to have owned this land before Jefferson, a bit of folklore that may have been proven when three pots of very old silver coins were unearthed here.

Admire the 550-year-old oak tree Grover Cleveland snoozed under, while walking around and pretending this land is yours, which you sort of can, thanks to B&B accommodations. This smashing setup may be the best bargain in all of Cajun Country. The guests are handed the keys (figuratively speaking) to this plantation when the place closes for the day. Accommodations consist of just three rooms, a stand-alone cottage plus two rooms in old servants' quarters behind the main house. Rooms are prettily decorated (we prefer the cottage) and include a sweet little minikitchen, four-poster beds, good linens, and great mattresses. Look for a nice gift basket of amenities in the modern gleaming bathrooms. (Cost is $150 per night. Includes continental breakfast, and wine and cheese.)