Photo: Courtesy City of Natchitoches

One of our favorite small towns, Natchitoches is an elegant and energetic riverside town.

Why We Love It: It’s elegant and energetic. Set beside the Cane River Lake, Natchitoches (Nack-a-tish) might be considered New Orleans’s older, calmer sister. Settled by the French in 1714 (four years before her rowdier sibling to the south), the state’s oldest town spices up its white-columned, Southern plantation lifestyle with hearty pinches of Creole and Cajun influences.

Our Favorite Inn: Judge Porter House Bed & Breakfast
Ask for the New Orleans room. Filled with 1860 furniture (the queen-size bed and matching dresser are from a wedding dowry), the airy upstairs room makes for a great weekend getaway. Rates start at $135.

Best Place for Dinner: Papa's Bar & Grill and Mama's Oyster House
Start with a cool drink or a cold beer at Papa’s, and then walk next door to Mama’s for great regional dishes (hey, don’t knock fried frog legs until you’ve tried them). On some weekends, you can grab a chair in Mama’s Blues Room and settle in to hear some of the best blues and Cajun musicians in Louisiana.

City Center: Front Street
The buildings along this lakeside street are decorated with so many wrought iron railings that you’ll think you’re in the French Quarter. (Some locals say that’s where New Orleans got the idea.) Stop by Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile, Louisiana’s oldest hardware store, and buy something just to see them ring it up on the 1910 cash register.

Scenic Spot: Cane River Lake
This month you may see workers stringing lights in the trees along the Cane River Lake as Natchitoches prepares for its “Christmas Festival of Lights,” a glittering lakefront extravaganza that starts November 20 and runs through January 6, 2011.

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