Note: This article has been updated on October 31, 2005. At this time, we are unable to reach this business (or homeowner) after Hurricane Katrina. Please contact us if you have any information regarding its status.
About 45 minutes north of New Orleans, you'll discover several friendly, sophisticated small towns. Two of these, Mandeville and Covington, lie just off the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. Nearby, you'll find yourself surrounded by quiet woods. With the following pointers, you'll have plenty to do by day, if you like, as well as peaceful, secluded spots for sleeping, resting, and renewing.
Friday--Easing Into Nature
Get a great taste of South Louisiana with lunch at Lama's St. Roch Seafood Restaurant in Covington. Splurge on the soft-shell crab plate ($11.50)--one of the best we've ever had. Then drive a few miles to Pontchartrain Vineyards in Bush, where John and Susan Seago offer wine tastings and tales. Pick your favorite sip, and buy a bottle to take to your weekend hideaway.
We found two very different lodgings we really like. The first is Little River Bluffs: three cabins in a nature preserve on the Little Tchefuncte (cha-FUNK-ta) River. Each cabin has a kitchen if you want to cook, and the owners can direct you to nearby grocery stores. When you arrive, home-cooked bread awaits you. Rates range from $220 to $390 for two weekend nights, depending on the cabin size; (985) 796-5257 or www.littleriverbluffs.com.
The other is a Hansel-and-Gretel escape nearby called Woods Hole Inn. This is more romantic and accessorized than Little Rivers Bluffs, but it's not too frilly. The inn has three cottages with prices ranging from $85 to $138 a night. Light breakfast items and coffeepots await in each, so you can sleep late and dine in your jammies; (985) 796-9077 or www.woodsholeinn.com.
If you choose not to cook in, go out to dinner at Dakota Restaurant. Afterward, head back to your hideaway for perhaps a taste of your Pontchartrain Vineyards pick, and then a quiet night's sleep.
Saturday--From Wild Animals to Chic Boutiques
Early risers will find fall fun at either lodging. Woods Hole Inn has bicycles to ride down a serene tree-canopied lane. At Little River Bluffs, you can stroll to the pond with a fishing pole and a mug of coffee.
Then get ready for an outing to the Global Wildlife Center, a totally unexpected safari in the Louisiana woods. Call ahead for tour check-in times; (985) 624-9453. After buying your ticket ($8-$10), peruse the entertaining gift shop while waiting for the tour to begin. As you board a covered wagon, guides offer animal food for you to buy. Don't pass up this opportunity; snacks for the center's inhabitants are a big part of the fun. After the wagon leaves the gift shop, it doesn't take long for these animals--big ones and lots of them--to swarm the wagon and beg. During the next hour and a half, you'll stop at different stations and have various animals pointed out to you. It's easy to figure out which ones are zebras, giraffes, camels, and llamas, but there are some surprises (such as eland, large African antelopes with spiral horns).
You might want to stop by your lodging and wash up before heading into Covington for lunch at Judice's and shopping on Lee Lane and nearby streets. Check out Art on Columbia for lots of handmade items, The French House for high-end antiques and furniture, Walker House for fun antiques, and Stringbeans Jewelry & Bead Shop to make your own wearable art. Have an early, casual dinner at Magnolia Grill (known for its burgers), and then head back to the woods for a good rest while listening to the dark night's lullaby.
Sunday--A Little Biking, A Little Brew
Locals know the nearby burg of Abita Springs for its spot as a trailhead on the Tammany Trace (an abandoned railbed converted to a bicycling and horse path). The town is also famous for its bottled water and beer. If you can't bring your own bicycle, you can rent one at the Abita Art Gallery from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday--by the hour or day.
Though you can ride a good distance on the path going one way, we suggest you pedal awhile, then turn back toward town in time for a big lunch at Abita Brew Pub. (Your bicycling clothes are most appropriate here.) We like the play on oysters Rockefeller: Chicken Abitafeller ($12.95). It's a grilled chicken breast topped with creamed spinach, fried oysters, and seafood velouté (white roux-based sauce). If that doesn't fill you up, it has Red Hot Smashed Potatoes and veggies on the side. Wash it down with that well-known Abita water or beer.
For More Information
Contact the St. Tammany Parish Tourist Commission, 68099 State 59, Mandeville, LA 70471; (985) 892-0520, 1-800-634-9443, or www.neworleansnorthshore.com.