Overhung by a tangle of foliage, the Red River swirls languidly through central Louisiana, unfurling a sparkling carpet of water at Alexandria's doorstep. Along with Pineville, across the river, the area's population is in the vicinity of 400,000, an urban hub in central Louisiana on the road from Lafayette north to Shreveport or Monroe.
Whether you're stopping in to catch historic plantations, local museums or enjoy watery sport on one of the lakes nearby, visitors of all ages will find entertaining possibilities.
Try Louisiana Maneuvers and Military Museum at Camp Beauregard, in Pineville, for military history, and the Southern Forest Heritage Museum near Forest Hill, for period logging equipment and old locomotives. Get an introduction to cotton production in the 21st-century at Frogmore Plantation House, or tour Kent House in Alexandria for a glimpse of furniture and costumes from the from an age dominated by plantations.
Stop in at the Alexandria Museum of Art for works by Louisiana artists and traveling exhibitions, then cruise Arna Bontemps boyhood home (Bontemps was an important Harlem Renaissance writer), now a museum featuring memorabilia from his life. Families with kiddies in tow won't want to skip town without making a stop at the Tree House Children's museum.
For fun the whole crew can get involved in, steer straight for the stretch of water nearby and do a bit of water skiing, boating or fishing before retreating to a day spa in Alexandria to recover. With accessible forested trails, there are plenty of places to get a spot of exercise, even hunting seasonally - but if it's wildlife you're looking for, the Alexandria Zoological Park is your safest bet. With an afternoon to spare, tee off at the Audubon Golf Trail course where sand traps and water hazards (no alligators here) are the biggest threat.
Alexandria is 124 miles southeast of Shreveport, and 59 miles from historic Natchitoches.