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Rip Van Winkle Gardens in New Iberia, Louisiana

When the stay-at-home orders are lifted and we're once again allowed to travel and go about our business, I wonder if we'll all feel a little like Rip Van Winkle did when he awoke from his 20-year nap. Our "nap" will have only lasted for two months or so, but I suspect the world we used to know will be changed -- at least for a while.

Washington Irving wrote the tale about Rip Van Winkle in 1819. In the story, Rip was a colonist in America who was loyal to King George of England. During his sleep, he missed the entire Revolutionary War and the death of his quarrelsome wife and woke to find the entire political landscape changed and his children all grown up.

An actor named Joseph Jefferson adapted the story into a play and assumed the leading role. During his career, he played Rip Van Winkle 4500 times in theaters all over the world, and it was that role that made him famous.

In 1870, Jefferson used some of the money gained from his successful career to build a hunting lodge on what was then known as Orange Island (later called Jefferson Island). That Victorian style mansion is now the centerpiece of Rip Van Winkle Gardens and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours of the home (which will hopefully resume completely when the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted) are given every hour on the hour from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., 7 days a week. I was itching to take photos during my tour, but sadly, no cameras were allowed. There are a few on the website. As an interesting fact, the house sits on a salt dome that puts it 75 feet above sea level-- very unusual for Louisiana.

The gardens encompass 15 acres and are walk-thru only. Birdwatchers will love this place which attracts 260 species of birds. One of the most notable is the Spoonbill Roseate, which, I learned gets its red color from eating crawfish. :) When I'm in Louisiana, it's a wonder I don't turn a shade of red myself. :) Peacocks roam freely and are incorporated into the Gardens' logo.

Cafe Jefferson is a lovely place to enjoy lunch during your visit. Not only is the food delicious but the setting is relaxing amid towering live oaks dripping with moss and with a view of Lake Peigneur.

It is possible to spend the night on the grounds in either the Cook's Cottage or the Servant's Quarters, both of which are very nice bed and breakfast accommodations. The Gardens are also a wonderful event venue, very popular for weddings.

New Iberia is 21 miles southeast of Lafayette, Louisiana and approximately 130 miles from New Orleans. If you enjoy finding places that are off-the-beaten-path, this is one I'd recommend.

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