By Teresa Otto | TravelAwaits.com
Mandeville, Louisiana, sits on the northern edge of Lake Pontchartrain and is an easy day trip from New Orleans. If you take the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the trip from New Orleans to Mandeville is 35 miles long, with an impressive 24 miles of it along the causeway.
Mandeville has long been a destination for city dwellers seeking an escape to a rural setting. In the 1800s, the yellow fever epidemic meant that those who could afford to leave New Orleans for the fresh air and fresh spring water that the city lacked, the cooler nights, and the perceived healthier environment did so. Their summer getaway homes remain in Mandeville today in a walkable historic district with restaurants and shops.
Here are some great ways to spend a perfect day in charming Mandeville.
Take A Walking Or Biking Tour
The Historic Mandeville Marker Tour takes you past homes and buildings on a self-guided walking tour. At least 20 of the 57 sites have QR codes on their individual markers which, when you scan them with your cell phone, open up informational links.
The Old Mandeville Historic Association put together several walking, biking, and driving tours that focus on the lakefront properties, the historic homes and buildings of Old Mandeville, and local churches and lost landmarks. You can find brochures at the Lang House or on the association’s website.
If you choose the 1.5-mile walking tour along Lakeshore Drive, notice the large white two-story building facing the lake. Known as Rest A While, it opened in the 1880s as the Hotel Frapert and was a popular vacation destination because of its beautiful views, restaurant, and dance hall, as well as the cool breezes that came off the lake. In 1903, the property was donated to a Christian group that provided housing for widows and children whose husbands and fathers had died of yellow fever.
Pro Tip: For more information on Rest A While, see the exhibit in the Lang House.
If you like cycling or prefer to drive, you can take the 7-mile Old Mandeville Street Stroll that adds historic buildings and homes found downtown to the Lakeshore Drive tour.
The church and lost landmark tour is more spread out and probably best done by car.
Pro Tip: These tours can be easily scaled to your interests and time. Old Mandeville’s sidewalks are wheelchair accessible and on level ground.
Take A Tour Of A Historic Home
Along the Old Mandeville Street Stroll, you’ll see the Jean Lafitte Baptiste Lang Creole House. It belonged to a tobacco merchant from Luxembourg who had settled in New Orleans. The home was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina, and the local volunteers who provide tours are rightfully proud of the home’s restoration.
To learn about the home, join a free, docent-led tour on which the unique features of the home are pointed out. The faux bois — a French phrase meaning “fake wood” — is rare. Mr. Lang had the interior painted to resemble oak paneling. The original low banisters and blue ceiling over the porch are typical of Creole homes.
Pro Tip: The home is wheelchair accessible. Plan for an hour here, including a look at the gardens.
Head To Fontainebleau State Park
Fontainebleau State Park sits on Lake Pontchartrain. Mandeville’s founding father, Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville, owned a sugar plantation here. The park’s 2,800 acres contain the ruins of a sugar mill, a poignant tribute to the enslaved people who worked at the plantation; woodland and marsh trails; and a beach.
Sugar Mill Ruins
A brick chimney and some ruins are all that are left of the mill that Mandeville built in 1829. Placards give a mini history lesson on plantation life. Near the mill ruins, massive oak trees in a large grassy expanse commemorate the enslaved people of the plantation. A marker mentions that this was the location of their homes — 20 double cabins for 153 men, women, and children. In addition to running the sugar cane plantation, the enslaved people at Fontainebleau tended farm animals, made bricks, and milled lumber. The enslaved children — 57 of them under the age of 10 — had the dangerous job of feeding sugar cane into the sugar presses.
Woodland And Marsh Trails
A short, level 1.4-mile nature trail takes off near the oak trees. Signs help identify the trees and shrubs you’ll see in this wooded area. When I was there in late March, Louisiana irises, the state flower, were blooming.
Pro Tip: If it has rained recently, you’ll need a pair of boots to navigate the nature trail.
The marsh boardwalk allows ample opportunity to spot birds and wildlife of the alligator variety. It was my first alligator-in-the-wild spotting. It (I just Googled how to sex an alligator, and I can tell you with certainty I’m never going to get that close to one) glided through the water silently with only its nostrils exposed. The only thing I noticed was the wake it left.
The marsh boardwalk is elevated and is an optimal place to see not only alligators and birds, but also the sailboats on Lake Pontchartrain.
For a closer look at the marshes and bayous that are on either side of Fontainebleau State Park, you can rent a kayak and paddle through the water nearly as silently as the alligators. Many locals told me that the alligators leave kayakers alone.
If you’re hesitant to go alone, you can join a guided swamp tour and kayak Cane Bayou with a group.
Fontainebleau’s beach is the perfect place to enjoy the last light of day — either with your toes still in the sand, or from a pier that juts out into Lake Pontchartrain. The park is open until 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, so you’ll have plenty of time to watch the sun dip below the water. A nearby pavilion has restrooms, a changing room, and showers.
Pro Tip: Admission costs $3 per person for anyone under 62. Admission is free for those 62 and over.
Shop At The Farmers Market
On Saturday mornings, farmers, craftspeople, and artists sell their wares at the farmers market at Mandeville Community Trailhead, adjacent to the historic Mandeville train depot. Food vendors are there as well and offer a tantalizing selection, from barbecue to Middle Eastern specialties.
If you’re in the market for local artwork, this is a great place to buy watercolors, mixed-media art, and framed photographs of local scenes.
Pro Tip: The farmers market is wheelchair accessible. It’s held every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Make Your Way Along Tammany Trace
What was once part of the Illinois Central railroad system has become Tammany Trace, a 31-mile-long paved trail that attracts walkers, cyclists, and inline skaters. One access point is the Mandeville Community Trailhead, but you can access the trail just about anywhere in Mandeville.
The trail runs from Covington, northwest of Mandeville, to Heritage Park, southeast of Mandeville, and it has a total elevation gain of 95 feet. Maps are located at the main entry points as well as on the Tammany Trace website.
Brooks’ Bike Shop in downtown Mandeville rents bikes and helmets. If you reserve your bike online, be sure to rent from the Mandeville location, since the chain also has shops in Covington and Slidell.
Pro Tip: No pets are allowed on Tammany Trace.
Enjoy Shopping And A Cup Of Coffee All Under One Roof
The Book & The Bean in Old Mandeville is what you might expect — a coffee shop that serves locally roasted coffee and features a bookstore and gift shop in the front. There is outdoor seating both in the front of the shop and in a garden in the back.
Shops in historic bungalows line Old Mandeville’s Girod Street, including Mae Antiques and Collectibles, Tallulah’s Vintage Market, and the Das Schulerhaus Christmas Boutique.
Have A Meal
Fresh seafood, including crawfish (the season for crawfish runs from January through July), is easy to find in Mandeville. The Mandeville Seafood Market serves po’boys and boiled shrimp, crab, or crawfish with corn on the cob and potatoes. They also have hamburgers and chicken.
In Old Mandeville, the Rusty Pelican serves seafood and burgers. They have specialty salads, including one topped with crab cakes. Order at the counter, and your food will be brought to your table when it’s ready. They have outdoor seating.
Pro Tip: Both restaurants are wheelchair accessible.