In less than 200 miles, the super-charged bustle of the French Quarter transformed dreamily into my mental image of The Old South. Approaching the magnificent Greek revival façade of Monmouth Plantation, I could imagine Melanie and Ashley Wilkes coming over from Twelve Oaks for a party under the elms.
Monmouth dates to 1818, when the stately home was constructed by Natchez postmaster, John Hankinson. Eight years later, the venerable John Quitman purchased the property, and for the next century, he and his descendants lived at Monmouth. Quitman’s various positions in law, business, and politics (as a two-term governor of Mississippi and twice U.S. vice-presidential candidate) enabled him to create a masterpiece in Natchez. The Civil War, however, took its toll on the 26-acre sanctuary, and the estate went into decline. In the late 1970s, Ron and Lani Riches bought the property, with a vision of restoring the buildings and grounds to their antebellum grandeur. They have succeeded admirably.
Monmouth’s thirty guest rooms and suites are masterpieces of authentic restoration. Period drapes, carved mahogany and rosewood furniture, a rare Duncan Phyfe antique sideboard, delicate glass fairy lamps, and period wallpaper attest to the degree of care taken in recreating the original mansion.
Fine wine and a host of whiskies abound at both of the plantation’s dining areas. Executive Chef Scott Varnedoe, Chef de Cuisine Eric Sibley, and Sous Chef Adrian Keith create classically prepared Southern cuisine. In the 1818 Restaurant, chandeliers and adorned windows overlooking the lush grounds create a luxurious moment in time.
Across the foyer, a magnificent antique Empire style table dominates a more intimate dining room, where five-course candlelight gourmet dinners are held. Scott, fresh from his dazzling success in presenting his “Upscale Down-South” Antebellum Luxury Dinner at James Beard House in New York, took me on a tour of the aromatic, kitchen-close herb garden. A dozen freshly picked herbs would soon find themselves enhancing the subtle luster of Monmouth’s award-winning menus.
With my Maker’s Mark Julep in hand, I left the main house and strolled the grounds in the warm, golden twilight. As if illuminated by magic, the classic architecture of the Reuben Harper Sanctuary, and the Pond–complete with croaking frogs–shimmered with feelings of Southern opulence and the genteel life of another century.
It is no wonder that Monmouth Plantation has earned its Four-Diamond rating from AAA, is named as one of the "Top 50 U.S. Inns and B&Bs" by American Historic Inns, a member of Historic Hotels of America, Select Registry’s Distinguished Inns of North America, and many other accolades.
Melanie and Ashley would be proud of their neighbor.