NEW IBERIA, Louisiana - If you want some foreign flair without having to use your passport, our Travel Girl Stephanie Oswald has just the place: Jefferson Island. It's where you'll find Rip Van Winkle Gardens, an oasis of semi-tropical plants and Asian architecture.
One of the most beautiful structures on the island is a Balinese gateway, built on the island of Bali in 2008, in the town of Batubulan -- a place famous for expert stone carvers who have been creating masterpieces for generations. The gateway is a popular setting for weddings, and, according to the island's owner Mike Richard, the stone guardians in front of the gate are there to make sure that couples don't bring any excess baggage into their marriage. The gateway faces west, while the couple heads toward the east, the direction of the rising sun.
You'll also find a Japanese Tea House, several bells and a Burmese gong, all placed amid the greenery -- and not all the plants are green! There's blue bamboo and plenty of flowers to break up the shades of green. Waterfalls and peacocks are also part of the oh-so-tranquil setting. Something truly special: There are about 15 peacocks strutting around the grounds, often sitting up in the trees and on the rooftops.
Travel Girl tip: Book well in advance if you are thinking of spending the night, as there are only a handful of rooms available and they fill up fast. Rates are $120 plus tax Sunday through Thursday, and $150 plus tax Friday and Saturday. Bed and breakfast accommodations include a complimentary tour of the Joseph Jefferson House and unlimited access to the gardens. Tours of the 22-room Victorian-era mansion are $10 for day visitors. The overnight accommodations are inside a few of the plantation's outbuildings.
Joseph Jefferson was an actor and an artist, famous for playing the starring role of Rip Van Winkle all around the world.
"All the way from London to Sydney, Australia and across the United States," says Mike RIchard.
"He had his own railroad cars that he traveled in with his troupe and all their props. This was the most important role that Joe Jefferson played in his life and it made him a wealthy man."
Rich enough to purchase the island, and build his mansion in 1870. In 1923, buried treasure was discovered under twin oak trees; it is rumored to be the stash of French pirate Jean Lafitte. Some of the gold coins that were dug up are on display in the mansion, but the rich reward for today's visitors is the joy of escaping to another place and time.