Learn to pronounce it, and you may grow to love it
The picture-perfect small town featured in the Julia Roberts film Steel Magnolias is actually Natchitoches, La. Visitors and locals alike stroll along Front Street, a 33-block cobblestone thoroughfare in the historic landmark district. It is dotted on one side with vintage homes (and their wrought-iron balconies), churches, restaurants, and shops, and it overlooks CaneRiverLake on the other.
Natchitoches (say NACK-uh-tish), first settled by the French and named for a group of American Indian tribes, is the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase territory. History buffs will luxuriate in a visit to the re-created Fort St. Jean Baptiste, built in 1715 by the French to prevent Spanish expansion eastward. An old American cemetery stands on the original location of the fort and is still in use today.
"I own 2 acres on Sibley Lake here, and it's absolutely gorgeous," says Bruce Wilson, 57, who recently built a house in Natchitoches with his wife, Jennifer, after retiring from the Washington, D.C., area. "And I don't have to listen to the airplanes landing at Washington National."
Wilson and others from expensive areas on both coasts find that their dollar stretches much further in Natchitoches. Although Louisiana does have an income tax, "it's got one of the lowest property tax rates in the country," says David Savageau, author of Retirement Places Rated. "The state treats retirement income very favorably."
Popular outdoor activities include visiting nature preserves, an alligator park, fish hatchery, and even pecan plantations. The city is home to Northwestern State University of Louisiana. "Whenever you get into a city that has a university or college, there are going to be a number of things like arts and sports that are going to be attractive to retirees," says Wilson, who frequents basketball games and the theater. "It's not the Kennedy Center, but they do bring in some good speakers."
Median home value: $107,800
Age 65 or over: 11 percent
Cost of living: 21.9 percent below the U.S. average
Maximum state income tax: 6 percent
State sales tax: 4 percent
This story appears in the June 11, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.