Louisiana conjures up images of swamps, plantations, a unique take on French and lots of good food. Welcome to Cajun Country, the country Road Runners recently explored.
Before delving into the culturally diverse Louisiana with its endless capacity for “les bon temps,” we visited the gentler lifestyle of Natchez, Mississippi. We toured magnificent homes listed on the Natchez Antebellum Mansion Pilgrimage: Choctaw House (ca 1836), Longwood House (ca 1859), Stanton Hall (ca 1857) and Rosalie House (ca 1820).
Leaving this city of warm Southern charm, we traveled to New Orleans for a stay in the French Quarter. We uncovered the Crescent City’s surprises and mysteries: boutiques, bars, music and street actors. We travelled the path of history with a local guide reciting the stories of the French Quarter, Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral and the Garden District. We explored the lives of Americans through exhibits of letters, recruitment posters, models and film at the National WWII Museum.
In the spirit of the Cajun mind-set we dined at a variety of flavorful restaurants for a blend of French, Spanish and African dishes that tickled the taste buds: Felix’s Restaurant serving the city for 70 years; Court of Two Sisters serving a Jazz Brunch of Creole dishes in a garden courtyard; Café Du Monde for a beignet and mug of chicory coffee; The Ruby Slipper Café inspired by a powerful sense of homecoming after Hurricane Katrina, just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz; Café Burnside located on the grounds of Houmas House; Tunks Cypress Inn with its rustic atmosphere overlooking Lake Kincaid. And to top off this culinary landscape we learned the secrets of Cajun cooking then dined on the lesson at the New Orleans School of Cooking.
We journeyed back in time to learn of Louisiana’s rich and conflicted past on the antebellum plantation tours: Destrahan Plantation (ca 1787) and Houmas House (ca 1825), homes of the sugar barons when “white gold” drove the economy. Viewing stunning architecture, oak-lined esplanades, and enduring sugar cane fields we learned of the plantations’ fascinating and often somber pre-Civil War histories.
Equally important to its history is its music. We toured Martin Accordion factory, which makes hand-made squeezeboxes that produce the sweet, rich sounds of Cajun and Zydeco music. Far from a “pure” music form, the music incorporates a host of folk traditions creating its unique sound.
No trip to Louisiana is complete without gliding quietly across Lake Martin. Native Cajuns navigate the swamp in low draft skiffs on the eerie and haunting waters green with algae punctuated with moss- draped cypress trees. We spotted a bounty of egrets, herons, turtles, barrel owls and alligators.
As a final treat we visited Avery Island, a heavily wooded column of salt that rises above the surrounding marshland. It is home to the Tabasco Factory, and every bottle is still produced at this location.
As we explored southern Louisiana we acquired an appreciation for anything and everything Creole and Cajun, from the food to the music to the people, culturally melding French, Spanish, Acadian, European and African influences.