A different world exists in the Cajun country of South Louisiana. It's one that moves to the rhythm of Acadian culture (descendants of the French-speaking people who settled in the area in 1755), exotic foods, and enchanting ambience. In these small parts, about 120 miles from New Orleans, you'll find a distinctive French flavor that rivals the fanfare of the Big Easy.
As dreamy as the area is, no one comes here expecting to sleep the day away. So for inexpensive accommodations, try the Comfort Suites on State 14 and U.S. 90. Call (337) 367-0855 or 1-800-517-4000; rates range $67-$182 in New Iberia. It's close to the interstate, which makes exploration of the region hassle free.
Delve into Acadian culture by way of the knife and fork. Images of simple yet well-seasoned dishes bearing fancy French names flood the minds of those who crave Cajun cuisine. The French House Restaurant in New Iberia offers lunch specials such as stuffed catfish or crawfish étouffée accompanied by salad and iced tea ($6.95).
Ask any of the locals, and they'll tell you life in the bayou sure is sweet. South Louisiana has more than 200 years of history in the sugarcane industry. Sweeten your day with a visit to the former sugarcane plantation Shadows-on-the-Teche. The manor, built by planter David Weeks in 1834, sits on the banks of the winding Bayou Teche. The house is full of fine china and antique heirlooms.
A simpler way of life awaits at Lafayette's Vermilionville, a 35-minute drive from New Iberia. A reconstructed Cajun community, the site contains an art gallery featuring the work of local artists, a bakery offering Cajun cooking demonstrations, and live music. "No real Cajun band reads music," attests Lafayette native Ryan Simon.
If that is the litmus test for genuine Cajun musicians, then Jambalaya, the in-house band at locally owned Randol's Restaurant, passes with flying colors.
Randol's features mostly seafood, so indulge in the steamed crabs or crawfish with fresh potatoes, onions, and corn ($12.95).
Take a break from the regular breakfast chains and pull up a chair at Victor's Cafeteria on Main Street in New Iberia. It's where the natives eat. Don't be surprised to find patrons dousing eggs, toast, or even grits with hot sauce. The famous Tabasco factory lies 6 miles away on Avery Island.
After the Civil War, Edmund McIlhenny began his hot sauce business with only a few pods of capsicum pepper. Today, people from all across the globe enjoy this Southern-based condiment. Tours of the Tabasco Factory and Visitor's Center tell how the pepper must be the perfect shade of red, or it isn't picked. The factory's gift shop even sells pepper plants for $2.50.
Eat lunch at the Blue Dog Café in Lafayette, home to the largest collection of artwork by Cajun artist George Rodrigue. Those who share a Popeye-like affection for spinach should order the Crabmeat Florentine ($10.95).
Find more artwork by George Rodrigue at the gallery of Acadian Village, which houses a painting of former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and the famous blue dog. The gallery also contains paintings that portray the Acadian saga. The village itself showcases authentic homes, a chapel, and a blacksmith shop.
When the dinner bell rings, answer the call with jumbo barbecue shrimp at Café des Amis in Breaux Bridge (approximately 6 miles east of Lafayette).
On this day, a reverent wind blows through the area. Families attend mass, businesses close, and kitchen stoves brim with hot pots of gumbo. Savor your last moments here by visiting the Konriko Company Store and mill in New Iberia. The store features Konriko products and Cajun foods. Aged and worn, America's oldest rice mill still produces a high-quality product.
For more information: Contact Iberia Parish Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2704 State 14, New Iberia, LA 70560; (337) 365-1540, 1-888-942-3742, or www.iberiaparish.com. Or contact Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission, P.O. Box 52066, Lafayette, LA 70505; (337) 232-3737, 1-800-346-1958, or www.lafayettetravel.com.
This article is from the April 2002 issue of Southern Living.Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.
Note: This article has been updated on October 31, 2005. At this time, we are unable to reach this business (or homeowner) after Hurricane Katrina. Please contact us if you have any information regarding its status.