Cajun country (Lafayette, other towns), Louisiana
Value for Money:
Personality Types that Like it Best
Did You Know … ?
- The Abbeville Giant Omelette Celebration ends with a 5,000-egg omelette.
- Eighty-eight percent of U.S. offshore rigs are off Louisiana’s coast.
- Edmund McIlhenny, creator of Tabasco sauce on Avery Island, was a banker.
- The Jean Lafitte national park is named for a pirate (but he helped the U.S. in the War of 1812).
- The Louisiana Gulf Coast is shrinking by nearly 30 square miles a year.
The South, with a French accent
Cajun Country is a triangle of land just west of New Orleans that extends across most of Louisiana’s Gulf of Mexico coast. The point of the triangle reaches about halfway up the length of the state. This is an area of bayous and swamps, alligators and colorful birds. Also, fans boast, its waters offer some of the world’s finest fishing.
The region’s gifts of nature have combined with historical circumstance to create a culture unlike any other.
Descendants of French settlers in Acadia — a former name for eastern Canada — were deported in the mid-1700s during a period of French-English conflict, an expulsion made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Evangeline.” Many exiles eventually found their way to the then-Spanish Louisiana Territory.
Retreating to the swamps and marshes that others deemed uninhabitable, they clung to their church, their language (a French dialect evolving in isolation), love of food (reshaped by local ingredients) and traditional music (influenced by African sounds and the traditions of other immigrants).
The resulting mash-up gave the world Cajuns — a corruption of the word, Acadians — and a way of life that tourists cross a continent or oceans to witness.
Visitors sample the food, learn the Cajun story at cultural centers and find the music and dancing in clubs or at festivals. Some specifically come for Cajun Country’s unique take on Mardi Gras. Tourists follow scenic trails to watch birds, admire the landscape and visit historic town centers. They take to the waters on guided swamp tours, deep-sea fishing charters and independent journeys via canoe or kayak.
Lafayette, at the heart of Cajun Country, is often called the area’s capital. Lake Charles, to the west, and Houma, to the east, are the other metro areas that tourists often use as bases for touring purposes.
Morgan City celebrates shrimp and petroleum at a single annual event. The two interests can be at odds. BP’s oil spill (2010) temporarily thwarted shrimpers (or any fishermen).
The coast is ecologically sensitive, losing landmass in the best of times. It has suffered severely in major hurricanes, as well as during the oil spill, but vigorously coaxes its tourists back.
Things to do for Venturers
- Follow the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge Walking Trail which takes you into marshes replete with alligators, birds, ducks, geese, as well as flowers and other plants of interest. Parts of the trail are planks, others raised dirt. If an alligator appears in your path, change directions.
- Eat gumbo and a whole lot of other specialties of the area, such as andouille sausage, boudin sausage, crayfish etouffee and jambalaya.
If you have the stomach for more, put po’boy sandwiches or cracklins on your must-eat list, too.
- Hear local zydeco and Cajun legends play at several clubs in Lafayette. Also, on Saturday morning, attend the weekly jam session at the Savoy Music Center in Eunice.
- Take a cooking class in Lafayette at E’s Kitchen.
- Explore the Atchafalaya Basin by canoe or kayak on any of the Cajun Coast’s designated paddler trails. For example, the 37-mile Bayou Teche Paddling Trail begins in Jeanerette and ends near Calumet, with six boat docks along the way (but no camping).
- Compete in a fishing rodeo. Houma, for one, has rodeos all summer.
Things to do for Centrics
- Get in a festival mood. Annual events include Lafayette’s Festival International de Louisiane in late April, honoring the Cajun-French link through food and art as well as music, and the Zydeco Festival, held over Labor Day in Opelousas. Lafayette offers a later alternative, the Festivals Acadiens et Creoles in October.
- Float through ancient cypress swamps in the Atchafalaya Basin. Swamp tours are available in Houma, a town at the intersection of seven bayous.
- Come in the spring for the Contraband Days Pirate Festival in Lake Charles and be amused when “pirates” force the mayor to walk the plank.
- Attend Mardi Gras in a smaller place, such as Church Point, Eunice or Mamou. Here the Courir du Mardi Gras (Mardi Gras Run), based on a medieval tradition of ceremonial begging, still lives. Masked and costumed celebrants head into the countryside on Fat Tuesday to “beg” for gumbo ingredients. A gumbo supper ensues.
- Depending on the season, choose the most promising part of the America’s Wetland Birding Trail for your itinerary. The trail has 115 sites organized into 12 loops, some of which are in Cajun Country.
- Charter a boat for deep-sea fishing off the southern coast of Louisiana.
Things to do for Authentics
- Join the Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory Tour on Avery Island. Collect recipes, enjoy samples and tastings, then buy more at the Tabasco Country Store.
- If you are intrigued by the fabled Battle of New Orleans (pointlessly fought shortly after the end of the War of 1812), visit Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve which includes part of the battle site. The park also includes the Cajun Cultural Center.
- It’s an odd combination, but Morgan City stages the Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival over Labor Day. The event highlights Cajun cooking and music. Also, at the town’s International Petroleum Museum, visitors can step onto an authentic offshore drilling rig.
- Attend the Saturday-night “Rendez-Vous des Cajuns” radio and TV show, aired from Eunice’s Liberty Theater. It is a live broadcast of Cajun music and stories — in Cajun French with enough English to keep everyone in the loop.
- Visit Vermilionville, a themed village on a bayou near Lafayette that re-creates Acadian life from 1765 to 1890. See working artisans and costumed reenactors portraying French-Canadians settlers.
- For gambling, Lake Charles has the casinos, but nearby Vinton offers the horse racing, at Delta Downs.
For more information, consult Louisiana Travel at www.louisianatravel.com