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6 Great Reasons to Visit Cajun Country
Gumbo, zydeco music, elaborate parties and cultural attractions for Francophiles are just the start.
From the moss-draped cypress trees of the Atchafalaya Basin to the mouthwatering po'boys and sweet dough pies of Lafayette, this Southern hot spot offers plenty of enticements for travelers.(Getty Images).
While Cajun Country (also known as Acadiana) in southwest Louisiana, may not have the same name recognition as New Orleans, you'll find plenty of memorable experiences you won't find on Frenchmen Street in the Big Easy. Dishes such as crawfish pie and boudin sausage grace dozens of local menus, while music plays over its haunting bayous on fiddle and accordion melodies. With 22 parishes, or counties, that make up Cajun Country, each with their own cuisine, music and dialect, you may feel like you're visiting another country. With that in mind, here are six enticements for planning a trip.
Lively zydeco music and Cajun music are an unmistakable and integral part of daily life in this region. Signs for a fais do-do (a Cajun dance party) are posted everywhere, and gatherings often include all ages, at all hours. From Saturday morning zydeco breakfasts in small towns to dance hall nights at Lafayette's Randol's Seafood Restaurant, you can expect to feast on Cajun specialties during any affair. It's not hard to find an authentic musical jam session either. Saturday mornings at Savoy Music Center in Eunice is a tradition, while Blue Moon Saloon, another Lafayette favorite, holds performances on Wednesday nights. For a music lesson on what makes Cajun and zydeco distinguishable, the family-owned Martin Accordions includes a fascinating workshop tour that showcases how they create their accordions and a family musical performance to boot.
There's Always a Party to Attend
Letting the good times roll, or "laissez les bons temps rouler," as locals say, is easy to do in Cajun Country, and there are some 400 festivals and events throughout the year for doing just that. If you're excited to experience a sample of Mardi Gras, the celebrations in Cajun Country are a fantastic option. You'll find them in almost every small town in the region, with the second-biggest Mardi Gras in the state held in Lafayette. Food festivals are abundant throughout the year: think gumbo, po'boys, sweet dough pie, boudin, shrimp and sugar cane, to name a few. Countless other festivals, most boasting free music, take place in the spring and fall when remarkable weather makes it a premium time to visit. In October, one of the best and biggest is the Festival Acadiens et Creoles in Lafayette, featuring several stages for live music, Cajun food stands and musical jam sessions, where all ages are welcome to play alongside some of the best musicians in Louisiana.
You Can Learn About the History of Hot Sauce
The ubiquitous pepper sauce known as Tabasco has been made for over 125 years by five generations of the McIlhenny family on Avery Island. In reality, Avery Island is not an island, but rather one of many domes that sit atop salt mines along this area of Louisiana coastline. After touring the factory and the museum, sample and buy the spicy souvenir in all forms and sizes in the gift store. Before leaving, don't miss a walk or drive through its Jungle Gardens. Beyond building a hot sauce empire, McIlhenny was also known for his wildlife conservation efforts. This 170-acre semitropical garden, loaded with wildlife (including alligators), is especially beautiful in the spring when colorful azaleas drape the landscape.
The French Connection Is Strong
Don't be surprised to encounter plenty of French influences throughout the region. Street signs in many towns are labeled "rue," bakeries are referred to as patisseries, and occasionally, you may even see a sign propped in a shop window stating "French spoken here." In fact, until World War II, most Cajuns spoke French. The region is also home to many of the French Canadians who left the area now known as Nova Scotia to relocate in Louisiana. In Lafayette, a visit to the Jean Lafitte Acadian Culture Center offers a more in-depth lesson of the area's history and heritage, while a walk through the Vermilionville Living History and Folk Life Park gives a present-day glimpse into their past daily life. A drive through St. Martinville is another must-do: it's one of the oldest and prettiest Cajun country towns with stunning architecture and the legendary oak tree that Longfellow immortalized in his famous, "Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie."
You Can Sample Excellent Cuisine
Cajun cuisine is simple, rustic and delicious. While driving around the region, you could spend weeks tasting the various gumbos and seafood available at places like Blue Dog Cafe, Social Southern Table & Bar or Prejean's Restaurant, a longtime Lafayette landmark where the menu features not only crawfish enchiladas and shrimp po'boys, but fried and grilled alligator. In Breaux Bridge, the self-proclaimed Crawfish Capital of the world, crawfish étoufée is popular year-round, while springtime means crawfish boils with piled-high plates. At lunchtime, follow the Cajun Boudin Trail to homespun places around Lafayette like Johnson's Boucanière (or smoke house) for this regional specialty. At its most basic, boudin is a sausage made from pork plus rice, onions, peppers and seasonings. But its variations are endless. At Earl's Cajun Market, you can eat it stuffed into egg rolls, while at Menard's Cajun Grocery, dessert even features the special sausage in a pecan-topped sweet potato pie.
You Can Embrace Unspoiled Wilderness Areas
With its moss-draped cypress trees, the haunting quality of Cajun country's vast wetlands known as the Atchafalaya Basin is also filled with a significant number of species of nesting water birds, wildlife and native plants. Some 20 miles wide and 150 miles long, this combination of bayous, marshes, wetlands and river delta are considered one of America's most complex ecosystems. Companies like McGee's Swamp Tours offer adventurers of all ages and abilities numerous options for enjoying the outdoors – from group sunrise and sunset expeditions to outings devoted to photography or bird-watching. If you're looking for an adrenaline rush and the chance to spot an alligator up close, kayaks and canoes are available for rent, too.
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About En Route
Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.
Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.
Edited by Liz Weiss.
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