Half a dozen flags have flown over one of the greatest real estate coups in American history, and Louisiana is currently home to thriving communities of Cajun French and Louisiana Creole French speakers, as well as Isleños, descendants of Canary Islanders who migrated in the late-18th century.
Louisiana’s lush, haunting topography is equally romantic and mysterious. The vast alluvial region surrounding New Orleans encompasses more than 25,000 square miles of marshland and bayous, or boggy inlets, of the Mississippi River. The hilly northern part of the state is only slightly more elevated, with the summit of Mount Driskill, the highest point in Louisiana, measuring an unintimidating 535 feet above sea level.
New Orleans is Louisiana’s primary draw, but it’s also possible to enjoy rewarding day trips, including to the state capital, Baton Rouge, and former plantation homes along the Mississippi River such as Oak Alley, with its moss-draped live oaks, and Nottoway, which has an atmospheric restaurant for lunch. St. Bernard Parish is home to the Isleño Museum. Summers are muggy, and autumn can bring hurricanes.
Days of Wine and Cocktails
New Orleans is justly renowned for its mixologists. Bar Tonique hosts a mostly local crowd with just about everything made in-house except the spirits themselves. The Sazerac Bar in the Hotel Roosevelt is an art deco room where you can enjoy the drink for which the bar is named. A visit to Cure, the Business Bar or Vals is worth the trip to Freret Street for inspired cocktails and bar cuisine. Bacchanal is a wine shop and bar with a lush backyard patio, near-nightly live music and a diverse selection of wine from around the world. The people behind Bacchanal also opened the Elysian Bar, housed in the former rectory of a church campus that has become the Hotel Peter & Paul in the hip Marigny neighborhood. And I look forward to visiting the lobby bar at The Chloe, a new boutique hotel within a historic mansion on St. Charles Avenue.
Magazine Street Shopping
The French Quarter has long dominated the shopping scene, but Magazine Street is an interesting rival. Don’t miss Mignon Faget for locally made jewelry with designs inspired by New Orleans; Tara Shaw for antiques, midcentury modern finds and reproductions under one roof; and Hazelnut, owned by “Mad Men” star Bryan Batt, for decorative gifts and accessories.
While it may not be a white-tablecloth restaurant, Parkway Bakery and Tavern is a favorite of mine for po’boys, the overstuffed sandwiches for which the city is famous. This institution is popular, so prepare to wait in line. I recommend the fried-shrimp po’boy, or the hot roast beef with “debris” (slang for falling-apart-tender pieces of meat that have been soaked in brown gravy).
Despite its reputation for being a city of revelry, New Orleans also has plenty of green space. Peaceful Audubon Park stretches to the Mississippi River, while in Mid-City, sprawling City Park is home to the New Orleans Museum of Art and bordered by Bayou St. John, the perfect spot for an afternoon paddle.