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Authentic Cajun culture in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana

If you really want to experience Cajun culture, get out of New Orleans and head into the bayous of southwestern Louisiana, where the original Cajuns—French-speaking Acadian exiles from Canada—settled in the mid-1700s. About two hours from New Orleans, St. Martin Parish is considered the heart of Cajun country, a lush, steamy swampland that helped shape the language, music, and cuisine of this unique culture.

On a weekend away, you should try to visit the two small communities of St. Martinville and Breaux Bridge. In St. Martinville, visit the Museum of the Acadian Memorial ($2); St. Martin de Tours, the “mother church” of the Acadians founded in 1765; and the Evangeline Oak tree and statue, two memorials dedicated to Acadian heroine depicted in Longfellow’s epic poem Evangeline. Just outside of the town center, the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site ($2) provides insight into the early Cajun settlers on the banks of the Bayou Teche.

About 20 minutes north, Breaux Bridge, the self-titled “Crawfish Capital of the World,” gives visitors a hearty taste of modern Cajun culture. You can sample both local music and cuisine at Cafe Des Amis‘ Saturday morning Zydeco Breakfast ($4 cover) or at Whiskey River Landing, which hosts live Cajun or Zydeco bands Sunday evenings.

Before leaving the area, you must go on a swamp tour, preferably with Bryan Champagne, a Cajun who grew up in the Atchafalaya basin swamp. For a mere $20, Champagne will take you on a boat tour of the waterways, where you’ll float by 500-year-old Cypress trees draped in Spanish moss, see alligators and dozens of bird species, and learn about how the Cajuns made a living off the swamp.

To learn more, go to Cajun Country.org.

Read more of the 50 Affordable Stateside Escapes.

Have a recommendation for St. Martin Parish, or another great Louisiana getaway? Post your comment below.

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