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.