For the week that I spent in Louisiana, most of my time was actually outside of New Orleans, exploring the scenic Byways and various places around the state.
And yet I’ve mostly written about New Orleans because, well, New Orleans.
I actually wish I had more time to see what southern living is all about. I want a crawfish boil, and Mardi Gras shenanigans, and a night on the bayou.
Maybe next visit?
Visiting the Tabasco Factory on Avery Island
I really thought visiting the Tabasco Factory was going to be an ultra-manufactured experience, like Legoland or Disney or Honolulu (yes, the entire city). But I actually really enjoyed this place.
Maybe it’s because we started with Tabasco ice-cream. Ever have spicy ice-cream? It’s interesting.
Visitors get to take a straightforward self-guided tour through the small museum and the factory to watch how the whole pepper harvesting process happens.
The McIlhenny family has been making Tabasco since 1868. While youâ€™re here, you can tour the Pepper Greenhouse, the Barrel Warehouse, the Blending and Bottling area, and the Salt Mine diorama. We topped off the day with lunch at the 1868! Restaurant (which was just ok). It’s only $5.50 USD to visit!
I think one of my favourite things about the visit was the giant Mastodon tooth in the museum. Also, this book:
The nearby Jungle Gardens are also worth your time, especially for the Buddha statue and the raucous din of the bird rookery filled with snowy white egrets. Keep an eye out for alligators. It’s $8 USD to visit these gardens.
Visit Shadows-on-the-Teche, New Iberia
I really love poking around old homes. It’s such a weird privacy invasion. Like, when I’m a famous author one day, will people come to this tiny little house and marvel at my teapot from Hong Kong? Iâ€™ll never know.
The Shadows is a big, beautiful plantation home on the banks of the Bayou Teche in New Iberia. It’s covered in Spanish moss, and surrounded with giant oak trees. The home was built in 1834 for sugar planter David Weeks, and his family lived here for four generations.
It’s a Classic Revival-style homewith a really elaborate garden. You have to see it on a tour (it’s $10.50 USD to visit). The guides explain all the nuances of the architecture, like the perfectly aligned windows and doors to allow air flow. Plus some of the artwork is just phenomenal.
There isn’t a whole lot of talk of slave history here, which is uncomfortable. Keep that in mind as you’re taking in the architecture. I found it to be the same for other plantations in Louisiana.
We also visited the Frogmore Cotton Plantation to see how a modern plantation works. But the site has kept much of its history intact — including the old slave quarters.
It’s interesting, and the family is wonderful (they’ve been there since the 60s), but you should do your own research in addition to this experience. Just sayin’.
Spend time in New Iberia
New Iberia itself was one of my favourite little towns on my Louisiana visit. The people were outrageously friendly, and everyone wanted to practice their French on we Canadians. As a Newfoundlander, my French is about as good as my English.
We stayed at the ridiculously cool Chateau Royale B&B, which is led by a couple with an impeccable design taste. Plus it’s right on the bayou, and there’s nothing like taking a hot cup of coffee out on the back deck with the sun rising over the water in the morning.
It’s also about two steps away from Clementine’s, a restaurant and bar serving up that ‘ol Southern style food and music. I absolutely LOVED this experience. The bluegrass band was fantastic, and so was the food. It’s here that I had fried green tomatoes for the first time ever.
See the The Northup Trail, Alexandria
Alexandria is a quiet, unassuming town and home to the Northup Trail, allowing visitors to follow the path of Solomon Northup’s life during his 12 years as a slave in Louisiana.
If you’re unfamiliar with Northup’s story, here’s the ultra-brief summary: Soloman Northup was a freed man living in New York when he was lured away by kidnappers and sold into slavery. Twelve years later, Northup met a Canadian man to whom he told the story of his kidnapping. This led to Northup’s eventual release, and the eventual telling of his story to a ghost writer. (I highly recommend reading the book or watching the movie.)
In Alexandria, you can visit some locations that played a key role in Northup’s life as a slave — including the courthouse with the official court documents from the trial. It was more than a little humbling to see Northup’s signature on paper, and the testimonials delivered that eventually gave him his freedom.
Feed alligators on the swamp
One of our day trips included a tour of a swamp with the Cajun Man’s Swamp Tours, led by a boisterous, badass man named Captain Billy.
The swamp is beautiful. Truly. We toured it on his boat, packed with other families and visitors, and Captain Billy regaled us with tales of alligator hunting with basic tools. He was almost eaten twice. Once, he accidentally caught a giant loggerhead turtle (he let it go, FYI).
Billy knows this place like the back of his hand, and in turn, the alligators know him. Like, really well. If they’re weren’t vicious man eaters, you’d think they were something like Billy’s pets. All he had to do was lean over the boat, call out their names (â€œCOME HERE, T-BOY!â€), and they’d come swimming for a nice feed of chicken.
And they were BIG. Like, real big.
We passed men fishing from their speedboats; we saw beautiful birds. I loved the greenness of the swamp, and the relative calm of the water. Although somewhere in the margins of my notebook I had scrawled, â€œI wanna be on the small boat. Kids suck.â€
Apparently you can rent houseboats in the area. People do this for hunting camps, or to have a fun getaway with friends and family. Iâ€™d love to do this. Vacation, anyone?
Knock some eggs
I didn’t get to experience egg knocking, but upon hearing about this hilarious tradition, I had to share it.
During Easter, families and communities come together to knock eggs. That’s not a euphemism. Competitors bring hard-boiled, dyed eggs for an egg-to-egg combat session. Eggs are hit tip-to-tip, until the first egg cracks, and then the winner moves on to the next contender.
It all comes down to one champion egg.
Then of course thereâ€™s plenty of egg salad to go around.
I think what I liked the most about this tradition is that it really, really encapsulates the small town Louisiana community feeling. In every small town that I visited, the locals were enthusiastic about their homes to the extreme. It reminded me a lot about the fierce love that Newfoundlanders have to their rural communities.
I did a wholeeeeeee lot more on this media trip, but these are my highlights. If you’re going, I recommend hiring a rental car to get around. It’s the best way to do the Byways.