The best things to do in Louisiana

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The authentic mix of Pelican State experiences, fun festivals, live music and unspoiled scenery will nourish your soul, writes James Litston

EWondering why Louisiana is full of Francophile flair? Named after Louis XIV, the French king in whose honor land was claimed, the colonial territory was sold to the United States in 1803 in what was later dubbed the Louisiana Purchase. With a unique culture born out of French, French-Canadian, modern American and African influences, today’s Louisiana is a melting pot of Creole and Cajun traditions, cuisine and music, as well as the unparalleled Mardi Gras festival.

These diverse cultural influences come together most clearly in New Orleans, particularly in the French Quarter with its famous colonial architecture, discussed elsewhere in these pages. The city’s joie de vivre is at its peak during Mardi Gras – but there’s so much more going on in Louisiana beyond its signature festival. From cruising the Mississippi to strolling the scenic Great River Road, the Pelican State offers awe-inspiring experiences, each enhanced with a healthy dose of authentic Southern charm.

Amazing mansions

Among the state’s most timeless attractions are the graceful pre-war homes that dot the countryside. Built by wealthy plantation owners, their opulent styles and large dimensions offer a glimpse into Louisiana’s past, when three-quarters of 19th-century American millionaires lived here. Four of the most spectacular examples (all open to the public) can be found within an hour’s drive of New Orleans on Plantation Parade.

The highlight of this route is the area’s most famous landmark: the Oak Alley Plantation, with its winding and distinctive oak alley. Dressed in period furniture, the four mansions of the Plantation Parade showcase the extraordinary wealth of their former owners, accumulated through slavery, the story of which is told there. Elsewhere, some plantation houses are reborn as guest accommodation, such as Loyd Hall Plantation in Cheneyville, central state.

Another popular place to stay is the Cook-Taylor House in Natchitoches, which has become famous as a classic film location. Steel magnolia trees. Other films shot in the state include 12 years of slavery and A tram named Désir, although over 2,500 others have been filmed there over the years.

Take to the water: kayak on Lake Martin

Credit:
Getty

Big spaces

But Hollywood isn’t alone in feeling the allure of Louisiana’s landscapes. From beach vacations on the Gulf of Mexico to canoeing or kayaking the backwaters and bayous, the state is home to a huge range of outdoor experiences. Hiking and biking trails in Bogue Chitto and Fontainbleu State Parks add to the adventure possibilities, as does horseback riding through the rolling pinewoods of the Kisatchie National Forest.

Wildlife lovers will appreciate National Wildlife Refuges which provide refuges for many types of creatures, from bobcats and beavers to birds. Louisiana’s wetlands are of international importance to the birds that winter, breed, or cross on their epic migratory journeys. But for many visitors, the animal to spot is the alligator, many of whom inhabit Louisiana’s swamps and flooded forests.

Taking flight: the bird that gives its alternative name to the Pelican State

Credit:
Alamy

Feast of flavors

Back in town, Louisiana comes alive with Creole and Cajun flavors. Whether it’s blood sausage, donuts, crayfish porridge, or a one-pot dish like jambalaya, the region’s cuisine is rooted in its blend of cultures and influences. The same goes for the music scene: Louisiana is said to be the cradle of remarkable genres as diverse and varied as jazz, zydeco and swamp pop, and has inspired gospel, hip-hop, country and blues. .

All that food and music comes together in the beautiful Mardi Gras: not just in New Orleans but across the state, with each city in Louisiana having its own annual iteration. With costumes, celebrations, parades and many dances in the streets, one cannot help but wonder if colonial France made a terrible mistake in selling off this remarkable territory.

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