Despite what visitors often think, New Orleans is not “Cajun country.” That area lies mostly southwest of the city, comprising 22 Louisiana parishes that surround the city of Lafayette. Lafayette itself is home to Acadian Village, a faithful recreation of a 19th-century Cajun settlement, as well as Vermilionville, a living history and folk museum, and the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park & Preserve. The charming town of St. Martinville is considered the Cajuns’ ancestral home; it’s where you’ll find the Evangeline Oak, commemorating the heroine of Longfelow’s famous poem. Avery Island is home to the Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory; tours are available of the factory, as well as of the adjoining Jungle Gardens and Bird City. www.lafayettetravel.com.
Just over the parish line from New Orleans, Jefferson parish offers a variety of diversions and entertainment. The cities of Jefferson Parish each have thier own attributes. Metairie is a choice residential area with a bustling business community—and great shopping at its many malls. “Old Metairie” is an oak-lined enclave of historic homes, restaurants and upscale boutiques. Kenner is home to the Louis Armstrong International Airport. Jean Lafitte is a piciutresque fishing village and home to the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, which offers visitors an up-close glimpse of the swamp’s plant life and waterfowl. Grand Isle is an island community at the very tip of Louisiana. Westwego (directly across the river from the Audubon Zoo) home to Bayou Segnette State Park, which offers campsites and cabins. Adventurers will like the parish’s swamp tours and abundant fishing; cultures vultures will flock to the Jefferson Performing Arts Center. www.jeffparish.net.
Founded in 1807, Lafourche was one of the Louisiana’s original parishes when it became a state in 1812. Situated along Bayou Lafourche, which extends to the Gulf of Mexico, the area is rich in fish and wildlife, making it an ideal location for early Acadian settlers. The Jean Lafitte National Park Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center in Thibodaux, the parish seat, offers insight into Cajun life, while swamp tours provide an upclose look local flora and fauna. Thibodaux is also home to the Laurel Village Sugar Plantation and Museum (the largest surviving 19th–century sugar plantation in the U.S.) and Nicholls State University (aka “Harvard on the Bayou”). www.visitlafourche.com. 985.537.5800.
ST. TAMMANY PARISH/NORTHSHORE
Across Lake Pontchartrain is St. Tammany Parish, better known locally as the Northshore. After the Civil War, the area—with its numerous waterways, natural springs and pine-scented air—boomed as a resort destination for well-heeled New Orleanians. Since the opening of the Pontchartrain Causeway in 1956, the Northshore has become Louisiana’s fastest-growing parish, yet still retains much of its rusticity and charm. Mandeville, the city directly off the Causeway, offers great shopping, while Slidell (to the east) is known as “The Camellia City” for its flora and outdoor areas. Covington, the parish seat, has always drawn artists. Other Northshore communities include Madisonville, Abita Springs, Folsum and Pearl River. www. louisiananorthshore.com .
Located about an hour outside of New Orleans, Terrebonne Parish is home to the city of Houma, “the heart of America’s wetland.” Steeped in Cajun culture, Houma offers visitors a variety of swamp tours and other outdoor excursions (fishing charters, birding trails, wildlife parks), an abundance of authentic Cajun cuisine and lively dance halls where you’re guaranteed to pass a good time, cher. www. houmatravel.com. 800.688.2732.