New Orleans, conveniently situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, is renowned for its music and nightlife. Its Mardi Gras is world-famous and attended by revelers from all over the world. Top that off with delicious food and fabulous architecture and it can be tempting to spend an entire vacation here.
But the surrounding countryside is so charged with interesting places to visit and cultural experiences to explore, that you will be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t venture a little more widely.
A one-day road trip is an ideal way to delve into more of what the Deep South has to offer, and the journey to Lake Charles will expose you to much more of what Louisiana is all about. Along the way we will pay a visit to a plantation, the surprisingly interesting Tabasco Factory and, of course, we will be sampling more of the local food delicacies.
After the one hour and sixteen-minute drive to Baton Rouge, you should be ready for a bite and Louie's Cafe is an institution in the city. Started in 1941 this café, on the edge of the university, is open twenty-four hours a day and is popular with both locals and students.
The buttermilk biscuits are so famous that you will be lucky to find any left after 11 am. If you miss them, don’t be too disappointed. Their waffles and pancakes filled with blueberries, pecans, fruit, and chocolate are also delicious.
If you haven’t tried one already, they also serve the traditional regional sandwich the Poboy which you can have with shrimp and crawfish.
Just five minutes from Baton Rouge, the Magnolia Mound Plantation is a plantation house that has now been converted into a museum to give a glimpse of what plantation life was like. Built in 1791, the house was constructed with a distinct French and West Indies influence. There you will discover a little of how the French Creole lifestyle has come to so heavily influence southern Louisiana life today.
The house contains original furniture imported from France as well as locally made colonial style pieces. From England, you will see decorative items of crystal and ceramics that survived the long and arduous sea journey to New Orleans.
The kitchen, which is an outdoor open-hearth kitchen, contains many original utensils and there are cooking displays that demonstrate the culinary techniques of the period.
An hour’s drive will bring you to the Blue Dog Cafe which is a combination café and art gallery. This café was started by local artist and sculptor George Rodrigue who became quite famous for his work.
A great fan of food, it featured heavily in his early paintings. In 1990 he entered his Blue Dog period, inspired by a Creole legend, and that turned him into a pop art icon.
The cuisine is Cajun classic with a twist and includes dishes such as shrimp, crab, and oyster gumbo and corn and crab bisque.
The Tabasco Factory might seem an unusual place to visit but it is a very interesting self-guided tour. If you have eaten this epochal spicy sauce anywhere in the world, it has come from here.
Started in 1868 by Edmund Mcllhenny, this sauce was developed to add flavour to the bland diets imposed after the recreation of the South. It has remained in family hands in the same location since its inception. The recipe remains virtually unchanged.
The self-guided tour takes thirty minutes and leads you through both the factory and the pepper gardens.
To Lake Charles, it will take another hour and forty-four minutes. This town has several large casinos and borders on two lakes, Lake Charles and Prien Lake. The Bayou Rum Distillery offers another interesting tour you might like to try.