Tag Archives: Americana

Weekend Getaway: Cajun Country

Although I traveled to Cajun Country on the tail end of a road trip to Hot Springs and down the Delta Blues Highway, I think it would make the perfect weekend getaway if you find yourself in New Orleans. Breaux Bridge, where we stayed at the Bayou Cabins, is just two hours upriver from NOLA.

Breaux Bridge is not particularly interesting in and of itself, though the Bayou Cabins provided cheap, friendly accommodations and the town does have a good restaurant in Café Des Amis; however, it serves as an excellent jumping off point for exploring.

Bayou Cabins on Bayou Teche in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.
Bayou Cabins on Bayou Teche in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.

After arriving late on a Wednesday night, we spent most of Thursday exploring the area south of Lafayette—taking in a quilt exhibit at the tiny Gueydan museum, eating lunch at Dupuy’s Oyster Shop in Abbeville (on the recommendation of two elderly women at the aforementioned museum), visiting the Joseph Jefferson Mansion and Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island, and touring the Mcllhenny Tabasco Factory on Avery Island.

I appreciate the Dupuy's Oyster Shop shirt, but, no, I did not buy one.
I appreciate the Dupuy’s Oyster Shop shirt, but, no, I did not buy one.

I never would have thought that an actor could get rich by adapting the Rip Van Winkle story for the stage, but that is apparently what Joseph Jefferson did in the 1850s and 60s. Eventually Jefferson used his money to build one of his many homes on a salt dome next to Lake Peigneur. Now known as Jefferson Island, you can tour the house (since no one else was there, we basically had a private tour) and stroll through the Rip Van Winkle Gardens, which feature live oaks, irises, magnolias, hibiscus, camellias, azaleas, and many, many peacocks.

The Joseph Jefferson Mansion on Jefferson Island.
The Joseph Jefferson Mansion on Jefferson Island.
Some unusual tableware from the dining room of the Joseph Jefferson Mansion.
Some unusual tableware from the dining room of the Joseph Jefferson Mansion.
There were many peacocks in the Rip Van Winkle Gardens.
There were many peacocks in the Rip Van Winkle Gardens.
My sister spotted these roseate spoonbills as we were leaving the estate grounds.
My sister spotted these roseate spoonbills as we were leaving Jefferson Island.

Like Jefferson Island, Avery Island is a salt dome island and home to Tabasco hot sauce. The island is accessed by a $1 toll road that takes you to both the Mcllhenny Company Tabasco Factory & Country Store and the Jungle Gardens bird sanctuary, started by the son of the creator of Tabasco. We skipped the Jungle Gardens since we knew we would be taking our swamp tour later that day. The self-guided factory tour is interesting but bare bones (how much can you say about Tabasco?), but the country store is well stocked with samples of the many spin-off products they now carry. I ended up buying the Buffalo-style Tabasco since it tasted exactly like buffalo wings sauce, which I love. My sister tried a sip of Coke with Tabasco sauce, which I gather is not as foul as you might think. There was apparently also ice cream with hot sauce but we both missed it.

Our last stop of the day was Cajun Country Swamp Tours on Lake Martin where we took a two-hour sunset boat tour. We saw so much wildlife on this tour I was convinced we had spent far more than two hours on the water, but no. Our guide was extremely informative and clearly knew the lake like the back of his hand. In addition to numerous alligators, spiders, and all species of birds (anhingas, cormorants, egrets, herons, ibis, roseate spoonbills), we were privileged to see nesting baby barred owls. Even without the wildlife, wandering through the cypress and tupelo trees draped with Spanish moss is reason enough to take this tour.

LA_Lake Martin_07

This "hibou on the bayou" is not amused.
This “hibou on the bayou” is not amused.
The kids in the boat were counting alligator sightings but once the numbers got into double digits I stopped paying attention.
The kids in the boat were counting alligator sightings but once the numbers got into double digits I stopped paying attention.
Herons, egrets, and ibis are just some of the birds you can see on Lake Martin.
Herons, egrets, and ibis are just some of the birds you can see on Lake Martin.
When this anhinga spread its wings I felt like we had gone back to prehistoric times.
When this anhinga spread its wings I felt like we had gone back to prehistoric times.
Baby owl siblings!!!
Baby owl siblings!!!

LA_Lake Martin_09

Double-crested cormorants re-enact The Birds at sunset.
Double-crested cormorants re-enact The Birds at sunset.

After the bayou, we had planned to head into New Orleans for a fancy lunch before my sister’s flight, but we decided instead to make a detour to the Great River Road to see Oak Alley Plantation. Although crowded with tourists, this detour was certainly worth it as the setting is beautiful and our tour guide for the house was extremely informative. He explained many historical details and placed great emphasis on telling both sides of the story, that of the owners and that of the slaves. The slave quarters are located right next to the house and have their own self-guided exhibits. This was a welcome change after our more “nostalgic” tours in Natchez.

The aptly named Oak Alley Plantation on the Great River Road.
The aptly named Oak Alley Plantation on the Great River Road.
The slave quarters at Oak Alley Plantation
The slave quarters at Oak Alley Plantation

Finally, most of my brief time in New Orleans was spent hanging out with friends or wandering the Irish Channel and Garden District so I won’t go into details here (although we did manage to take in a delicious dinner at Purloo). However, if you know how much I love going to cemeteries in Paris, you won’t be surprised to learn that a highlight of my stay was seeing some of my friend’s restoration work in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.

An example of La Belle Verte's restoration work (on right) in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.
An example of La Belle Verte’s restoration work (on right) in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.
Mardi Gras beads are a common sight on the porch railings of NOLA residents. The spirit of the festivities lives on throughout the year.
Mardi Gras beads are a common sight on the porch railings of NOLA residents. The spirit of the festivities lives on throughout the year.
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Madonna Inn: Like a Virgin

I’ve already written about the Madonna Inn on a previous trip down the coast, but, since every room is different, each stay is like your very first time. This time, I had a brief fling with Wilhelm Tell. And there are photos!

Wilhelm Tell room, Madonna Inn
Morning sunlight breaks through into the Wilhelm Tell room.

Wilhelm Tell shoots…



… the arrow flies…



…the apple awaits on the right!



The real reason that this room appealed to me was that it was the cheapest one to include a rock waterfall shower. The room may be snug, but the shower stall is enormous.

The rock waterfall shower is worth an arrow to the head!

The bathroom continues the rock theme…

I loved the use of rich red and stone throughout the room and will definitely seek out more rooms with the rock waterfall the next time I stay.

Remember, when making reservations, click through to see all rates. I reserved this room for $100 off the “best available rate” that was showing for this room category. Also, feel free to put your preferred room theme in the comments section—both times I’ve stayed here, I got my first choice.

Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom

While not one spot per se, the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont holds a special place in my heart because it’s where I spent most of my childhood summers. As an adult, I generally went up for the fall foliage, but it’s really great at almost any time of the year except Mud Season (aka late winter/early spring). While I hadn’t returned since moving out to California, this year I was lucky enough to visit during a very, very white Christmas.

This lakes region on the Canadian border is not your typical postcard picture of Vermont—or “New York Vermont” as we called it growing up. This is hard-core rural Vermont, where gun racks outnumber ski racks by a wide margin and our favorite event at the Orleans County Fair was the Demolition Derby. While there are touches of the picturesque, such as the historic green of Craftsbury Common (seen most notably in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry), and touches of the hippie-bohemian, such as the annual Bread & Puppet “Our Domestic Resurrection Circus” outdoor festival, by and large, this is a land of fishermen and hunters, with “camps” not lake houses.

You never know when you may have to cut up a moose…
…or need snowmobile directions.

A great example of this unique atmosphere is Currier’s Market in Glover.

Got moose?
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this bear from his duty.
Guns, germs, and steel. And sleds?

It’s certainly worth the detour!

Madonna Inn

I really only have two things to say about the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo: 1) the pictures don’t do it justice, and 2) I can’t wait for an excuse to go back.

Almost exactly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, where Routes 1 and 101 cross, it is the perfect stop on any trip between the two cities. While perhaps expensive for the area, you can find good deals by poking around the rates on their website. Regardless, you will get great value for your money.

When I first heard about this place—that it was kitschy, with every room having a different theme—I pictured a slightly seedy roadside inn, whose only value was the concept. What I found instead was an incredibly designed, completely modern hotel, with a friendly staff, excellent food, and fabulous rooms. Yes, it is completely kitschy, but in a good way. The closest I may get to a modern fairytale castle. If you want to get an idea of the variety of rooms, take a look at Caveman, Crazy Dazy, Vous, Wilhelm Tell, and, my personal favorite, San Francisco. There are over 100 different choices. And, while you can’t reserve a specific design, you can submit a request for any room that falls under the rate you have reserved. I submitted three choices within my rate block and got my top choice, Traveler’s Yacht.

I love nautical themes and immediately loved the room, which was quite large, with an extremely plush carpet that was a joy to walk on barefoot. The amount of detail and thought that must have gone into the room is truly incredible.

What really got me was the bathroom. I would kill for a bathroom like this, especially the tile, which was inset with anchors on the floor, and starfish and seahorses in the shower stall. Even the fixtures looked like little ship’s wheels.

I can’t wait to see what they have done with some of the other themes.

The restaurants are designed with similar elaborate care, especially the steakhouse. By the way, those banquettes you see in that picture are not red, they’re pink, the Madonna Inn’s signature color. Since I was there after they had begun putting up Christmas decorations, it was even more extravagant than usual. More importantly, although not a big steak eater, I must say that my rib-eye was delicious (the cocktails could be improved however).

Finally, don’t miss the men’s room urinal in the restaurant complex, complete with waterfall. Go ahead ladies, knock and take a peek. Everyone does.