the ultimate travel guide to

Louisiana

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From its incredible jazz music to its hedonistic nightlife and elaborate Mardi Gras festivities, New Orleans has enchanted visitors for decades with its affordable, easy going ways.

 

By day, amble about in the well-heeled, leafy streets of the Garden District and at night marvel at the seedy surrounds of Bourbon Street: where good-time gals and guys stagger from bar to bar with a devil may care attitude.

 

The New Orleans Art Markets are also well worth a look – they are held on the last Saturday of the month in Palmer Park, there are great artists and live music.

 

For live music in the evening head to Preservation Hall. The building (circa 1750) with its discoloured façade, crumbling plaster and creaky floorboards will transport you to yesteryear when jazz reigned supreme.

 

A fabulous spot to base yourself in New Orleans is the Ace Hotel, which channels the city’s eccentricities with aplomb.

 

Increasingly the city on the banks of the mighty Mississippi is becoming known for its culinary achievements, redefining itself in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as a major international food destination with celebrity chefs, awards, accolades and a starring role on every ‘best of’ list.

 

Established in 1862 in New Orleans French Market, Cafe du Monde has perfected the melt-in-your-mouth recipe of beignets – a sweet pastry that has become synonymous with this part of the world.

 

For brunch on the weekend hit local institution Brennan’s or Café Degas – it has a hip atmosphere and it gets super crowded with locals for brunch on the weekends.

 

Louisiana’s last colonial governor, Frenchman Pierre Clément de Laussat, proclaimed, “Real fire this food of Louisiana!”

 

Indeed this US state has long been associated with spicy food, its roots going back to the African slaves who arrived here spreading their affinity for well-seasoned foods, and the nearby Caribbean islands, where there is a penchant for peppery cuisine.

 

Head to any local store in the state and you’ll find a plethora of hot sauces, from The Original Louisiana Hot Sauce to Louisiana Gold to Louisiana Lightning Strike to the humorously named Slap Ya Mama (although we don’t suggest you do!) to the world-renowned Tabasco, all made from hot peppers ranging from cayenne to the eponymous tabasco.

 

They are perhaps the most recognisable symbols of antebellum Deep South USA: the plantations. With decadent yet dark histories they have been referenced in popular culture forever from Gone with the Wind to Beyoncé music videos.

 

There are five fascinating plantations all within a road trip from New Orleans.

 

Oak Valley might have the grandest entrance of all the plantations: a quarter-mile of 300-year-old oak trees lead to the gargantuan Greek-revival mansion. It’s been the backdrop to plenty of trashy television in its time, too, from NightRider to Days Of Our Lives.

 

There aren’t many still-standing plantations that showcase decadence and kitsch equally that way Houmas House does.

 

The glitz includes extensive and beautifully preserved murals, a Marie Antoinette clock and eight Italian marble staircases while on the kitschy side you’ll find a ‘vampire kit’ (which was owned by Anne Rice) and pre-Civil war dolls that feature actual human teeth.

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