Cajun Runs Deep: Louisiana Bayou
Just about 45 minutes south of New Orleans is an authentic Cajun lifestyle unlike any other. This unapologetic culture is all up and down the Bayou, and is filled with outdoor experiences like fishing and swamp tours, along with regular celebrations such as food, music and festivals.
Up the Bayou and down the Bayou - it’s how they tell you to get from one place to another. It’s a little different from the rest of Louisiana, and that’s just why we love it. The Cajun in these parts runs just a little bit deeper than the rest of the state, and it shows up at every bend in the Bayou. In Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou, stories are rooted in this timeless region and centuries of history. Their hospitable nature, and a passion for storytelling, is part of why tourists have visited for centuries. Our heart beats big time for the Bayou, and so will yours.
Cajun culture is shared through stories passed down generation after generation, like the secret to Nana’s étouffée. These stories, told through local cuisine, culture, fishing and wetlands adventures, weave their way up and down the Bayou. This unpolished, unspoiled beauty of the bayou is everywhere when you visit Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou in Lafourche Parish. It’s where Cajun runs deep.
All About...The Great Outdoors!
Many elements combine to make Louisiana a truly delightful destination for a getaway of any kind – family fun time, romantic retreat, girlfriend getaway or fishing weekend. You’ll feel spoiled by everyone you meet, but one figure plays a very important role in the guest experience up and down the Bayou … and that’s Mother Nature herself. A true visit to Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou requires time spent outside, maybe paddling a kayak, reeling in a fish or looking for a bird species you’re not likely to see anywhere else.
A highlight for many visitors is time spent in the famous swamps. Many opt for a swamp tour, which travels through the waterways at a slower pace and gives folks the chance to spot animals (yes, alligators!) and plant life while learning about the people who have found the best ways to live in this environment.
Another option is an airboat tour, which moves faster and combines time in the swamp with a bit of adventure. Lafourche Parish is also a haven for fishermen. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can find freshwater, brackish and saltwater fishing all within an easy drive or boat ride of each other. Local fishing guides are ready to take visitors out to find speckled trout, redfish, flounder and dozens of other species. The fish are plentiful and limits are high in Louisiana, so even a novice fishermen will likely find success on the waters.
It’s a simple fact: When you visit Louisiana, you’ll enjoy some of the best meals of your life. But it’s not just the big cities that take justifiable pride in their food scene. Throughout the state, the dining options are unbeatable. In Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou, fantastic food is one of the biggest tourism draws.
What makes food up and down Bayou Lafourche so delicious? The fact that the region is itself a cultural “gumbo” (read: delicious mixture) of seven different nationalities is part of the secret. In Lafourche Parish you’ll taste the culinary influences of all the people who were here before you – the Native Americans, French, Spanish, Germans, English, Africans and Italians. Local seafood restaurants like the famous Spahr’s, Bubba’s II PoBoys, and CherAmie’s serve up delicious dishes like boiled shrimp, chargrilled oysters, crab cakes and many other Creole favorites. Tour the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute and learn how gumbos and jambalayas are made. You’ll think you can’t get enough fish, crabs, shrimp or crawfish, but don’t forget the wild game – which, yes, in the proper season does include alligator.
And to wash it all down? Try a beer from Thibodaux’s own Mudbug Brewery – perhaps a King Cake Ale, named for the Mardi Gras delicacy and featuring hints of cinnamon and vanilla. Nearby, Donner-Peltier Distillers transforms local rice into Oryza vodkas, and they incorporate local sugar cane into their Rougaroux rums. It’s all worth a sample – or two – and the distillery is happy to share recipes used by bartenders throughout the state.
It’s no secret that here in Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou they know how to throw a party. They have festivals all year ‘round – all of them tied to their unique culture – and there’s no better way to understand the locals than to participate in one.
It all starts in the winter months. Winter is Mardi Gras time, and they do it up right in Lafourche Parish, with 17 different parades that are all completely family-friendly. Mardi Gras continues right up until “Fat Tuesday.” There are bands, floats, and plenty of those colorful beads and other goodies participants toss to the crowds that line the parade route. It’s a memorable way to launch the year, and then for the remaining months they host events that celebrate the culture, music, foods, industries and natural resources for which our region is so famous.
In April, they celebrate their unique food culture at the Lockport Food Festival, and every July they host the Golden Meadow/Fourchon Tarpon Rodeo to honor the sporting heritage. They bring back the “old culture” at Le Fete des Vieux Temps, stir up 600 gallons of chicken-and-sausage and seafood gumbos at the Louisiana Gumbo Festival, and dance to plenty of Cajun music at the French Food Festival, all in October. The Louisiana Swamp Stomp Festival shines the spotlight on talented local musicians each November, and that same month Big Boy’s Main Street Cook-Off and the Thibodeauxville Fall Festival round out the fall festivals up and down the Bayou.
When you plan a visit to Louisiana, you start hearing and throwing around the word “Cajun,” but what does it really mean? An easy way to figure it out is to spend some time in Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou, in the unique communities of Lafourche Parish.
Here’s a quick history lesson: “Cajun” is an English corruption of the French word Acadien, which describes an ethnic group that was exiled from Canada’s Maritime region in the mid-1700s because they refused to declare allegiance to the British crown. About a third of these people ultimately ended up in Louisiana, where they found others who spoke French. It was a much different topography and climate than they were used to, but they worked hard as farmers and fishermen and forged a new life in strange surroundings while clinging to those things they knew best – religion, music, food and family bonds.
Perhaps the best place to get a hearty dose of all things Cajun is at the Acadian Wetlands Cultural Center in Thibodaux, one of the facilities of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. The center highlights the music, religion, cuisine, recreation and livelihoods of the Cajun population through a series of exhibits and films. The facility also offers walking tours of downtown Thibodaux and boat trips along the famed Bayou Lafourche, but perhaps what’s most interesting about this National Park site takes place in the evenings. On Monday nights, visitors can come for the Cajun Music Jam, bringing an instrument to play along or simply listening to local musicians. Here is a bonus: it’s not uncommon for members of the audience to get up and dance! On Tuesday nights, the center hosts its Cercle Francophone, during which participants speak French as a way of keeping the language alive. There’s no charge for either of these weekly events, but the glimpse into the life of Cajuns is priceless.
Wherever you go in Lafourche Parish, you’ll see, hear, smell and taste the impact and influence of the Cajuns. Perhaps the best part about time spent in this region is that there’s nothing contrived about these experiences you’ll have; they’re completely authentic and become the most memorable part of a visit. There is always something to celebrate, plenty of food to share and enough music to keep you dancing for hours. Come on down the Bayou!