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Just the name “Cajun Country” conjures up the food, fun and friendly people this region of South Louisiana is famous for. Residents of South Louisiana have passed down their language and customs from generation to generation, preserving a way of life that emphasizes hospitality and good times. You can taste their joie de vivre in their rich coffee, sweet pralines and spicy jambalaya and hear it in the music that pours out of so many dance halls.
The Cajun story begins with exile: In 1755, more than 12,000 French residents of an area around Nova Scotia were forced to leave their homeland by the British. Some of these Acadians migrated to South Louisiana. These Cajuns turned to the land and made their livings hunting, fishing and trapping. Today, Cajun Country, which stretches along the Gulf of Mexico, combines the French heritage of these original settlers with thriving cities; a modern oil-and-gas industry; and the educational, recreational and medical facilities residents expect in the 21st century.
You’ll find much to love in Cajun Country; here’s a sampler to get you started.
Big-City Life –– Lafayette, the unofficial capital of Cajun Country, offers a lot to see and do. The city’s busy oil-and-gas sector is matched by its wealth of beautiful old homes, great Cajun restaurants (don’t miss Prejean’s) and historical museums. Visit Acadian Village and Vermilionville to see what life was like for the early Acadians.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette provides the town with a host of educational activities. Lake Charles, close to the Texas border, also offers much to visitors and residents. The city’s 20-block Historic Charpentier District is a treasure trove of Victorian architecture. Those seeking more lively entertainment can visit the gambling venues, such as L’Auberge du Lac Casino Resort with its fine restaurants and Tom Fazio golf course.
Charming Towns –– For those who prefer small-town life, Cajun Country holds special appeal. Abbeville, noted for its historic downtown, and Mamou, home of famed Fred’s Lounge, are just a few of your choices; others include St. Martinville, Thibodaux, Opelousas and Breaux Bridge. Visit Crowley, known for its rice production, where more than 200 structures are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Native Cuisine –– Cajun food is often thought of as spicy, but “flavorful” is a more apt description. South Louisiana cooks use the abundance of fresh produce and seafood they have readily available to create some of the state’s signature dishes, such as jambalaya, gumbo and étouffée (a form of stew made with shrimp or crawfish).
Authentic French bread, strong coffee and pralines (a candy made with pecans) are other taste treats.
Great Outdoors –– Some of Louisiana’s best outdoor living takes place in Cajun Country. Lake Fausse Point State Park, on the edge of the Atchafalaya Basin, is ideal for camping, canoeing, hiking, fishing and bird-watching. Visit the bayous, marshes and beaches along the 180-mile Creole Nature Trail, or pack a picnic, and enjoy one of the region’s many community parks. Louisiana’s mild climate means you can spend much of the time outdoors, playing golf, swimming or just relaxing on a front porch.
Get Festive –– Cajun Country is home to festivals of all types. Breaux Bridge celebrates the delicious mudbug at its Crawfish Festival; other festivals celebrate the region’s music, culture and arts and crafts. Want to dance a Cajun two-step or take part in old-fashioned Mardi Gras celebrations? You’ll find a place to do it here.
Music and Arts –– Cajun Country has a lively arts scene. University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum boasts an extensive permanent collection plus intriguing changing exhibits. The city also brings in traveling professional Broadway troupes. You can enjoy the symphony in Lake Charles or take a class or two at one of the two- or four-year colleges, several of which offer special programs for seniors.