I recently returned from Mardi Gras in Lafayette, La. The city offers a more family-friendly, folksy celebration than the New Orleans blowout, but it's still a rollicking good time. The beads and the King Cake were fun, but the biggest takeaway from my trip is that this area is worth a visit any time of year.
Lafayette is in the heart of Cajun country, an area that encompasses eight parishes (as counties are known) in south-central Louisiana. The region is rich in culture, food, and music, three ingredients in a recipe for a wonderful travel experience.
French-Acadian roots, mixed with the plenty of the bayou, have created a food culture that is an integral part of Cajun life. Good food is everywhere: fresh catfish or oyster po' boys, a whopping pile of boiled crawfish, rich boudin sausage, or a meaty, sophisticated gumbo. Tabasco Sauce, a critical condiment to all these dishes, is made in nearby Avery Island, where visitors can tour the factory and learn about a manufacturing process that resembles fine winemaking.
Good music is as important as eating in these parts — stages and dancehalls abound, so most meals were accompanied by live music. Cajun and Zydeco bands are ubiquitous and welcoming; it's heartening to see people of all ages and cultures mixing it up on the same dance floor. The caliber of the music is also as excellent as it is approachable. I stood at the edge of a small stage listening to the Lost Bayou Ramblers, winners of a 2018 Grammy Award for Best Americana Recording. The region also holds multiple music festivals throughout the year.
For a better understanding of this unique slice of American culture, spend an afternoon at Vermillionville, a National Historic Site that recreates a 19th-century bayou town. It's an educational experience, but true to Lafayette style, this village also has a dancehall on site — and it was packed for a Sunday afternoon full of Zydeco fun, with the aroma of gumbo wafting through the air.
For information about attractions and festivals held year-round, go to LafayetteTravel.com.