Louisiana is nested deep in the American Deep South, where hurricanes are part of life and food is life. While living in Baton Rouge for eight months, I discovered everything that the swamp state has to offer. This weekend trip embraces Louisiana’s cultural diversity, from a New Orleans cocktail crawl to alligator spotting and a history lesson on antebellum America.
Starting and endpoint for this weekend getaway is Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana. On a sunny day, you can follow Louisiana’s River Road all the way from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. Unfortunately, we started our trip on a typical Louisiana summer morning: hot, humid and wet. That’s why we took the highway shortcut to Oak Alley Plantation. Oak Alley is one of the many antebellum plantations along the River Road. Its name derives from the impressive oaks along the alley leading up to the plantation house.
A tour of the house gives insight into the grandiose lifestyle of the plantation owners back in the 1800s. The second floor balcony offers a birds-eye view of the 200-year old oaks.
Besides its beautiful grounds, Oak Alley is famous for a boozy sweet treat: mint juleps are sold all day long in a stand behind the house. A shot of bourbon a day keeps the mosquitos away, so they say.
Yet behind the mansion and mint juleps hides a dark page in American history. The once thriving plantations in the South were built on the back of millions of slaves. Oak Alley turned several rebuilt slave quarters into an open-air museum, giving insight into the not-so-grandiose life of the plantation slaves. The tour of the house also focuses on the contrast between the owners’ daily life and that of their servants.
There’s been a positive evolution of plantations putting more emphasis on the slaves who built them, rather than just focussing on the glorious life of the plantation owners. However it still surprised me how some plantations barely make mention of slavery. Given the beautiful grounds and the educational experience, Oak Alley is a must-visit plantation on the River Road.
Next we headed to New Orleans, currently celebrating its 300th birthday! A city with that much history is quite unique in the US. A visit to New Orleans is like visiting France, Spain, the Caribbean and the US all at once. A fun way to honor New Orleans’ legacy is a cocktail crawl. The city is very proud of its cocktail history, as proven by the annual Tales of the Cocktail festival. My first time in New Orleans, I went on an organized cocktail tour with Doctor Gumbo. Many visits and cocktails later, I put together a self-guided cocktail crawl for each time of day.
Bloody Mary @ Stanley Restaurant
The best Bloody Mary I’ve tried so far, with a great view of Jackson Square.
Mimosa @ Canal Street Bistro
Watch the historic street car pass by (many times) while sipping on tropical mimosas.
Pimm’s Cup @ Napolean House
This 200-year old French Quarter house is said to be the birthplace of the Pimm’s cup.
French 75 @ Commander’s Palace
Start your classy dinner with a classy cocktail at New Orleans institution Commander’s Palace.
Vieux Carré @ Carrousel Bar
The Carrousel’s signature cocktail will make your head spin faster than the bar does.
Sazerac @ The Sazerac Hotel
New Orleans first ever cocktail had to make the cut, all its bitterness aside.
Hurricane @ Pat O’ Brien
Kick off your night on Bourbon Street with a classic Hurricane, incredibly sweet yet surprisingly strong.
Hand Grenade @ Tropical Isle
No passage on Bourbon Street is complete without a Hand Grenade from Tropical Isle.
Sunday mornings in New Orleans ask for coffee and beignets from Cafe Du Monde. If you don’t want to spend half of the morning standing in line, opt for the shorter to-go line. The beautiful Jackson Square across the street makes for a great outdoor breakfast spot.
After breakfast, we left the city behind and crossed Lake Pontchartrain to swamp land. Southern Louisiana is largely made up of swamps, wetlands that house unique wildlife. Honey Island Swamp Tours takes you deep into the swamp, on a small boat that feels dangerously close to the water. We came face to face with alligators, turtles, raccoons and giant grasshoppers. My prime spot at the top of the boat had me reliving Captain Hook’s crocodile scene.
Lunch brought us to the Abita Brew Pub, located in the charming town of Abita Springs. On the menu are the beers of Louisiana’s Abita Brewing Company, accompanied by delicious classics such as fried pickles, boudin balls and po’ boys. The cosy patio comes with views of the Tammany Trace trailhead, a 31-mile hike-and-bike trail along a former railroad. On Sundays, the cute Abita Springs Art and Farmers Market is held in Trailhead Park, right next to the brewpub.
Round up the weekend with a tour of Louisiana’s Empire State Building. The State Capitol in Baton Rouge is open to visitors for a free history lesson on Louisiana. The Observation Deck on the 27th floor offers great views of Baton Rouge and beyond.