Louisiana has long been a special place to live, and those who visit the state enjoy it for the same reasons residents love it here. The smell of spicy jambalaya and etouffee fill the air while jazz echoes in the distance. Across town there’s yet another seasonal festival. And tomorrow looks like a great day for outdoor recreation, with plans for hiking, crawfishing and camping.
Here in Lafayette, the city United Country Real Estate | Wildlife Land Group calls home, we feel lucky to live in the Acadiana … right in the heart of the region, in fact. This part of South-Central Louisiana is where Cajun and Creole culture and heritage were born.
While the sights, sounds and smells of “Cajun Country” are wonderful, it’s important to note that in terms of business, established and emerging industries alike are driving growth in the region. In other words, we may play hard, but we also work hard. Manufacturing, information technology, oil and gas, and agriculture all contribute significantly to the economy. Additionally, Lafayette is home to the University of Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns along with several smaller colleges and universities. Let’s take a closer look at what Louisiana’s Acadiana has to offer.
It wasn’t until 1971 that the Louisiana state legislature officially recognized the Acadiana for a unique heritage that dates much further back. The French Acadians (later to be called “Cajuns”) arrived in the area in the 1700s after being exiled by the British from Canada. By the early 1800s, thousands of Acadians settled in Louisiana. Settlements such as Vermilionville founded in 1821 grew and evolved; that particular one became Lafayette in 1884.
Not that everyone in the region is culturally Acadian, but supposedly at least 11 percent of the population here speaks either French or Creole / Cajun French. Likewise, every person who is considered Cajun doesn’t necessarily descend from the original Acadians.
Still, those original Acadians blended with and learned from the Native Americans, West Africans, Spaniards and others in the area. And that sparked the beginning of some very diverse and rich cultures in Louisiana — specifically Cajuns and Creoles.
Geographically speaking, the Acadiana’s size is debatable. Some say the region covers 22 parishes, while others focus on the eight or so parishes surrounding Lafayette. What’s undeniable is the fantastic food and music, spirited festivals and opportunities to truly embrace Cajun and Creole culture in the Acadiana.
Vermilionville offers a fun and educational experience for those interested in connecting past history to present culture. And throughout Lafayette, you’ll find a noteworthy focus on the arts with multiple galleries, live performance venues and such. There are also fun specialty shops and plenty of places to grab a drink and hear live music.
Beyond Lafayette, St. Martin and St. Landry parishes have their own vibe and popular attractions, and both Evangeline and Vermilion parishes embrace their French heritage (the latter is bilingual). But for good eats, start in Lafayette where there’s amazing Cajun and Creole dishes as well as international cuisines. Prejean's Restaurant offers foods “from gumbo to gator wings,” and Poupart Bakery provides an authentic taste of France. Pat's Fisherman's Wharf Restaurant in Henderson is known for its home style cooking, while the city of Breaux Bridge is the Crawfish Capital of the World.
But the festivals … wow, those festivals! It feels like Louisiana holds another one weekly and there’s so much to enjoy. Most people know about Mardi Gras in February / March but the Festivals Acadiens et Créoles happen around the same time, followed by the Festival International de Louisiane in April, Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival in May and others, all with their own unique identity. For example, the Scott Boudin Festival celebrates the boudin sausage with food, music and crafts, while August’s Gueydan Duck Festival highlights the area’s hunting heritage.
Maybe you’re interested in touring Avery Island where the world-famous Tabasco hot sauce is made (and the site of the 170-acre wildlife refuge Jungle Gardens). Perhaps you’re a history buff. Check out the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Into Zydeco music? Opelousas in St. Landry Parish is the place to be. There’s truly something for everyone in the Acadiana.
As the fourth-largest city in Louisiana, Lafayette is considered relatively urban and accounts for around half the population (roughly 126,000) of its namesake parish. That said, there are even more rural parts of the state, including Acadiana parishes such as Iberia, St. Martin, Vermilion, Evangeline and St. Landry which are anywhere from 94 to 98 percent rural. That leaves plenty of land and waterways – hills, prairies, marshes, bayous and rivers – ideal for outdoor recreation and other adventures.
Whether you’re into birding, boating, hunting or hiking, South-Central Louisiana offers all kinds of fun activities. Especially given our proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, fishing is quite popular here. Chicot State Park in Ville Platte is home to some record-sized lake fish, while Palmetto Island State Park on the Vermilion River has camping along the interior lagoons. The Attakapas Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA) spans Iberia and two other parishes where anglers cast for catfish, gar and bowfin. Lastly, if shrimping, crabbing and crawfishing are your vibe, head to State Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf.
Hunting may be an even bigger sport in Louisiana. Considered the world’s largest freshwater swamp wilderness, the Atchafalaya Basin is nearly 600,000 acres of bottomland hardwoods, cypress stands and bayous. Within it, the Indian Bayou offers excellent small game hunting and trapping (plus hiking, horse trails and more) on 28,000 acres. Your best shot at a trophy whitetail buck is likely in the Thistlethwaite WMA in St. Landry Parish. And for great waterfowl hunting regulated by lottery, there’s White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area near Gueydan.
As for recreation such as nature viewing, biking and beyond, many of these same areas are ideal. Serious birders will flock to Cypress Island Nature Preserve at Lake Martin in St. Martinville to spot Great Egrets, Green Herons, Ospreys and Roseate Spoonbills. Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge in St. Mary Parish has fun paddling trails along its bayous and canals. Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge features an interesting 16,000-acre freshwater marsh called the Lacassine Pool. Cypremort Point State Park is a couple hours southeast, but worth it for water skiing, windsurfing and sailing with beach frontage on Vermilion Bay.
Nps.gov; LafayetteTravel.com; LouisianaTravel.com; En.Wikipedia.org; WorldPopulationReview.com; OneAcadiana.org; Louisiana-Destinations.com; Wlf.Louisiana.gov