Jody Hanson, Director of the Visit USA (UK), talks about her love for Louisiana, the state of celebrating.
What struck me when I first arrived in Louisiana were the people, not a throw away comment but a statement of truth, in fact that is also true of much of the South, but Louisianan’s just have that little bit more “good crazy”!
I have travelled extensively throughout the United States, first in my teens, where the love affair with the US started and then in my 30’s this became accentuated with my first visit to Louisiana. The atmosphere is always charged with fun, wherever you go and whatever you are doing, it is done with a sense of "laissez les bon temps rouler"… let the good times roll!
I travelled from New Orleans to Shreveport - a road trip of more than 300 miles - and you have to go off the beaten track. There are pretty historic towns like Natchitoches, once the film set for Sweet Magnolias, where I found myself standing on the porch of a beautiful southern home recounting the words of Dolly Parton “Honey, time marches on and eventually you realise its marching across your face”, needless to say my accent was wanting but the people of Natchitoches were not, wonderfully warm and full of fun.
Louisiana is known for its music and festivals but lesser known is the natural beauty you will encounter in the coastal fishing communities and the bayous. I have been driven by boat to bars on the bayou, no land access, with local food, rum and bands…where you dance the day away into the night and then boat back from whence you came…with a beautiful night sky above and only the sounds of the bayous on the cooling water ways. Cajun Country celebrates family, where you see a Grandpa who is 90 something as he watches over his great grandchildren as the zydeco music plays and the community dances together.
I eat my way round Louisiana, the sea food in abundance, barely out of the water before it is presented on the table. Food is a ritual, prepared with love, from recipes passed down several generations, shared with family, friends, and visitors with equal enthusiasm, quietly competitive that their Mama’s recipe is absolutely the best!
I have driven the Creole Nature Trail on the road from New Orleans to Lake Charles, a unique scenic byway with a particular bird population not to be experienced elsewhere in the USA. During Covid, I have been reminded of this trip, as I got out of the car and walked along one of the purpose-built walk ways that take you into the marsh land. I remember with great affection the warm gulf air on my face and not being able to hear anything other than the birds quietly floating before me.
Nowhere in Louisiana is too far, it is a state that is ripe for exploration planned or off the cuff. There are chain hotels and there are Bed and Breakfasts. In Louisiana when you’re off the beaten track the latter is my preference as you meet some real southern characters that make you feel part of the family and give you a slice of Louisiana life.
Music and dress up in Louisiana go hand in hand, Mardi Gras is state-wide and I have experienced a Cajun Mardi Gras, New Orleans Mardi Gras, Lake Charles Mardi Gras and more, all different but all hugely creative. It is an explosion of life, storytelling in the most technicolour way and not to be missed, there is a reason why it is on so many bucket lists and I love the sense of community that Mardi Gras brings, it is for the locals and they are happy to share.
I leave you with one last thought, if you have not been to Louisiana or the south, you are missing an epic experience...