The Spanish Jewel of Acadiana: New Iberia
Acadiana, or Cajun Country, extends from the Texas border to New Orleans. The small city of New Iberia offers some of the area's top attractionsfine old homes, appealing boutiques, Cajun restaurants, and a pretty downtown. Spanish immigrants from the Iberian Peninsula city of Málaga settled here in 1779hence its name. The town developed as a farming hub and soon attracted displaced Cajun arrivals. Today New Iberia retains a culture and personality decidedly more Cajun than Spanish. Downtown New Iberia revolves around the town's historic jewel, Shadows-on-the-Teche (named for its location directly on Bayou Teche), a regal white-columned brick plantation house built in 1834 by sugarcane planter David Weeks. An intimate plantation museum, it displays an impressive collection of documents and memorabilia illustrating the Weeks family story.
Among the more unusual geographical features of Acadiana are its salt domes, called "islands" in these parts. The most famous is Avery Island, which has been owned by the McIlhenny family since the Civil War and is still mined for salt. Edward McIlhenny developed America's favorite hot sauce, Tabasco, here in 1868; the factory offers an amusing tour, and the adjacent Tabasco Country Store stocks every imaginable kind of Tabasco memorabilia. A visit to the Jungle Gardens and Bird City, the McIlhenny family's lush 250-acre wildlife and wetlands nature preserve allows you to wander dense forests and gardens (and view the world's largest collection of camellias) and get an up-close look at deer, turtles, raccoons, and alligators. Each spring 20,000 great white egrets and herons raise their young in the preserve.
Le Rosier, a delightful, intimate 1870s B&B sits across the street from Shadows-on-the Teche. Six rooms are decked with period antiques, and a small blooming garden abounds with tropical plants, perennial flowers, and shrubs. If you have room after their hearty plantation breakfast, take a short walk up the town's lovely Main Street to enjoy lunch at Victor's Cafeteria. This no-frills spot features prominently in the popular crime novels by local author James Lee Burke, whose protagonist Detective Dave Robicheaux routinely dines here. Expect simple Cajun fare and lots of it, including their crawfish pie specialty. Have dinner at Clementine's, named for the primitive painter Clementine Hunter and decorated with local artwork. You'll enjoy the refined Creole and Cajun dishes, friendly service, and live music on weekends.
Where: 20 miles southeast of Lafayette.
Visitor info: Tel 888-9-IBERIA or 337-365-1540; www.iberiatravel.com.
Shadows-on-the-Teche: Tel 337-369-6446; www.shadowsontheteche.org. McIlhenny Tabasco Co.,
Jungle Gardens and Bird City: Tel 800-634-9599 or 337-365-8173; www.tabasco.com.
Le Rosier: Tel 888-804-ROSE or 337-367-5306; www.lerosier.com. Cost: from $120.
Victor's Cafeteria: Tel 318-369-9924. Cost: lunch $10.
Clementine's: Tel 337-560-1007; www.clementinedowntown.com. Cost: dinner $30.
Best times: early Apr for Hot Sauce Festival; Dec for Christmas on the Bayou festivities.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication