When most people travel to Louisiana it usually goes something like this: 1. head straight to New Orleans; 2. eat (at overpriced, touristy spots) and drink (way too many watered-down Hurricane cocktails) alongside swarms of other tourists on Bourbon Street; 3. stay wherever you can get reservations in the French Quarter and never leave the area. However, if you want to explore the real Cajun country, filled with swanky casinos, world-class birding, fishing, hunting, top golf-courses, exciting swamp tours (complete with alligators), toe-tapping Zydeco bands, and deliciously authentic Cajun country cuisine then head to Southwest Louisianas Lake Charles. Lake Charles is also known as The Festival Capital of Louisiana and their Mardi Gras extravaganza is second only to New Orleans. Plus all the above is delivered with that famous Southern Hospitality. Suite sleep Once you check into the elegant L’Auberge Casino Resort Lake Charles youll be tempted to just stay put and enjoy all the on-site offerings: high-end boutiques, 70,000 sq. ft. of non-stop gaming, Vegas caliber live entertainment, tranquil Spa du Lac, the 18-hole championship Tom Fazio Contraband Bayou golf course, a fully-equipped fitness center, tropically landscaped swimming pool complete with a lazy river to drift down and eight fabulous restaurants. Gentlemen in need of a little pampering will want to book a luxury shave at the old-school 1740 Barbier before retiring to the cigar lounge for a shot of whiskey and a peek at some vintage Playboys. Fresh from a multi-million dollar facelift, the 1000 comfy/luxe rooms are well appointed with pillow top mattresses, local artwork, flat-panel TVs with premium channels and coffeemakers stocked with PJs Coffee. But if you really want to feel like a big winner book one of their huge, luxurious suites, available with butler service. I was thoroughly spoiled by my stay in the Versailles Suite, located high in the 26-story hotel tower. As I wandered through my bathroom, bedroom, living and dining areas, I counted 5 TVs. One was framed in antique gold, a small one was set in my bathroom mirror just a foot away from another big screen TV overlooking the Jacuzzi tub. Delish eats The Crab Cake Benedict with homey grits served at the resorts casual Le Café makes a perfect start to your day. For a truly memorable dinner (on a par with a Michelin starred restaurant) Ember Grille & Wine Bar has it all: impeccable service, over 200 bottles of wine, and your choice of Certified Angus, Kobe and Natural Grass Fed beef seared to perfection over a wood-fired grill, served with a variety of flavored butters and complementary sauces. The foie gras butter melting over the Kobe beef was beyond incredible. The foie also made a welcome appearance in the Midas- rich, Foie & Toast, which was seared Foie Gras stuffed into French Toast topped with Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup. For sheer bragging rights, if youre reeeealy hungry you could opt for the Ember Prime Tomahawk, a whopping 40-oz. Rib Eye, carved tableside, for a mere $99, with a side of Chef Mark Chapmans addictive Truffled Mac n Cheese. Non-meat eaters will be blissfully happy here too, with choices ranging from a tower of chilled seafood to pan seared scallops, wild salmon, crab cakes, and sesame crusted Ahi tuna. Pssst: Save room for one of Chef Bill Foltzs (named Pastry Chef of the Year in 2006) imaginative desserts twists. Hit the trails For a unique outdoor adventure drive the picturesque, 180-mile Creole Nature Trail, one of the oldest scenic byways in America comprised of several wildlife refuges and sanctuaries. As you wind through the Louisiana Outback, youll see rare Oak Cheniers (twisted live oaks on sand ridges that dot the marsh) outstanding variety of birds (over 400 species) and plenty of alligators, which outnumber people here 10 to 1. Stop in at Airboats and Alligators, where youll enjoy an exhilarating airboat ride through the murky marsh. Owner Ben Welch will also show you around his alligator farm while sharing his seemingly endless fountain of gator lore. Just a few fascinating facts I learned were: females lay approximately 50 eggs at a time, but only 1% reach adulthood in the wilds-the rest are killed by a variety of predators; the alligators sex is determined by where the egg is situated in the nest. Males are at the bottom of the nest, while the females, are at the top for a little sunbathing; if all you can see is the alligators head poking out of the swamp, you can calculate his size by estimating the length in inches from his eyes to his nostrils and convert it to feet for his body. So if you estimate his head is 5 inches then he will be around 5 feet long. Pssst: For a once in a lifetime photo opp, ask Ben if you can (carefully) hold a baby alligator. Another worthwhile stop is Grosse Savanne Eco-tours. Grosse Savanne is made up of 50,000 acres owned by the Leach family for six generations. The educational eco-tour is a relatively new addition spearheaded by local boy, Bobby Jorden. Bobby explained, “If you want to see what Southwest Louisiana is really all about, there’s really no better way to do it than by taking a peaceful boat ride to see all the nature and wildlife within these eco-systems.” Although it was too hot that day to see many alligators, we saw plenty of herons, egrets and other birds. Bobby (who, by the way, is adorable and single) took us to a rookery, a little island filled with baby birds practicing their flying moves. It was great fun watching them as they would flutter from tree to tree, clumsily trying to keep their balance. We knew they were in trouble when they landed on tree branches that were too thin to hold them, especially when we spied a hungry alligator lurking in the murky waters below. Sure enough, minutes later the gator was enjoying a baby bird lunch. Pssst: Visiting sportsmen who want to hunt alligators in style can book a stay at the luxurious Grosse Savanne Lodge. This nine-bedroom, plantation-style retreat offers all the amenities of a private mens club: billiard table, plasma TV, priceless antiques, huge fireplace, Jacuzzi tub, a well-stocked bar and Southern gourmet meals. For an additional fee, you can even get your alligator stuffed and mounted. More peace-loving folks can also rent the lodge for fishing or birding expeditions. If youd rather hunt down the best boudin (pronounced boo-DAN), a regional sausage made from various ground meats (can be pork, seafood or even gator) rice and spices, then hop in your car armed with a copy of the Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail Guide brochure which lists 17 of the best local boudin spots. My favorite spot was Famous Foods aka “The People’s Choice of Boudin, a multi-generational family café owned by Darby Guillory. When I asked what is the secret to a making a great Boudin gillory replied, You want a good pinch of liver in it; not overpowering, but a good pinch of liver. Plus you need really good seasonings. We make our own seasoning mix with fresh ingredients. Best dusty trail thirst quencher Youll probably be a little parched after all your explorations so if youd like to taste the best booze in the Bayou head over to Bayou Rum, made in the largest privately-owned rum distillery in the USA Louisiana Spirits Distillery. Although the new 8 million dollar distillery may look state of the art, the rum is still handcrafted in a traditional pot using 100% natural Louisiana sugarcane and molasses. Join the complimentary tour which ends at the copper-topped bar where you can sample the goods. Louisiana Spirits President ,Trey Litel, says, Our goal is for Bayou Rum to become Americas rum and after a few sips of the smooth Silver Bayou Rum and subtle Spiced Bayou Rum, I think hes on to something. Janice Nieder is Founder of Travel with Taste. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.
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