Nicknamed the Big Easy because of its laid-back attitude to life, Keya Modessa discovers the captivating music scene, cultural charm and Creole cuisine of New Orleans.
The great American playwright Tennessee Williams once said, “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans.” Vibrant, colourful, loud, proud, resilient, confident, New Orleans is all the above and much more which is why the locals love it and tourists flock to it.
The sultry, soulful city is a melting-pot of global cultures including Spanish, French, Caribbean, African and American. It’s a hippy, dippy kinda place where music, culture and food combine beautifully to bring something truly unique.
The city is on the up since the devastation of Hurriance Katina and now celebrates like with a joie de vivre always evident all year round but especially in April when the famous New Orleans Jazz Festival (April 27-29 and May 3-6) rolls back into town. This year also marks the city’s 300th anniversary and to celebrate its past, present and future join in with tricentennial events including concerts, exhibitions, fireworks and more. (2018nola.com).
Often called the Crown Jewel of New Orleans, the historic French Quarter is as beautiful as it is mysterious. There’s a real mix of old meets new and can be seen in the French market, pretty boutiques, friendly bars, antique stores and century-old restaurants. Grand mansions sit alongside eye-catching architecture where hidden doorways lead to secret courtyards.
Make your way down to the National Historic Landmark, Jackson Square. The park features artists, musicians and street performers as well as the Pontalba Buildings. These matching red-brick, block-long, four‑story buildings were built in the 1840s and today the ground floor is made up of shops and restaurants while the upper floors are still used as apartments.
The St. Louis Cathedral is among the tallest and most imposing structures in the French Quarter making it a local and international architectural icon. Inside you can admire the stained-glass windows, painting and the Rococo-style, gilded altar. (www.stlouiscathedral.org)
Once outside, jump on board the Steamboat Natchez where you can enjoy a memorable cruise along the Mississippi while enjoying live jazz music and regional food. (www.steamboatnatchez.com)
The colourful Faubourg Marigny used to have a bad reputation but the quirky neighbourhood has now flourished and attracts trendy artists and hipsters. Bright and zany colours make up this vibrant neighbourhood where the mix of French and Spanish architecture is the perfect photo op.
Soak up the cultural scene of the city specifically in one of the many galleries along Julia Street in the Warehouse Arts District and along Royal Street in the French Quarter.
Lose yourself in the six-mile stretch known as Magazine Street. Here you can take your time browsing the some of the best antique stores, art galleries, craft shops and boutiques in the city.
It goes without saying that jazz music is at the heart of this lively city. A stroll through the Marigny neighbourhood will take you on a musical journey and you can drift in and out of musical hot spots including d.b.a, Snug Harbor and the Spotted Cat. Contemporary musical acts can be found at the Maple Leaf, one of the oldest musical institutions, Chickie Wha Wha, Blue Nile, The Circle Bar and many more.
Eat and drink
Brunch is the way to go in New Orleans. You can choose anything from traditional to the more…indulgent shall we say; waffles with whiskey sauce, crab omelettes, banana French toast and the list goes on. Atchafalaya in uptown has a Bloody Mary bar and live jazz (both only avail at the weekends) but the menu is enticing and serves everything from brunch burgers to shrimp and grits (polenta) and the Creole-inspired etouffee (shellfish dish) omelette. (www.atchafalayarestaurant.com).
The award-winning Commander’s Place is an upmarket spot for Creole fare and has been a city landmark since 1893. Inside it’s elegant and refined décor which includes beautiful chandeliers compliments its Haute Creole cuisine perfectly. Expect to find dishes like shrimp and Tasso (ham) Henican, gumbo (stew). For dessert try the Creole bread pudding soufflé or the bananas foster flambé. (www.commanderspalace.com)
Café Du Monde is a city institution and is open 24/7 so you can pop in anytime to get your fix of coffee and beignets, a square piece of dough, fried and covered with powdered sugar – basically a doughnut but without the hole. (www.cafedumonde.com) .
Try the traditional baguette-like sandwich called a po-boy here – it’s so popular locals have dedicated a festival to it. Johnny’s Po-Boy is said to serve some of the best if you don’t mind queuing up for a while. The roast beef is filled with slow-boiled meat soaked in gravy with garlic, onions, peppers and celery. (johnnyspoboy.com).
If you can manage one more dish try the jambalaya. K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen serves up one mean version of this casserole dish filled with veggies, ham, sausage, jalapenos all in a rich stock which is then simmered for four hours with rice and sauce piquant. (www.kpauls.com)
If you choose to stay in the heart of the French Quarter, opt for Soniat House. This intimate, romantic inn is in a great location and yet quiet and private. Inside gorgeous antiques and fabrics dress up the Creole-style house, dating back to 1829. Splash out on a grand suite which comes with a hot tub and wrought-iron balconies. (www.soniathouse.com).
Auld Sweet Olive is a beautiful B&B that comes with all the trimmings and a delicious breakfast made up of biscuits, fresh muffins, savoury bread pudding or artichoke quiche. The Palmetto room comes with hand-painted walls and a comfortable Queen-sized bed. (www.sweetolive.com).
A multi-million-dollar restoration means the historic Bourbon Orleans Hotel has been brought bang up to date without losing any of its character. Rooms are traditional and come with marble bathrooms and the balcony rooms offer different views of the city. (www.bourbonorleans.com).