Mrs. O goes to New Orleans, Louisiana
It was all my friend Leah’s fault. She wrote a post about New Orleans and after reading it, I decided: enough was enough. I wanted a bit of New Orleans for myself too.
People always wonder if travel blogs influence people’s travel planning decisions – I cannot speak about others, except moi. I called Mr. O – he thought I was mad, as always – for some reason, we hadn’t booked anything for after Christmas, something we always do in April. It was written – we were going down South! I called Leah – she couldn’t quite believe it but said “y’all come down, fly to Houston and we will drive to NOLA”. I had no idea what NOLA meant – apparently, it is short for New Orleans, Louisiana! And we were even able to use our annual BA AMEX vouchers and score a free flight – and fly first. This trip was so meant to be. I knew the timing wasn’t ideal – especially after my 4-day Christmas, but we only live once. I could diet in January.
Having flown to Houston, we set on a 5-hour drive going East, towards Louisiana. And after a while, it was time to stop. Leah was very keen for us to try one of the local institutions – Stemboat Bills in Lake Charles. We feasted on fried seafood (that was a portion for one, which the 3 of us shared) and tried the lovely pistolettes, which is a little sandwich filled with shrimp – deep-fried, of course. A special mention goes to our “glass of wine”, which came with a lid. I am not a beer girl (I seriously wish I was), and I had to try this!
After dinner, we headed to our first stop – the stunning Nottoway Plantation. We arrived quite late but loved seeing this beautiful plantation late at night. It wasn’t cold for us at all, and we simply loved it. We slept like babies and woke up to these incredible views.
We did not stay at the main house – we stayed in the cottages instead. $99 buys you a night at this place – exceptional value for money. We were treated to a tour the next morning, after a delicious and hearty breakfast. I know this was a trip where I would eat. A lot.
I was very curious to understand what a plantation was – and loved it. I would certainly come back to this part of the world again and spend some time eating, sleeping and relaxing. A good plan indeed!
But no rest for the wicked, as they say, and we were off to our next stop – Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana. When I first researched this trip, I noticed we were not far and insisted we drove in. Why? Because this is John Grisham’s territory – I love his books and Baton Rouge, LA was always mentioned. Never in my wildest dreams I thought I would visit this small city, on the banks of the Mississippi river, but there is life for you!
We weren’t quite sure what to see or do, so we headed to the Capitol Building – without a doubt, the tallest building in town. And luckily, we were allowed in! I loved seeing the Senate room, which was beautifully decorated and also to see the city from the very top. It wasn’t a sunny day, but it was a good experience nonetheless. My favourite bit? The 50 steps to the main door, with the various US States. I thought it was only appropriate to say hello to Louisiana!
After this, we could feel the excitement building up – New Orleans was closer than ever – and it was time for lunch! We were invited by the Heritage Grill, one of the many restaurants owned by local restaurateur Ralph Brennan to stop by and taste the delicious crab melt. Also, it was quite interesting to look around the other tables and think.. interesting, everyone is drinking iced tea.. it was only when I got our cocktails that I realised what they were indeed. How cheeky! And lovely!
New Orleans awaited, and so did our hotel for the night – the swanky International House. I had heard great things and loved the look of it and was looking forward to this stay. First impressions count, and you can see for yourself. Nice, indeed!
We then walked around the “world-famous” Bourbon Street and I must confess: not sure it was for me. I was not prepared for the amounts of alcohol behind consumed at 5pm – and was quite disappointed. But as with everything, one just needs to leave the tourist traps and find delightful new places. We went to Pat O’Briens and everything was so much quieter – and people were so much nicer! I even had my first Mint Julep, a bourbon-based cocktail, which is now a firm favourite!
Dinner that night took place at one of New Orleans’ classics – the Commanders’ Palace. It was a good meal, but I must confess I was expecting way more – but nevertheless, the ambiance was great and super classic. I loved the bread and butter soufflé pudding – one more to add to the ever-expanding waistline!
I slept really well and the second day it was time to change hotels and get to know the city better. For our second night, we stayed at the W New Orleans, who kindly upgraded us to a WOW suite. Priced similarly as the International House (around $250-300 per night), I personally think you get better value for money with the W. Service was friendlier, and the bathrooms were also more modern. I thought the International House was great, but if we are being truly honest (like I always aim to be with my blog), our second night’s accommodation choice was better suited for us.
But the best place to stay in town? In my opinion? The newly refurbished W French Quarter. We tried to stay there, but as it was New Year’s weekend, the hotel was fully booked. But I had to go and have a look – and wasn’t disappointed indeed. Located IN the French Quarter, the hotel is outstanding and the pictures speak for themselves. I absolutely adored the new restaurant and bar areas, and couldn’t help take photographs of the walls – so simple and yet so so nice!
I loved walking around New Orleans – Rue Royale was a firm favourite with its quirky boutiques and vintage shops. This is what I thought New Orleans was like, and was not disappointed at all. People were friendly (I love the local accent!) and I loved the architectural style.
But, of course – I know you must be wondering – where did we eat? Well, we went to Couchon in the Warehouse district (which reminded me ever so slightly of NYC’s Meatpacking District 10-15 years ago) and we almost tried the whole menu. From chicken liver with picked watermelon, to cold meats, incredible sweet potato mash to the most interesting dish of all: alligator. Yup, I am not kidding. It was delicious! Something else worth mentioning, that we also had while we were in town: crayfish? A pound for $15, boiled, with of course a touch of Cajun spices. Every food we ate was slightly spicy – we cried on the first meals, but not so much as the weekend went on!
I needed to walk off the meal, so we decided to take it easy – I managed a bit of shopping (shoes, of course at J Crew) and a massage. And after that, it was time for another meal…
ACME Oyster House is a New Orleans classic – and being an oyster and seafood lover, I was really looking forward to this meal. I was a bit afraid when I saw the queue outside – but this is when it pays to be organised.. and pre-book a table! I love oysters, and always have these babies when I am in the USA. But what I never had before? Grilled and baked oysters. With a touch of Tabasco, of course – and I loved them! As this was my last meal in town, I needed to catch up with the long list of specialties, so we had a “New Orleans medley” , made up of Gumbo, jambalaya and grilled smoked sausage. Needless to say, we could not move afterwards!
But we did.. and we headed to Café du Monde, for the “world-famous” (I love this expression) beignets – which are lovely and soft donuts sprinkled with powdered sugar.
And with this, and a good night’s sleep, it was time to head back to Houston and ring in the new year. That, of course, will be a different story to tell y’all!
PS. A huge thank you to those who helped us organise this trip with really short notice, namely the New Orleans CVB, who was brilliant. All 3 hotels provided us with free or discounted accommodation throughout our stay, and looked after us really well. Thank you to Heritage Grill and ACME for hosting us for meals. Opinions are, as usual my own. You can’t buy the love and I now seriously need to go on a diet.