New Orleans — Beyond Mardi Gras

New Orleans Beyond Mardi Gras
By: Suzanne Ferrara

No matter who you are, New Orleans will capture your soul in an instant. It is truly a place like no other.

It has its own language, oozes culture, charm, and is deep in 300 years of fascinating history. The Crescent City, which borders the mighty Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain, brims with some of the most genuinely friendly people you will ever encounter. It’s no wonder that once you visit her, she’ll hypnotize you and you’ll never want to leave her warmth and grandeur. Know this: just one visit won’t be enough to uncover the many awe-inspiring treasures Crescent City has to offer.

Mardi Gras parades, hot jazz, King Cake, gumbo, and the iconic French Quarter…the list of New Orleans’ hallmarks is endless.

One of the best ways to experience the French Quarter and other iconic areas of New Orleans is by carriage. Some of these mule-lead carriages have been in operation for nearly a century, and the ‘buggy ride,’ as many locals call it, is not just popular with tourists.

Be sure to board one of New Orleans’ Royal Carriages which offers six distinctive unforgettable journeys. In addition to the French Quarter’s Vieux Carre’ tour, these rides will bring you uptown to the Garden District (where you’ll see the homes of movie stars) or perhaps the legendary oak-lined St. Charles Avenue with its breath-taking mansions.

Plus, your city-licensed guide will hop off and give you a tour of the legendary St. Louis #1 Cemetery, the oldest above-ground cemetery in North America. You’ll certainly get an earful of fascinating New Orleans history, and you’ll see the storied streets of this great city at a leisurely pace, as if you were traveling in the 18th and 19th centuries. (Tip: Take a morning private ride and request John Cosentino for any tour).

Another way to truly experience this rich city is by taking a cruise along the mighty Mississippi River aboard the historic Steamboat Natchez. The Natchez is one of the last, authentic, steam-powered paddle wheelers on the river, and you will get spectacular views you cannot see anywhere else. You can also tempt your taste buds with a sumptuous New Orleans-style lunch or dinner, all as you listen to live Dixieland jazz. Be sure to head to Natchez’s third level bar where you can wet your whistle with the steamer’s famous savory Bloody Mary.

No visit to New Orleans is complete without dining at one of the many French-creole restaurants where the cuisine is derived from centuries of cultural culinary recipes.
Head to the legendary Antoine’s Restaurant which is celebrating 175 years of service! Antoine’s has been serving since 1840, and in that time celebrities, royalty, U.S. Presidents and even Pope John Paul II have enjoyed the superb cuisine. And how’s this for history? Many of the waiters are ancestors of those who served here over a hundred years ago. (Be sure to request Charles, a fourth-generation waiter deeply rooted in the tradition of Antoine’s). Ask for a private tour of the restaurant which includes a ‘secret’ room, and a peek at the legendary 165-foot long wine cellar that holds 25,000 bottles of wine.

For appetizers be sure to try the delicious Pommes de Terre Soufflés (Antoine’s classic fried puff potatoes) or the Huitres en Coquille a la Rockefeller (Louisiana Gulf Oysters baked on a half shell with the original Rockefeller sauce created by Antoine’s in 1889); then follow it with Pompano Pontchartrain (Grilled filet of pompano with lump crabmeat sautéed in butter) and finish things with Antoine’s famous Baked Alaska.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner at Brennan’s Restaurant on Royal Street is a must! This eatery has been a tradition since 1946. Sumptuous dishes such as Eggs Hussarde (a Brennan’s original), Seafood File Gumbo, Brennan’s Oyster Soup and New Orleans’ classic Grouper Almondine are just a few items that will tempt your taste buds. Do not leave without finishing your meal with the famous Banana’s Foster!

Another dessert option is Café Du Monde which at its French Market location, has been a New Orleans tradition since 1862. Enjoy mouthwatering beignets (a French style square donut covered in powdered sugar) and either a cup of dark roast coffee and chicory or a cup of Café Au’Lait (coffee mixed with half and half and hot milk).

New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, and you will be whisked away by the mesmerizing sounds of Dixieland. Some of the top choices to hear this authentic styled repartee are Fretzels European Jazz Club, New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, and the Maison Bourbon.

New Orleans is full of a variety of museums extending from the French Quarter to downtown and midtown. The Presbytere, located next to the historic St. Louis Cathedral, has an elaborate collection of Mardi Gras artifacts and memorabilia, and offers an interactive exhibit will give you a realistic Mardi Gras experience.

As everyone knows, the celebration never ends in this city! So head to the legendary Pat O’Brien’s where you can drink the legendary “Hurricane” or visit the new 21st Amendment Bar at La Louisiane, which celebrates just that, the repeal of Prohibition.

After all the sightseeing, you’ll be ready to rest up for the next day. If you are looking for an historic French Quarter oasis, the Audubon Cottages will transport you to another place and time. This secluded hideaway surrounded by an 18th century brick enclosure and lush tropical gardens is a stone’s throw away from all the action. It’s hard to believe these “Five Star Alliance” accommodations are just one block away from Bourbon Street.

There are seven cottages from which to choose, most with private courtyards, and all surround by what is believed to be the French Quarter’s oldest in-ground swimming pool (heated), set in original brick. Audubon Cottages are named after famed painter and naturalist John James Audubon; he lived in cottage number one back in 1821, and finished part of his legendary “Birds of America Series” in cottage number seven. Modern-day celebrities have discovered this unique getaway, too: Elizabeth Taylor stayed in cottage number three 27 times!

It’s hard to choose which cottage to reserve. All buildings have exposed historic brick, original wooden beams, and beautiful wooden floors; and most cottages include a living and dining room, an original fireplace, one or two bedrooms and a private courtyard. Number four is a two-story cottage with a balcony and spacious lush courtyard.

Butlers assigned to each cottage (Ada is a gem and will make sure you have absolutely anything you desire), and complimentary cheeses, fruit, sweets and champagne are among the treats waiting for you. If that’s not enough, Alfred Edwards, a true New Orleanian, aims to please and will whip up anything you desire for your complimentary breakfast.

Another French Quarter lodging suggestion would be to stay at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. It’s been nearly two centuries, but amazingly, in this hotel stands the iconic Orleans Ballroom. It is there the aristocratic elite took part in decadent galas, balls and celebrations that were said to be the envy of Europe.

This was also the site of the grandiose and controversial quadroon balls, during which married European noblemen and Creole aristocrats were paired with a mistress, a young creole with fair skin, adding to the mystique: the Bourbon Orleans is known as the most haunted hotel in New Orleans.

Bourbon Orleans’ guests can take part in a seasonal five-course candlelight period dinner with costumed reenactors portraying the most notable military leaders involved in the Battle of New Orleans. Enjoy similar historic meals which the Marquis de Lafayette and other European nobility ate in these very walls.

To say that the Bourbon Orleans has a distinctive location is an understatement. Stand on the Bourbon Orleans’ promenade balcony and turn to your left? You get a dramatic back view of the St. Louis Cathedral and the breath-taking basilica garden. Turn to your right? There’s iconic, historic and exciting Bourbon Street.

For luxury accommodations right outside the French Quarter, try the Windsor Court Hotel. And you don’t have to be British Royalty or travel to Buckingham Palace to have this truly regal experience in New Orleans. Visitors might feel as if they’re walking into England’s Windsor Castle when they enter the Windsor Court Hotel. While the luxury hotel is dripping in British decor, it also has a warm and inviting feel.

It’s no wonder visiting U.S. presidents, British royalty, movie actors and rock stars have called this hotel ‘home’. The AAA Four-Diamond, Forbes Four-Star designation has earned the hotel a plethora of prestigious awards and recognitions, including “Best Hotel in the World” from Travel and Leisure Magazine. The accommodations are impressive and meticulously decorated, and boast breath-taking panoramic views of the mighty Mississippi River or the Crescent City.

Life’s most celebrated events take place at the hotel’s Grill Room, New Orleans’ only four- star/four diamond restaurant. Regional dishes with fresh local ingredients (done with a bit of a twist) reign, as Chef de Cuisine Daniel Causgrove tempt your taste buds with his exquisite culinary creations.

Le Salon’s afternoon tea, just off the lobby, is a must experience while in New Orleans. The finest brews are steeped, poured and accompanied by mouth-watering sandwiches, scones and an assortment of fine chocolates, and soothing melodies from a harpist or string-trio complete the experience.

The Windsor Court’s Polo Club Lounge has a feel reminiscent of a private club in England. Roger, a legend here, uses his mixology skills to create hand-crafted cocktails sure to wet your whistle. (Tip: Be sure to try his creation, ‘Nicole’).

And don’t forget the kids! New Orleans has a plethora of enjoyable experiences for the little ones and the kids at heart; a trip to the award-winning Audubon Zoo, Aquarium of the Americas, and the Insectarium will surely entertain the whole family. Whether you’re on a romantic getaway, a guys’ or girls’ trip, or a family vacation, the alluring and fascinating Crescent City will capture your heart and soul.

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