Underlying everything is a sense of “joie de vivre” that infuses daily life—a joyful exuberance that is readily extended to visitors. This was our third visit to Cajun Country—and it won’t be our last.
We booked four nights in the heart of Cajun Country at Poche’s Fish’N’Camp—our favorite spot in Breaux Bridge. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, just missing the weekend gatherings where people of all ages convene in cafés, bars, and dance halls to make music and dance. (We experienced a Cajun Saturday morning music jam on our last visit a couple of years ago. You can see a short video here.) From now on, we’ll make sure that we arrive prior to the weekend. Even better, we’ll stay a full week.
How The Cajun Culture Evolved
If nothing else, the Cajun culture is a testimonial to the resilience of the human spirit and the strength of community. In the mid-1700s, the Acadians were driven out of their chosen homeland of Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia and New Brunswick), where they had happily and peacefully lived for 150 years. Their villages were burned, families split up, and thousands perished as a result of the inhumane conditions they endured during the deportation.
Along the coast, bayous, and upland prairies of south Louisiana, a few thousand Acadians found refuge. I can only imagine what a shock it must have been to start all over again in hot and humid Louisiana, replete with alligators and other swamp terrors. The Cajuns are a resourceful lot, though—they fished, hunted, farmed, and set about recreating their Acadia (“idyllic place”). And alligator ended up on the menu.
Despite missing the weekend community gatherings, we found plenty to occupy ourselves. We visited the Acadian Cultural Center in Lafayette, a small National Historical Park. The displays are lovingly crafted from heirlooms donated by the families who settled here. There’s also a very sad half-hour film that focuses on the tragic history of the exiled Acadians. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much attention given to their resilient spirit and the exuberant culture and close community they’ve created après exile.
Despite the attempts of the government in the early 20th century to “mainstream” the Cajuns (including forbidding French to be spoken in schools), the culture thrives today. In 1971, one-third of the state was recognized as “Acadiana” by the Louisiana State Legislature.
Vermilionville: A Living History Museum Of Cajun Culture
A visit to Vermilionville—next door to the cultural center—is a delight. We spent half a day wandering through the living history museum on the banks of the bayou, where costumed staff, craftspeople, and musicians go about the activities of 18th-19th century daily life of south Louisiana with great authenticity.
Click on any photo for a larger image
Lake Martin Wildlife
And we also spent part of a day walking the trails at nearby Lake Martin and Cypress Island, where we were happy to see thousands of nesting egrets and herons (albeit far-off views).
Enjoying Crawfish Season
We were there mid-April, at the height of crawfish season when the crustaceans are at their largest and fattest. Once considered less than desirable (the term “mudbug” is still commonly used), the Cajuns took to them with relish, and crawfish are now celebrated as delicacies. We set out to buy crawfish for dinner. “Y’all want tree or five pounds?” inquired the young man with a warm smile and a delightful Cajun accent. “Want dem medium or spicy? Spicy is hot hot,” he warned. Actually, I’d been thinking one pound, since it was only the two of us. But three pounds turned out to be just the right amount.
Mudbugs look like miniature lobsters, and the tails (which contain the sweet, tender meat) make up only one-third of the creatures. We peeled the meat out of the tails and made crawfish étouffée for dinner that night, a classic Cajun dish. It begins, like all Cajun cuisine, with sautéing the “holy trinity” of onion, celery, and bell pepper, and is seasoned with a healthy pinch of cayenne. It was delicious.
About the RV Park:
Poche’s Fish-N-Camp is a very nice RV park with level concrete sites situated around fishing ponds. The park offers full hook-ups, good Verizon, a nice laundromat, and peaceful surroundings. It’s in the boonies, but only about 5 miles from the town of Breaux Bridge, and 10 miles from Lafayette. You’re in the heart of Cajun Country here.
It’s nice to find places to stop along the way, because it looks like we will have an annual trip East every year.
Again I am sitting here with my map and yellow highlighter.
Glad we can help, Pam. If you like music, don’t miss the Saturday morning music jam at Joie de Vivre cafe in Breaux Bridge. It’s so much fun, and a great way to experience the Cajun community culture.
So thrilled to read this, see your photos, and hear about where to stay. I just got a taste of Cajun Country when we crossed the bridge and stopped at the Atchafalaya visitor center. It captured my heart. I so want to kayak there someday. And eat a crayfish, which I never have.
Cajun Country captured our hearts, too, Sue. We kayaked Lake Martin when we were in Breaux Bridge a couple of years ago, and it was a beautiful paddle. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate for us this time. The Atchafalaya is on our list, as well!
Sent your blog on to my sister, my niece was born in Lafayette, so we have a Cajun connection. Fortunately my sister brought back to Cleveland many wonderful Cajun recipes for the rest of us.
Heading for Magee this coming Monday
Ed and Diana in The Lark
That’s so interesting, Diana — I hope you’ll share those recipes! We love Cajun cuisine. So far my repertoire is limited to jambalaya, gumbo, and étouffée, because they’re easy and delicious. :-))
Have fun at Mageee — find lots of birdies!
You are bringing back a flood of memories for me. Back in the 80’s, I worked as an Account Executive for Clinique Cosmetics, and this was part of my territory. I loved the accents in Cajun country, where the pronunciation of my name became “Suzahhhhn.” Such rich culture there!
Suzanne, you were so lucky to have spent so much time in the area! Love the Cajun pronunciation of your name — I can hear it now. It is indeed a rich culture, in so many ways.
What fun this sounds like. My only exposure to the Acadians has been in Acadia in the Maritimes. I’ve never had crawfish but they look like more trouble to “pick” than crabs. I love seafood so I’d sure like to try them. Thanks for telling me where to stop, where to stay and what to do with your usual gorgeous photographs. Any bayou paddling possible??
Sherry, we’re looking forward to visiting Acadia in the Maritimes one of these years — sooner rather than later, I hope! A couple of years ago we kayaked on Lake Martin and it was beautiful.
Crawfish are about the same amount of tedious work as picking blue crabs. But they sure are delicious.
I love Cajun food. It’s always fun embracing different cultures. We ended up extending our stays at Lake Powell and then again at Bryce Canyon… so I can relate to wanting to stay longer in an enjoyable place.
I agree, Ingrid — experiencing the different cultures and regional foods in our travels is one of the things we enjoy most. Like you, we often find that we’re wanting to extend our stays. Then again, there are so many more places to explore!
So much contrast in the food and people as you go from one area to another. That was some good looking Etouffe and crawfish.
We really enjoy finding local foods and experimenting with local recipes in our travels, Debbie. The crawfish were absolutely delicious!
Thanks for the history! I enjoy learning about new areas. Those poor people. I can’t imagine this hot, humid state being home after Acadia. Talk about shock! We’ll keep this place in mind as we move on from New Orleans next winter. Never had crawfish…something new to try:) You dinner looks like something we would enjoy!
Pam, I think you guys would enjoy this area. The history is fascinating — it’s truly a unique culture in our country. And you have to try crawfish. I’ll send you my recipe. :-)
we spent a month late winter/early spring this year in Abbeville just south of you… thought it might be too long but we had a blast there and enjoyed each of those precious Acadian weekends!
I can imagine that a month in Cajun Country would be a blast! We’re bummed that we missed being here on a weekend. We love those music/dance gatherings.
We just got back home after a 5 day Road Scholar trip centered in Lafayette.It was our third trip to the area (first two in our RV, of course). We visited places we’d been before, including most that you mentioned, and one plate lunch at Poche’s), had lessons to learn the Cajun waltz and Cajun two-step, and went dancing! One of our favorite stops was the Martin Accordion Factory (http://www.martinaccordions.com/). Three generations of the family provided a musical history of the accordion in Cajun music as they played accordion, pedal steel guitar, and guitar. At the end, another generation appeared, a six year old great-grandson who played the triangle! It was fabulous. We really love Cajun country.
Laurie, we were thinking about you guys when we were there! It was your travels that inspired our first stay at Poche’s. Your Road Scholar trip sounds like something we would love. Next time we’re definitely visiting the accordion factory. And we’re not missing the weekend music events! So nice to hear from you. :-)
It says a lot about a place when you actually want to be there for the weekend! Such a resilient history for people who continue to savor and celebrate life. Love the rhubarb looking cypress trunk – and all those yummy crawfish!
Haha, no kidding! I didn’t think about that, but you’re right, Jodee. We’ve always found Poche’s to be a peaceful park — even when we happened to be there on Easter weekend a couple of years ago!
This sounds amazing! I don’t think we’re going to make it to Cajun country for a few years but now I have quite a bit on our travel list for when we do. Yum! Thanks!
You’re welcome, Courtney. Cajun Country is well worth a visit. Have fun!
Egret turning the eggs…wow!
Just wait till the next post, Diana! We had no idea what High Island had in store for us…
Thanks for sharing some history of the area Laurel. And your crawfish recipe looks so yummy. I have been following another friend who is currently in NO, where she was raised. Each day she describes a new dish or drink that she has been enjoying. As you mentioned, part of the travel experience is about the local foods, and this part of the country seems to have some amazing flavors to experience.
LuAnn, as you know, history is SO much more interesting now that we’re on our extended “field trip.” And discovering yummy local foods is all part of the grand experience. I know you enjoy traveling in the same way. :-)
Oh my goodness, we stayed at Poches in 2013 and we were novices then and that park has become one of our favorites. Our stay there also introduced us to cajun food especially Étouffée. We even bought frozen ones and we ate them weeks later. While there we also toured the Tabasco factory which is only a few miles from there.
Since you’ve touched history of the Acadian people, you will learn much more once you cross the border to Nova Scotia. Which I urged you to visit the next time you cross country!
ML, the Tabasco Factory and gardens were on our list — but we ran out of time! So next time, for sure. And we really, really want to get up to Nova Scotia. That trip is definitely in our future plans.
Mmmm, love mudbugs!
We do, too, Brenda! :-)