Louisiana Unveils Trails

Clients can uncover local food and culture with these self-guided tours

By: By Cheré Dastugue Coen


Louisiana Department of Tourism
St. Tammany Parish Tourism & Convention Commission
ULL Center for Cultural and Ecotourism 

The spire of St. Augustine Church // (c) Howie Luvzus
The spire of St. Augustine Church

There is so much in Louisiana to see and enjoy, be it the rich elaborate history, exciting traditions and pastimes, unique music and food or the famous people who have lived there.

Now, the Louisiana Department of Tourism is providing trails that visitors can follow to learn more about these individual aspects, sometimes with audio accompaniment.

For instance, Louisiana is home to many noted African-Americans, including Homer Plessy of the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, who fought train segregation to the Supreme Court, or Arna Bontemps, a Harlem Renaissance writer. Madame C.J. Walker was the first African-American woman to become a millionaire, and her life began picking cotton in north Louisiana.

To showcase more about the African-American heritage of the state, the Department of Tourism has created the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail, which begins in New Orleans, moves up through south and central Louisiana and ends in the northern part of the state.

Information on the driving trail can be found on the department’s Web site (LouisianaTravel.com), accompanied by audio commentary by Louis Gossett Jr. to give visitors an idea of what they will see. Among the trail’s attractions are New Orleans’ St. Augustine Church, one of the oldest black churches in the nation, and the nearby River Road African-American Museum.

An idea for a culinary guide to the state came about after Louisiana was recognized as one of the top 15 destinations for food-related travel, based on research conducted by Gourmet magazine, the International Culinary Tourism Association and the Travel Industry Association. The result is the Louisiana Culinary Trails Guide, a free guidebook for tourists that lists seven trails for dining in Louisiana and highlights the regions’ distinctive culinary traits.

The guide highlights places to stop in various price ranges, regional food festivals, mom-and-pop cafes, bakeries, farmers’ markets, local grocery stores and hole-in-the-wall spots that elude tourists in the following areas of the state:

• Red River Riches (Shreveport area)
• Delta Delights (Monroe area)
• Prairie Home Cooking (Alexandria area)
• Capital Cuisine (Baton Rouge area)
• Seafood Sensation (Lake Charles area)
• Bayou Bounty (Acadiana/Lafayette area)
• Creole Fusion (New Orleans area)

The culinary trail focuses on one of the state’s most treasured resources, its food, said Chuck Morse, assistant secretary at the Louisiana Office of Tourism.

"We want to get people back to Louisiana to eat our good seafood," he said at the guidebook’s launch on Avery Island, where Tabasco is made. "When you think of jambalaya and boudin, you think of Louisiana and our rich epicurean culture."

Tabasco is one of the partners in the three-year, $650,000 campaign, along with the Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board and the Louisiana Travel Promotion Association.

"We’re very passionate about selling Louisiana culture," said Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board. "This gives you a wide variety of food in Louisiana. It shows the world what Louisiana is today."

The guidebook will be available at visitor centers throughout the state, promoted at food festivals and travel trade shows nationwide and seen as inserts in magazines such as Food & Wine. Copies can be obtained by calling a toll-free number, and the guide, along with its hundreds of restaurant listings, can also be found on the Louisiana Department of Tourism’s Web site.

The trails idea to boost tourism has become infectious, spreading from the state offices in Baton Rouge. The St. Tammany Parish Tourist & Convention Commission, located across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, has also added information on various aspects of its culinary offerings — which has expanded greatly since Hurricane Katrina — to its Web site. Links include everything from where to find good dining to how to eat like a native.

And the Center for Cultural and Ecotourism at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL) will host a conference in October titled "Have Books, Will Travel: Literary Tourism in the Gulf South." The conference will discuss developing a literary trail in Southwest Louisiana — known as Acadiana for its population of Cajuns — and possibly one statewide.