By Herb Sparrow
he area of southwest Louisiana near the Texas border is a rich mixture of Cajun joie de vivre and Texas cowboy verve that welcomes visitors with genuine hospitality and enthusiasm.
“We call ourselves Cajuns and cowboys,” said Megan Monsour Hartman, senior marketing manager for the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We are close to the Texas border, and a lot of folks come here from Texas. We meld the two together.”
Groups can spot alligators and migratory birds in the region’s marshlands, sample genuine and distinctive Cajun cuisine and music, party at numerous festivals and be entertained at the three local casino resorts.
So head to Lake Charles and southwest Louisiana, and in true local fashion, “laissez les bons temps rouler” — let the good times roll.
The natural way
The area of southwestern Louisiana around Lake Charles, known as Louisiana’s Outback, has a bounty of natural attractions, with fascinating marshlands, estuaries, sandy Gulf Coast beaches and abundant wildlife. One of the best ways to experience these natural wonders is on the 180-mile-long Creole Nature Trail All-American Road.
“As an All-American Road, it is a destination unto itself,” said Hartman. “People are coming specifically to travel the trail.”
The trail leads through several wildlife refuges with numerous opportunities to see alligators, nutria, muskrats, whitetail deer, ducks and geese. Located along two major migratory flyways, the trail is a mecca for bird-watchers.
At the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, a new boardwalk allows visitors to get into the marshland.
“It [The trail] goes all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico,” said Hartman. “There are 26 miles of Gulf Coast beaches, with crabbing opportunities where you can catch blue crabs. You can also swim, sunbathe, jet ski and surf fish.”
The Lake Charles/Southwestern Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau has brought the latest technology to this natural wonder. Visitors can get a free GPS hand-held device from the visitors center with video and audio content that pops up at designated sites along the trail.
“It is really some exciting technology,” said Hartman. “We can put a guide in every car. You can learn about wildlife and the different attractions.”
The CVB also has developed an application that travelers can download to iPhones and Android cellphones.
The Cajun ambiance of southwestern Louisiana is a distinctive mix of cuisine, music and culture. A great way to experience Cajun cuisine and meet the locals is on the new Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail.
“Boudin is a mixture of ground pork and rice with green onions and seasoning,” said Hartman. “Some people put liver in it, too. It’s stuffed in a casing. You can buy it smoked or regular.
“Some people take it out of the casing and fry it or make boudin balls. Others wrap it in bacon. It seems everyone has their own recipe. And, of course, everyone thinks theirs is the best.
“It’s something we love here. We eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks — anytime of the day. It definitely is a Cajun food.”
The trail features 29 stops where visitors can sample or purchase boudin. “To be on the trail, you have to make your own boudin in-house,” said Hartman. “They are not getting it from somewhere else.”
The stops range from mom-and-pop operations to grocery stores and restaurants.
“These are places the locals know about but not necessarily a visitor,” said Hartman. “It gets visitors off the beaten path and shows them where locals go.”