The King Cake has been eaten and the beads are packed away. No more Mardi Gras parties for almost a year. But if you just can’t get thoughts of sequins and sparkly jewels out of your mind, head for Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Lake Charles hosts the second-largest Mardi Gras celebration in Louisiana. Family-friendly, it has all the bells and whistles of other celebrations but adds a few jewels of its own. One of my favorite events is the Royal Gala – an inexpensive evening featuring a parade of the royalty of five dozen krewes, a chance to see the most elaborate costumes in the comfortable Civic Center.
The rest of the year, visitors can revisit the carnival season at the Mardi Gras Museum. Here, besides learning more about the history of Mardi Gras, the organizations involved, the planning and design process and the tradition of King Cake and the infamous Chicken Run, visitors can view the largest collection of Mardi Gras garb in the world with close to 300 costumes.
The venue is a 1912 school building which was closed in the late 1970s. The city raised taxes for two years to save the historic building which is now the Central School Arts and Humanities Center.
Costumes line the hall of one wing of the building and six former classrooms house a variety of displays. The first room gives the history of Mardi Gras. Another of the rooms highlights the design process with artist’s sketches of the elaborate apparel. The cost of the gowns, robes, crowns and capes usually ranges from $1000 to $5000.
A third room explains traditions like the King Cake and you can dance across the floor thanks to the Second-Line step pattern painted there. In the sixth room you can even climb up on a float and hear the recorded cries of “Throw me something, mister.”
Mardi Gras is great in Lake Charles, but don’t wait until next year. I was there last fall and had a ball. Literally.
Lake Charles is a super city for foodies with lots of options but sampling the Cajun cuisine is a must. One of the most traditional Cajun foods is boudin. Southwest Louisiana even has a Boudin Trail. Recipes differ from cook to cook but the basics include ground pork, liver, rice, onions parsley and seasonings. It’s typically made into links by stuffing the mixture into casings made of pig intestines.
Depending on the chef, boudin can be mild or clear-your-sinuses spicy. Then there’s my favorite – a real heart stopper – boudin balls. The boudin is taken out of the casing, breaded and fried. It will harden your arteries but it tastes mighty fine!
My press group stayed at L’Auberge, a luxurious casino/resort on Contraband Bayou southwest of downtown. There’s so much to do here, it would be tempting just to stay on resort property.
The hotel itself is rated Four Diamonds by AAA. The high-ceilinged lobby is flanked by massive, rock fireplaces. The heavy table in the center features an elaborate floral display.
My room was large, well-furnished and oh-so-comfortable. We got to peek into some of the VIP suites and they were fantastic. All of the first floor suites had private, outside areas with two-person tubs carved from individual blocks of Italian travertine.
I don’t usually take time to enjoy hotel pools but the ones at L’Auberge were irresistible. My favorite feature was a lazy river – just drifting along in a clear, plastic, inner-tube is fun even for a granny!
A number of restaurants in the hotel offer myriad choices – and some of the best food we had. A couple of items stand out.
For breakfast one morning in Favorites Southern Kitchen I had Cajun Benedict. It looked too good to eat but tasted too good to stop. Built into a tower it consisted of rounds of cornbread topped with fried green tomatoes, sliced avocado and poached egg. Sauteed crawfish tails were added to the traditional Hollandaise sauce which was ladled over the construction. Slices of andouille sausage ringed the plate. I’m sure Executive Chef Gregg Zeringue added a little extra love and some special seasoning. As they say in Louisiana, “It was so good, it made you want to slap yo’ mama!”
The pièce de resistance arrived as a bed time surprise from the resort’s pastry team. Totally edible, a chocolate skillet, with melted chocolate and silver dragees in it, perched above a chocolate bonfire. Again, it looked to good to eat – but it was CHOCOLATE! I love having my art and eating it, too!
Here’s what I didn’t have time for at L’Auberge – golf on the Tom-Fazio-designed golf course, a visit to the fitness center, a massage at the Spa du Lac or a visit to the casino. I did manage to check out the shops – I had to buy a bathing suit.
Nor did I have time to drive one of the area’s top attractions – the Creole Nature Trail. The Main Trail Loop is just over 100 miles. We did visit the Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point, a great starting place for exploration. The drive takes you through a variety of habitats from grasslands to swamps and seashore. There are several stopping spots with trails or boardwalks. The Creole Nature Trail is designated an All-American Road.
From the furs and feathers of the Mardi Gras Museum to the fins and feathers of the creatures on the Nature Trail, Lake Charles is a great go-to destination any time of year.