May/Jun 2000

Before You Go
For a copy of the brochure, “South Louisiana’s Scenic Byways,” call Lafayette’s visitor center, 1-800-346-1958.
Louisiana’s Office of Tourism also has visitor information for south Louisiana, 1-800-334-8626.

Travel Assistance
Visit your nearest AAA service office for maps, TripTiks and TourBook guides.
Order travel materials online or use our online travel research tools.

The Real deal
Follow Highway 93, The Real French Destination Scenic Byway, to truly experience Louisiana’s Cajun country

Festivals are a big part of Acadiana. One of those is the Festival of Musique Acadienne in Lafayette which is held third weekend in September. /©Danny Izzo, Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission
By Justin L. Redman

It’s a land of moss-draped oaks and meandering bayous, of spicy food and hot music. Every year, thousands of people visit south-central Louisiana to experience the Cajun culture and people. This is Louisiana’s brand of joie de vivre.

Nestled deep within the heart of Cajun country is The Real French Destination Scenic Byway, where travelers can laissez les bon temps rouler (let the good times roll) along Highway 93.

This scenic route is short, 30 miles, in comparison with other state byways. But it takes a full day to explore. Travelers from central or north Louisiana and out-of-state visitors might consider an overnight in Lafayette before proceeding with the tour.

You can access the byway from two directions. From the north, use Interstate 49 and take the Grand Coteau exit to begin the tour. From the east, take Interstate 10 to Lafayette. From the city, follow Ridge Road to Highway 93 and make a right. This will take you to the beginning of Highway 93.

The Cajun capital

Lafayette and the surrounding 22 parishes of Acadiana have more attractions and activities to offer than any traveler could experience in a short day. But if you can linger here–if even for a short time–by all means do. There are more than a dozen bed-and-breakfast inns and hotels or motels to accommodate you, plus museums, tours, history, dining and shopping–all with the special Cajun flavor–to explore.

Festivals are a part of daily life in Acadiana, and Lafayette has its share of them. A big fais do-do (street dance) known as Downtown Alive! takes place every Friday in May and the first three Fridays in June. The Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival is May 5–7, making it easy for visitors to sample some “mud bugs.” And the nearby town of Kaplan celebrates Bastille Day in mid-July. For additional information, call the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission at 1-800-346-1958.

Acadian Village is located south of Lafayette, two miles west of Highway 93 on Greenleaf Road. The village is more than a cultural learning center; it is a project for the Lafayette Association for Retarded Citizens.

The village is a replica of a 19th-century Acadian settlement. Original buildings, donated by Acadian descendants who live in the area, have been restored and were furnished with native Louisiana antiques. A schoolhouse, six homes, a chapel, a general store and three museums are open to visitors. These serve to give the visitor an accurate view of the time period. The oldest house is the Aurelie Bernard House, which dates to 1800. Ten acres of beautiful gardens and woodlands surround the village.

Admission to the village is $6.50. Allow 90 minutes for the tour. For information, call 1-800-962-9133.

Inspiring beauty

Travel north from the village and you’ll come to the first of six towns, Scott. The old railroad timetables list Scott as the origin of western travel, which led to the nickname “Where the West Begins.” Texas cattle drives came to Scott to meet the railroads and wagons that followed the Old Spanish Trail.

Scott is also home to Floyd Sonnier’s Beau Cajun Art Gallery. Sonnier captures in pen and ink drawings the pride, beauty and simplicity of the Acadians.

Continue north and you’ll find the villages of Ossun and Vatican set in beautiful country landscapes. Farther north is Cankton, where you’ll find authentic Cajun grocery stores. The folks in Cankton claim the best boudin (rice and pork sausage) is made here. Be sure to sample some other local delicacies as well, such as oyster Po-Boy sandwiches and barbecue, plus hospitality offered by friendly people.

Just outside of Sunset is Chretien Point Plantation. Hypolite Chretien built this antebellum home in 1831. The house has five bedrooms, a drawing room, a formal dining room, a family dining room and kitchen. In the rear hall is a stunning staircase that inspired Hollywood’s creation of the stairs at Tara in “Gone With the Wind.”

Chretien Point Plantation escaped destruction during the Civil War, although battles were waged in its front yard. A cannonball destroyed a column on the west side of the house, and there’s a bullet hole in the front door.

The Chretiens lost the home in the late 1800s, and the house slowly fell into disrepair over the years.

In 1975, Louis and Jeanne Cornay bought and restored the home to its original beauty. Although original furnishings were removed by the Chretien family, the new occupants furnished the home with antiques representative of the 1830s. In 1991, the plantation was transformed into a bed-and-breakfast inn. In addition, guided tours are available to the public; admission is $6.50 for adults, $3 for children under 12, free for children under four. For information call 1-800-880-7050.

It’s a miracle

Grand Coteau is the final destination of the tour. This quaint little town is home to the Academy of the Sacred Heart/Grand Coteau. The academy serves as a day school for girls pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as a boarding school for grades eight through 12. The school, founded in 1821 by the Society of the Sacred Heart (a French religious order), is the second-oldest learning institution west of the Mississippi River.

Mrs. Charles Smith, the widow of a wealthy planter, donated 50 acres and money for the foundation of the all-girl Catholic school. The academy’s main building dates to 1830 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. More than 70 buildings in town appear on that register.

During the Civil War, battles were fought in the area, but the academy was protected from harm, thanks to Union Gen. Nathaniel Banks. His daughter attended the Sacred Heart school in New York City, and the school’s head mistress asked the general’s wife to speak to her husband about protecting the Louisiana school. She must have made a persuasive argument, because Banks ordered any soldier to be shot if found on the school grounds. And he directed valuable supplies to the town and school through his commissary officer.

Another interesting man has historic ties to the academy. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes a miracle involving a Jesuit novice, John Berchmans, that took place at the nun’s infirmary. A young, gravely ill nun witnessed a vision of Berchmans and was healed. This event led to the canonization of St. John Berchmans in 1888. The academy’s Shrine to St. John Berchmans is the only one in the United States located in the room where an authentic miracle took place.

The shrine is on the tour of the academy that is available by appointment, Monday–Friday. Admission is $5 for adults, $3.50 for senior citizens and children under 12. For information, call (337) 662-5275.

The short byway tour takes a full day to explore, but it’s a trip well worth taking. Not only do you learn some south-central Louisiana history, but you also experience one of the most interesting cultures in the country. Sample Cajun life on The Real French Destination Scenic Byway.

Justin L. Redman is a contributor from Monroe, La.

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