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Nov/Dec 2013 Issue

Love of the Land

Discover why author James Lee Burke cherishes New Iberia, La.
BY MARY FONSECA

Award-winning author James Lee Burke describes New Iberia, La., his hometown, as a city that has “Southern manners, and at the same time, is a first-name kind of place.” Burke has written 20 crime novels featuring police detective Dave Robicheaux, who moves among many of the community’s neighborhoods and landmarks. Burke’s newest book, Light of the World, was released in July.

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Above: Shadows-on-the-Teche authentically captures Southern plantation life.

Below: Visitors can see Tabasco® being created on factory tours. Iberia Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau photos

Tabasco

His fans visit Iberia Parish to experience the places Burke vividly describes in his novels. Dave’s Domain walking and driving tours take them to the town’s historical Main Street, where they’ll find Victor’s Cafeteria, Books Along the Teche, the courthouse where Dave’s fictional sheriff’s office is located, and the public library. Follow Dave’s trail through New Iberia, the “Queen City of the Teche,” and then spend time exploring other attractions in the parish.

Mosey Along Main Street

The library, the former site of St. Peter’s College, is home to an impressive collection honoring another of New Iberia’s native sons, jazz great William G. “Bunk” Johnson, who is credited with teaching music to Louis Armstrong and many other jazz legends. Jazz enthusiasts–especially those from Europe–are drawn to the room displaying Johnson memorabilia (seen only by appointment). His trumpet, prominently displayed in a glass case, is the highlight of the collection.

One of several large historical markers around town is positioned in front of the library. Watch for more of these as you roam around town.

Take a short walk from the library to Shadows-on-the-Teche plantation home, 317 E. Main St. Here, portraits, furnishings, clothing, and some 17,000 documents accumulated by four generations paint a vivid picture of plantation life. The Shadows observes 50 years as a National Trust Historic Site, and is the only one in Louisiana. In observation of the Civil War sesquicentennial, The Shadows will host a Civil War encampment Nov. 2 and 3. Visit during December for holiday-related events and tours.

Learn more about local culture at the exceptional Bayou Teche Museum at 131 E. Main St. Here, you can view displays that focus on various subjects, including salt-mining, moonshining, and local history. Although it’s at the heart of Cajun country, New Iberia is the only remaining Louisiana city to have been founded by the Spanish.

The parish celebrates its roots on Nov. 16 with El Festival Español de Nueva Iberia. Have fun with the 5K race, the “Dave Robicheaux Running of the Bulls,” a re-enactment of the arrival of the Spanish on Bayou Teche, an art walk, paella/jambalaya, and more.

While in the downtown area, stop by A&E Gallery on the corner of West and St. Peter streets, to find a large variety of works by area artisans, including metal work, jewelry, pottery, and visual art. Pick up the latest Burke novel or a rare book if that’s to your liking, at Books Along the Teche, 106 E. Main St.

Conrad Rice Mill and Konriko® Company Store is about a mile off Main Street but you’ll still experience nostalgic charm. Built in 1912, it’s the oldest operating rice mill in America. Take a tour, sample one of many rice products, and browse the store for wonderful Cajun cookbooks and souvenirs while sipping free coffee. The mill and store is at 307 Ann St.; allow about an hour for the tour.

Grand Gardens

Start a garden tour of the area by strolling through more than 100 varieties of antique roses planted on the charming grounds of Antique Rose Ville. Enjoy a tasty lunch or tea in the restored 19th-century Renoudet Cottage adjacent to the rose garden. Tours and dining are by reservation.

On nearby Avery Island, tour Jungle Gardens, as well as the Tabasco® Factory and Country Store. Visitors to Jungle Gardens can tour by car, but footpaths winding through the 170-acre natural landscape bring guests closer to sights, such as a 900-year-old statue of Buddha given to Edward Avery “Ned” McIlhenny, naturalist/explorer and son of Tabasco’s founder, in 1936. Ned McIlhenny developed Avery Island, his private estate, into Jungle Gardens in the 1920s and opened it to the public in 1935. See thousands of egrets and herons nesting in a 100-year-old aviary from late March to July. The gardens’ camellia collection is one of the largest in the country.

Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island is quite different from the Jungle Gardens but equally beguiling. You can tour the exquisite mansion of American actor Joseph Jefferson that was built in the early 1870s. Follow rustic footpaths through a 25-acre collection of semi-tropical plants bordering Lake Peigneur.

Café Jefferson in the heart of the floral display invites visitors to pause and enjoy a delicious lunch. You also can opt to overnight in one of the gardens’ two well-appointed bed and breakfast cottages.

Avery and Jefferson islands also are part of the Atchafalaya Loop of America’s Wetland Birding Trail. The parish’s tourism bureau has guides available for interested nature lovers.

Where to eat and sleep

In addition to the cottages at Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Iberia Parish has a selection of other inns and chain hotels–including Hampton Inns and Suites, Days Inn, and Comfort Inn–from which to choose.

Clementine Dining & Spirits (AAA Two Diamonds) is on the site of the Provost’s Café, mentioned in Burke’s novels. Dinner, lunch, and bar bites–including crawfish wontons–are here to enjoy. Chicken sausage and duck gumbo fills you up for lunch. The restaurant is at 113 E. Main St.

For more casual fare, try the crawfish pies at Victor’s Cafeteria, 109 W. Main.

With plenty of Cajun food and hospitality, plus history rich as a good roux, it’s no mystery why visitors keep coming back to Iberia Parish.

Mary Fonseca is a contributor from Metairie, La.

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BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact the Iberia Parish Convention & Visitors Bureau at (888) 942-3742 or www.iberiatravel.com. Ask about upcoming holiday events, including boat parades and home tours.

To visit New Iberia, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Louisiana through the Free Travel Information Card found online.


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