March into Spring with Flowers, Feathers, and Fun

Good news! Grand Isle, a part of southeast Louisiana that bore the brunt of Hurricane Ida’s impact last summer, is making great strides toward recovery. The famed Grand Isle State Park remains closed, but beaches and trails around the island are open, as is the shuttle boat that takes visitors to Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge. This is all wonderful news not only for the residents of this little island but also for fans of ecotourism.

Grand Isle is a haven for birdwatchers, who gather here each spring to welcome the hundreds of species of birds that touch down here after their long flights over the Gulf of Mexico to fuel up before continuing their migration north. The island residents have worked hard over the past few months to ensure that human visitors have places to stay (cabins and homes are available to rent, plus there are plenty of RV sites on the island) and great food to eat (the seafood in this area can’t be beat!).

Swooping Into Spring

From Alabama to Louisiana, myriad coastal destinations welcome flocks of both birds and human visitors for the spring migration season. Though birds stop along these areas in both the spring and fall, this is the more impressive migration time because thousands of species come to rest and recharge at around the same time as they all make their way north. If the timing is right – like when there are strong storms associated with a front – conditions are prime for what birders call a “fallout,” which occurs when thousands of birds drop from the sky at the same time to escape severe weather and refuel.

They gather in trees and shrubs, adorning them in a fashion that can be compared to looking at thousands of ornaments on colorful Christmas trees. This is a birder’s dream come true because you can see many species in a short amount of time, and spring is the best time for witnessing this spectacular event. To get an inside look at the best places to see migrating species this spring, click here 

Flower Power

If you find yourself in the Mid-Atlantic or along the Gulf Coast this spring, we’re sharing two can’t-miss floral experiences for your itinerary (or future bucket list)! In Greater Wilmington & The Brandywine Valley, five spectacular properties await exploration in this season of renewal. Among them, Hagley Museum and Library, Longwood Gardens, Mt. Cuba Center, Nemours Estate, and Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library.

In Mobile, where blooms burst year-round, a special reason to visit each March is to see just how Mobile earned the nickname “Azalea City.” Two prime locations to experience the bounty of azalea blooms are Mobile Botanical Gardens and Bellingrath Gardens & Home. For a more in-depth look at spring offerings at these gardens and estates, click here 

Doggone Egg Hunt in Mountain Maryland

Courtesy of Farrell Photography

Has Easter gone to the dogs? Seems that way consider that on April 9, Rocky Gap State Park in Allegany CountyThe Mountain Side of Maryland, is hosting its annual Doggone Egg Hunt. The state park is accessible to all members of the family — four-legged ones included. Visitors can bring their pups (costumes encouraged and welcome) for their own free Easter egg hunt. Eggs will contain prizes ranging from dog treats to toys and supplies. The ulti-mutt prize for all attendees includes getting to meet the Easter bunny! The two-legged members of the family will have the opportunity to meet with local vets and dog trainers and sample local food trucks. It’s promised to be a paws-itively good time for both dogs and humans.

Spring Theme Park Festivals in Missouri and Tennessee

Starting in April, springtime festivals burst into the season at Dollywood and Silver Dollar City. Street Fest at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, is likened to a colorful street carnival with performers, stilt-walkers, live musical performances and menus featuring unique food items from around the world. Beginning April 14 and continuing through May 1, the Living Garden’s new aerialists, statue illusionists and giant moving topiaries all come to life on the streets of The City. Check out a sneak peek of the park’s annual calendar of events here.

Meanwhile, in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, Dollywood’s Flower & Food Festival has become a beloved springtime tradition. From April 22 to June 5, visitors to the park are sure to be delighted by the displays made up of thousands of brilliant flowers.

Returning guest favorites include the butterfly umbrella and Dolly’s mother sewing together the Coat of Many Colors. The “Food” part of the festival is also a showstopper, with a full menu of items inspired by spring in the Smokies. A roundup of Dollywood’s seasonal celebrations can be found here. .

Back in Bloom Special at The Otesaga Resort Hotel in Cooperstown

The season of spring brings a breath of fresh air and a feeling of “new.” Flowers bloom, grass grows and baby animals start to make their appearances. The Otesaga Resort Hotel in Cooperstown, New York, follows suit with a new spring special designed to encourage guests to take in the natural beauty of Cooperstown and breathe new life into their upcoming getaways. 

The Otesaga’s Back in Bloom Special offers guests their choice of tickets for either the Fenimore Art Museum or The Farmers’ Museum when they book a midweek (Sunday – Thursday) stay from April 3 through May 26, 2022. Rates start at $243, based on availability*. Both museums, which are closed during the winter months, will reopen on Friday, April 1 and this special launches just two days later. To get more details on this refreshing special, click here.

ZYDECO, GUMBO, AND CAJUN HERITAGE: IT’S ALL PART OF THE CAJUN BAYOU FOOD TRAIL

Follow the Cajun Bayou Food Trail: A REAL Taste of Louisiana Cajun Country

Just 45 minutes from New Orleans, the Cajun Bayou Food Trail is a journey through the heart of Lafourche Parish and the ultimate road trip for those wanting to explore Louisiana’s food scene. Known as the Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou, this region of the state takes its culinary delights so seriously that the name Lafourche is French for the fork. While some will explain, patiently, the term is a geographical reference to a split in the  Mississippi River, we’re thinking that any place with a name synonymous with an eating utensil surely knows its way around a menu.

So grab your car keys and your sunglasses—but you won’t need to bring your own Lafourche as any place on the parish’s Cajun Bayou Food Trail have their own—and hit the road. There are currently 18 restaurants on the trail including the recently added Cinclare Southern Bistro.

“We’re thrilled to be included on the Louisiana Cajun Bayou Food Trail,” says Michael Dalmau, the owner of Cinclare Southern Bistro. “The restaurants that span this historic waterway might be different in what they do and how they do it but know this …. they all do it well. In South Louisiana – and especially up and down the Bayou – feeding and serving friends and family is not only what we do to pass a good time, but it’s how we show our love and support. It’s part of our DNA and that’s why we’re so good at it.”

All the stops on the trail feature authentic food accompanied by the unparalleled Southern hospitality.

According to my friend Mindy Bianca, chefs down this way tell how their favorite recipes feature the finest local ingredients along with a true love of their surroundings and heritage. The latter means treating guests the same as family–well, almost, you don’t have to clean up after dinner like you would at your mom’s. All this makes navigating the Cajun Bayou Food Trail an unparalleled culinary and travel experience.

The lives of the people of Lafourche Parish are fully intertwined with the bodies of water that are accessible throughout the region, most notably Bayou Lafourche, a 100-mile waterway that bisects the parish, and the Gulf of Mexico. Residents of the area view the Bayou and Gulf as their personal pantries, finding seafood and other delicacies within and along their waters. If you live here, you’re most likely not going to get kicked you out of the parish for not knowing how to whip up a tasty gumbo (though we can’t promise that’s true) but fortunately most if not all figure it out from an early age using recipes passed down through the  generations. That’s why those following the trail get to taste dishes authentic traditional foods that are part of the Parish’s gastronomic heritage–prepared and served as they have been for as long as some can remember. But that doesn’t mean some chefs don’t do their own riff with added ingredients or other ways to make them uniquely their own.

Celebrating not only the restaurants and local food purveyors that honor the culinary customs of the region, the parish also hosts six festivals and events dedicated to honoring and preserving its distinctive traditions. Think La Fete Des Vieux Temps in Raceland, Louisiana

Calling it a cultural gumbo, Mindy says that “restaurants lean toward plenty of fresh seafood and run the gamut from mom-and-pop operations to sophisticated dining rooms.

“The unifying element is that whether it’s fried shrimp at Spahr’s, a restaurant that now has three locations and that has been a staple here for more than 50 years, or an elegant and savory alligator-and-andouille sausage cheesecake appetizer at Kincare, which offers craft beverages and a more upscale dining experience in the heart of downtown Thibodaux, your meal is going to be both delicious and memorable.”

Visitors and locals alike are encouraged to pick up a Food Trail passport and map from any of the participating restaurants or download it from this website, then eat their way through the parish. Collect enough passport stamps and you’ll earn your way into a comfy Food Trail T-shirt. Trust us and order one size larger before hitting the trail. In these ever-changing and unpredictable times, requirements for completing a passport have been modified and the Food Trail can now be experienced more “virtually,” meaning that participating Trail restaurants offer curbside service.

For more information about the dining scene in Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou, to download your passport and map, or to check out some pictures and start dreaming of crawfish and crabs, gumbo and gator, please visit http://www.lacajunbayou.com. The local businesses up and down the Bayou are ready to fill up your plate and offer you a lafourche to use.  

Other places to dine include Rose’s Cafe, Holly Marie’s Seafood Market in Raceland, Punch’s Seafood Market in Lockport, Harry’s Poboys in Larose, Politz’s in Thibodeaux, Cher-Aimee’s in Cutoff, and C. Moran’s in Golden Meadow.

What to Do in Lafourche Parish

You can’t eat all the time, right? In between meals check out some or all of the following stops:

Swamp Tours

Described as an otherworldly experience, like time travel into the state’s prehistoric past by  touring Lafourche Parish’s swamplands. Tour options includes the 2 Da Swamp Bayou Tours & Museum trips to Bayou Des Allemands with traditional Cajun music, and museum displays of artifacts Des Allemands’ early years. Airboat Tours by Arthur Matherne, open seasonally, is a high-octane thrill rides on its fleet of airboats. Torres Cajun Swamp Tours’ guides takes visitor the history and ecology of wetlands’ Bayou Boeuf.

 E.D. White Historic Site

The White family was once among the Louisiana’s political elite. Patriarch Edward Douglas White was the state’s governor in the 1830s; his son and namesake became a U.S. Supreme Court Justice in the 1890s. The elder White’s home is now a Louisiana State Museum site and is a step back into the past showcasing the state’s history. Built from cypress in the Creole Plantation style in 1825, White purchased the home, re-imaging it as a Greek Revival mansion. Learn about the White family, the history of both the home’s history along with that of Chitimacha Indians and Cajun settlers, sugar plantation owners and the slaves that worked the fields in service of them by taking a tour of the E.D. White Historic Site in Thibodaux.

Restaurants in Thibodaux

Thibodaux’s restaurants and fresh markets reflect the local culture and cuisine. Top-rated restaurant spots include Fremin’s Restaurant, where you can take in the architecture of Thibodaux’s downtown area. The food is prepared with a view into the kitchen and the duck-and-andouille gumbo is like heaven in a bowl. Head to Off the Hook, a down-home spot with awesome po-boys, fried seafood and more gumbo! And try something different at the Cajun Potato Kitchen, a quirky and casual restaurant serving huge baked potatoes loaded with Cajun toppings. It’s fun and different and popular with the university crowd.  Get a full list of locals’ favorite restaurants.

Bayou Country Children’s Museum

You’d be hard pressed to find another museum in the U.S.—or really anywhere—that’s a Cajun-themed children’s museum. At Bayou Country Children’s Museum in Thibodaux brings together Cajun history, education and fun, making it a great stop for family fun. Here children can play on a full-size sugar harvester, toss beads from a Mardi Gras float, climb aboard a shrimp boat and more.

Center for Traditional Louisiana Boat Building

The wetlands flowing through Southern Louisianna are a distinct part of Lafourche Parish where more than 100 miles of bayou meander throughout the parish. The Center for Traditional Louisiana Boat Building, located in Lockport is the place to learn how traditional Cajun boats were constructed, including their iconic pirogue boats and flat-bottomed vessels known locally as putt-putts that once common in the region’s bayous.

Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center

Part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve in Thibodaux, the center’s mission is to preserve Cajun tradition and offers such programs as their free Cajun music jam sessions every Monday afternoon, a Cajun-French meetup on Tuesdays, historical Thibodaux walking tours and boat tours of Bayou Lafourche. While there, stop at the Center’s museum store, which has Cajun music recordings, crafts and books for sale.

America’s Wetland Birding Trail

The trail, made up of 22 parishes includes Lafourche which is part of the Grand Isle Loop. The loop includes sections of Louisiana’s best-known barrier island as well as inland birding destinations teeming with shorebirds and seabirds. Download more information about the Grand Isle Loop on the Wetland Birding Trail.

Charter Fishing

Here are both a full list of charter boat companies in the area as well as saltwater fishing in Louisiana.

Bayou Lafourche Folklife and Heritage Museum

Located in a 1910 bank building in Lockport, , enjoy learning about the area’s fascinating history.

Mardi Gras in Lafourche Parish

They really know how to celebrate the two weeks leading up to Mardi Gras Day or as it is also known—Fat Tuesday. Typically there are more than a dozen parades roll through the towns of Golden Meadow, Galliano, Larose, as well as the parish seat of Thibodaux. Learn more about the parade schedules.

Shrimp and Tasso Pasta

Recipe courtesy of Bourgeois Meat Market, a stop on the Cajun Bayou Culinary Trail

1 lb. Bourgeois Tasso

2 lb. shrimp

1 large onion

1 large bell pepper

1 talk of celery

1 can Rotel

1 qt. heavy whipping cream

1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese

1 bag bow tie pasta

Boil Bourgeois Tasso in a pot with just a little water until tender.

Add onion, celery, bell pepper, Rotel, and shrimp and smother down.

Add heavy whipping cream and let mixture come to a rolling boil.

Lower fire and add cheese to thicken.

Combine with cooked pasta and serve.

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Spring Break Destination: Mackinaw City

Spring Break, Blossoms & Birds in the Straits of Mackinac Area

Lovely anytime of the year, don’t miss out on springtime in the Mackinaw City region. Call it a springtime fling because that’s when Mackinaw City businesses and hotels offer vacation specials and events such as the 4th Annual Mackinac Meltdown. Here’s some of what’s going on.

April 1-16 — Spring Break Splash at Pirate Cove Waterpark

Things are heating up inside…with $5 fun, April 1-16 at Pirate’s Adventure Waterpark inside the Crown Choice Inn & Suites Lakeview (720 S. Huron Avenue). Mackinaw’s largest indoor waterpark features a pirate head tipping bucket, three waterslides, bubbler jets, crawl tunnels, water guns, climbing nets, an oversized indoor pool and a whirlpool sauna. Call 231-436-5929 for details.

Saturday, April 6 (11am-2pm) — Taste of Mackinaw

Enjoy delicious foods from local restaurants as well as craft beer and wine at the Mackinac Island Brewhouse & Mackinaw Island Winery inside the Mackinac Bay Trading Company downtown on Huron Avenue, across from Conkling Heritage Park. Tickets are $10 per person.

Discover Birds of Prey at Raptor Fest!

Currently birding is the second fastest growing hobby in the United States after gardening, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. In Michigan we take our birding seriously with more than 2 million birdwatchers residing in the state. And this area of Michigan is a birdwatching hot spot. Every year thousands of hawks, eagles, vultures, and owls follow the curves of Lakes Michigan and Huron to the Straits of Mackinac. From there, to save energy, they use rising air drafts, rising high in the air and then gliding across the 5-mile expanse of the Straits.

Note that though they’re no longer protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act, the bald eagle remains protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch conducts scientific studies and takes inventory of hawks, owls and other raptors migrating through this region of northern Michigan, educating the public about the birds and their migratory patterns.

 Raptor Fest, April 3-5, is their largest annual event, a three-day celebration of all things raptor including sightings of migrating birds and educational workshops.

For more information visit Mackinaw City.