Autumn is the best time to kick back and enjoy New Orleans, says Chris Carter
Now is a great time to visit New Orleans, nicknamed the Big Easy, in Louisiana. The “intense heat of the last few months” is fading and the “animated funkiness of the city is back on full display”, says Chelsea Brasted in The Wall Street Journal. This “300-year-old port town thoroughly lives up to its hype during the autumn months, but lacks the marauding tourist mobs you encounter during winter’s Mardi Gras and spring’s Jazz Fest”.
Find your way to the French Quarter in the morning. Then call in at Brennan’s Restaurant (brennansneworleans.com), housed in a salmon-pink building on Royal Street, for brunch. The hospitality is “old-school” and the service “balletic”. “Begin with a nutmeg-topped brandy milk punch before ordering the eggs sardou, a Creole breakfast of artichokes and poached eggs, draped in hollandaise sauce.” Just leave room for the bananas foster. The dessert of bananas, ice cream, butter, sugar and cinnamon was invented here – not forgetting the flambé, which happens beside your table.
After that, “teeter away” into Louis Armstrong Park, and walk around to Congo Square. It was here that slaves gathered in the 18th century, eventually becoming “a cradle for the city’s music” heritage.
New Orleans’ rich musical heritage
French colonists founded New Orleans in the spring of 1718, “with a few shacks on a marsh by the mouth of the Mississippi”, says Timothy O’Grady in Condé Nast Traveller. In 1762, France’s Louis XV handed the territory over to his Spanish cousin, Charles III, so most of the old buildings we see today in the French Quarter are actually Spanish, or in the Spanish style. Napoleon took Louisiana back in 1800 only to sell it three years later to the US to finance his wars. After that, the “ethnic mix grew rich to an unusual degree”.
There were French aristocrats, Anglo-Americans, Creoles and Haitian freemen on the run from revolutions, Filipinos, African slaves, Sephardic Jews, immigrants from Europe and the smugglers, gamblers, prostitutes and pirates. They all brought their own languages, foods and entertainments with them. It’s a catholic city in the main, “ethnically if not in credo”, and “music moves through the city like power through an electrical grid or blood in the body”. From “spasm bands” in the street to jazz funerals, zydeco (a style of music related to blues) weddings, bounce clubs and back-porch blues, the music is “rooted in life as it is lived”. Sorrow is mixed up in the music, but so is euphoria.
It is tempting to stay in the French Quarter. But by staying in the new, nearby luxury boutique hotel Maison de la Luz, “you’re wisely avoiding the harried swaying of the too-inebriated” at night, says Brasted. The building dates from 1908 and was once the annex of the New Orleans City Hall. The results of its transformation “are an aesthete’s dream”, says Christina Liao for the Robb Report. It feels more like a home than a hotel. “The detail throughout the public spaces is truly impressive,” says Paul Oswell in The Daily Telegraph. Designed by Studio Shamshiri, the Maison looks like “the private residence of a curio-collecting world traveller. It’s impeccable”. The front desk could have come straight out of a Wes Anderson film, while the grand staircase is “cinematic”. The detail continues into the 67 bedrooms. “The lampstand is a cascade of champagne coupes, the shower handle is a sculpted snake, the ice bucket a golden pineapple, the coffee table etched with runes and zodiac signs.” The rooms never cease to amaze.
The bar, designed by the “sought-after” Quixotic Projects (and the only one in the US), is already proving to be a hit with locals. But for guests, the “pièce de résistance” is “a secret bookcase that opens up into a private salon bedecked with yet more global curiosities. It feels excitingly exclusive as you slip away from the main bar”.
From $359, maisondelaluz.com
The Deep South by land, sea, rail and river
There’s an easy way to take in the Deep South (and more), says Teresa Machan in The Times. Just do it by land, sea, rail and river. “Tap into the musical history” of Memphis, Tennessee and visit Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. Then take a train to New Orleans and see the Mississippi River by paddle steamer. From the Big Easy, set sail on a seven-night cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line, calling at Cozumel in Mexico, Belize City, the Honduran island of Roatán and Costa Maya, Mexico (ncl.com). A 13-night trip, offered by Bon Voyage (bon-voyage.co.uk), costs from £2,295, including flights. Departures from November to April.