Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.


New Orleans, Louisiana 72-Hour Vacation

Full Circle in the Crescent City
New Orleans' Allure Shines On

By Ian McNulty


Mardi Gras float
Mardi Gras Float

Of all the world-class cities in the world, New Orleans may be the one with the most eclectic and colorful history. Founded by the French three centuries ago, later  bought by the Spanish and even later reclaimed by the French, the city retains its rich mix of European influences. The aged structures in the French Quarter really reflect Spanish style more than French. But that is the heart of New Orleans’ allure—an indefinable gumbo pot of peoples, cultures, styles and survival. It is that last element that truly characterizes the city that has survived devastating fires, floods and hurricanes. Through it all, the people of New Orleans carry on the most important tradition: joie de vive.

Those who have only read about the city often believe New Orleans is made up only of the streets of the French Quarter. But one visit to the "city that care forgot" reveals so much more.  The century-old streetcar line rumbles up elegant St. Charles Avenue through the picturesque Garden District, with its grand mansions and fine shops and boutiques.  Further along, the ride takes you through Uptown, where Audubon Park sits just across the street from Tulane and Loyola Universities. Further still is the heavily-populated Carrollton area, with its enviable collection of ethnic restaurants, neighborhood bars and Bohemian coffee houses.

French Quarter
French Quarter

The quiet bedroom community of Lakeview rests just on the edge of the massive Lake Pontchartrain, featuring the world’s longest bridge of its kind in the U.S., a 24-mile span that connects the city proper to the North Shore communities.
New Orleans is truly defined by its homegrown jazz and blues, its thriving arts community, its 24-hour rhythm of life and its world-famous restaurants and chefs, all heavily influenced by the city’s European heritage.

First, you need a place to stay, and the choice is difficult since top-notch options are endless. The beau monde loves The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans with its elegant French Quarter-style courtyard, rooftop penthouse and panoramic views of the Crescent City. Few hotels can compete with such specialized guest services as the Ritz-Carlton's "oyster butler" or "crawfish concierge," who help guests access these distinctive New Orleans delights.

Then there's the W New Orleans French Quarter, with cozy and boutique-like rooms and an overall hip, ultra-luxe vibe. The pomp and splendor of the old French Quarter is dramatically showcased at the Hotel Monteleone, also well positioned for exploring the Quarter. For more understated elegance, consider the Soniat House. Located on a quiet, residential street in the French Quarter, this gorgeous, small hotel was originally built in 1829 by prosperous plantation owner Joseph Soniat Dufossat as a town house for his family and a hint of romance and Creole history endures today. Enjoy fresh-squeezed orange juice and homemade biscuits in its lush tropical courtyard.

Meanwhile, Lafitte Guest House will leave a smaller dent in your wallet but presents the temptation to spend your extra dollars on nearby Stella!'s exquisite cuisine. For the full Lafitte Guest House experience, be sure to get a room with a Victorian, draped, half-tester bed (which has its canopy over just the head half of the bed) and a fireplace, or one with a balcony overlooking Bourbon Street and French Quarter rooftops.


DAY 1

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
Relax in your hotel this morning and enjoy a leisurely breakfast, because morning is the perfect time to explore the historic Vieux Carré, the French Quarter, which you'll become best acquainted with through a walking tour. Although the French who founded New Orleans in 1718 get much of the historical credit for the city, most of the architecture of the French Quarter dates from the 40-year period of Spanish rule (1763-1803). To spare your feet and enjoy the tour in style, hire a mule-drawn carriage at Jackson Square and have the coach driver explain the city and its unique history to you.

A visit to the Herman-Grimma Historic House and its companion, Gallier House, will provide a good understanding of how the prosperous Creole upper class lived, as well as the daily routine of their slaves. Then there's Faulkner House, where the great writer and Nobel Laureate William Faulkner lived in 1925-26 while writing his first novel, Soldiers' Pay. Located within, the Faulkner House bookstore, the actual space he occupied, houses a literary treasure trove for collectors, especially rare tomes and first editions. For more information and directions, call 504-524-2940.

New Orleans—with its glowing literary history—has a plethora of bookstores. Our favorite is the Garden District Book Shop, at 2727 Prytania St., where signed copies and publishers' promotional materials attest to the many author events held under its roof. The store is half a block from Commander's Palace restaurant and across the corner from Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, the historic graveyard featured in novels by Garden District Book Shop regular and horror novelist Anne Rice.

Surely lunch must beckon after all that morning activity. For a relatively light bite, dig into po' boys at Johnny's Po-Boys restaurant. The place is iconic, and the sandwiches are top of the heap. Or pop over to Central Grocery across from the French Market, and line-up for a muffuletta, another legendary New Orleans sandwich made with layers of Italian meats, cheeses and the de rigueur olive salad. This is a meal for two hands, and a half sandwich is large enough to sate most appetites.

Mayfair House in the Garden District
Mayfair House in the Garden District

To walk off a bit of the indulgence, stroll down St. Charles Avenue and admire its elegant houses, magnolias and old, proud oak trees draped in Spanish moss. See if you can spot the remnants of Mardi Gras beads tangled in the low-hanging branches from parades past. Continue to Washington Avenue where you'll find the Victorian mansions of the Garden District. Farther uptown at Audubon Park, quiet paths and the Audubon Zoo await.

A top recommendation for dinner is Restaurant August, where chef John Besh’s imaginative menu changes frequently, but always stays true to its Louisiana roots. A typical meal begins with horseradish-encrusted Louisiana oysters, followed by a roasted duck entrée with stone ground grits and foie gras. To sample Besh's craft in-depth, order the five-course tasting menu and enjoy a parade of the chef's best offerings of the night.

The city comes alive after sundown with smoky jazz and pleasure-seekers. A stroll through the touristy but genuinely rollicking Bourbon Street scene is a necessity for any visitor. Get a drink at the ancient-looking Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop or check out such jazz joints as Palm Court Jazz Café. Among other bars we recommend: The Polo Club Lounge inside the Windsor Court Hotel and Old Absinthe House.

Continue to Day 2


MORE NEW ORLEANS INFORMATION

Ready to book a trip now?
Get exclusive savings on hotel rooms.

The birthplace of jazz

* Images courtesy of New Orleans Online

PAK121407
(Updated: 04/12/10 SG)

Whether looking to travel across the Australian Outback, the Canadian Rockies or historic Europe, these opulent trains will let travelers see the countryside in comfort.
Enter to win a trip to the posh Waldorf-Astoria Chicago, including round-trip airfare, daily breakfast and a credit for a luxe spa experience.