Our adventure began at the fabulous Coushatta Casino and Resort in Kinder, Louisiana; it was our first time to stay overnight. Opened in 1995, this is one of Louisiana's premier casinos and features a 100,000-square-foot gaming floor, luxurious hotel rooms, an expansive RV resort, fabulous restaurants, live entertainment, a terrific golf course and more.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Big Sky Steakhouse; the waitstaff is terrific and the lobster/ribeye combination was excellent. Yes, we won! coushattacasinoresort.com
The next morning, it was off to the greens of the Koasati Pines Golf Course, a fierce test at 7,617 yards which draws raves for its fast, immaculate greens. The course was built in the natural wetlands of Southwest Louisiana, surrounded by stately pines and huge live oaks; Koasati Pines is a dynamic, 18hole, par 72, championship layout, with six sets of tees, multiple approaches on three holes and a unique "Gambling Hole." The course boasts a peaceful environment, pine trees, wildlife, and water features throughout.
Our next stop was Lacassine, La., home of the LA Spirits Distillery, makers of Bayou Rum. Tim Litel, Skip Cortese and Trey Litel founded Louisiana Spirits in 2011. The Litel brothers are from the Lake Charles area and have teamed with Skip Cortese, of Baton Rouge, for the venture. Just five short years later, the distillery is a showpiece of Southwest Louisiana. Enjoy the free tour and start by watching a short film about Louisiana sugar cane and the delicious products made in this establishment. It isn't playing anywhere but in my head but “Down On The Bayou” seemed to be oozing from every case of this delicious liquid. A short 30 minutes later, you will be offered some free samples at their tasting bar. The gift shop has lots of rum and alligator-themed items but also an impressive collection of high-end gift items. laspirits.net and bayourum.com
Then it was off to the small, charming town of Lake Arthur, about 25 miles southwest, where we checked into“ L’Banca Albergo the Bank Hotel.” Renovated from an old, empty bank, its owners have done a remarkable job of preserving its character while turning it into a modern boutique property. Check in at the old bank's teller cage and look over the wine vault – yes, wine is available inside the old main vault. Our room, the Bank Room, was the former drive through window location and the tellers' drawers are part of the charm. Just outside our door was a snack and beverage station; nice breakfast items are served in the mornings. Upstairs is a wide porch with rocking chairs, inviting guests to open some wine and watch the slow town life on the street below.
"We bought the old Jeff Davis Bank and actually tore everything down except the walls and we started from the bottom up and we built a two-story hotel out of it," hotel owner, Roberta Palermo, said. She and her husband, Bobby, lovingly created L'Banca Albergo in 2013, which has eight rooms, three of which are suites on the second floor. Each room has a different theme. The Palermos are hosts extreme and will accommodate nearly any guest request. Perfect for a girlfriends' getaway or a romantic and relaxing weekend.
Walk to area bars for some local flavor but don't miss a meal at the Regatta La Seafood and Steakhouse. Owned by local entrepreneurs Greg and Tressa Trahan, their photo gallery lining the walls is truly special. Wide windows and the premium lakefront location means the views are fantastic. Enjoy a drink at the bar and then dine out on the covered deck or sit inside the light and cheery dining room. Live music and events are listed on their website. Every thing we sampled was delicious – alligator sausage, crawfish cornbread, boiled shrimp and crab cake mermentau – and yes, their signature cocktail, the 'Sandbar Special,' is delicious!
Lake Arthur Park is ideal for swimming, picnicking, volleyball, tennis, basketball and softball. Lake Arthur’s beautiful lake is a wonderful site for boating, skiing or fishing. Jolie Fleur by Meg is a darling florist and gift shop across the street from the hotel. Cute! And Main Street Desserts and Deli is just two blocks down. It's a must to stop in a have a fabulous cookie, brownie or sandwich. Additionally, bird watchers relish in the Flyway Byway, as all kinds of migratory birds pass through Jeff Davis Parish.
Golfers will enjoy the Jennings Golf Club. Built in 1923, the gorgeous, ancient oak trees dotting the course are magnificent. Jennings is an exciting, 18hole regulation course. From the longest tees, it presents 6,437 yards of golf for a par of 72. The course rating is 70.0 with a slope rating of 121. Jennings is a daily-fee golf course with an 'Accompanied By Member' guest policy. 3378241274.
The king of all things Cajun is the mighty crawfish. I have eaten many but discovering how they are farmed was an eye opener. You can learn about their habitat, how farmers use existing rice lands to farm them, and watch as they are pulled from the water in little traps. Fascinating! Guests interested in taking a crawfish tour need to visit www.jeffdavis.org and search for "Crawfish Farm Tours"F. Tours are $7 per person; minimum of 10 persons. A booking form is available on the site. Visitors will visit a local pond in Roanoke, LA, where a local farmer gives the tour. Afterward. it is on to the I-10 Crawfish Co-op where sacks and sacks of crawfish are being brought in. It is a bustling place. The tour ends with a little visit to the Gator Chateau where you can hold a baby gator! The Alligator House and the Tourist Information Center are located in Jennings’ 31acre Louisiana Oil and Gas Park. This park provides picnicking and fishing on its 11acre lake, playground equipment and a jogging/walking trail.
I remain amazed at the W.H. Tupper Museum where you take a step back in time 50 years with an authentic country store. Tupper operated a general store for his employees on a farm from 1910 to 1949. When he died, the store and every single thing in it was closed and remained untouched for decades. It was donated in its entirety to the city and once you step inside, rural Louisiana springs to life. An incredible collection of toys, fabrics, food items, packages of silk stockings, perfumes, cooking utensils – everything is its original packaging. tuppermuseum.com
The Strand Theatre in Jennings, designed by Favrot, Reed, and Fred, was built in 1939. The Strand is now a community theater and home to the theater group known as "A Block Off Broadway." Live performances, occasional movies, live music. Box office: 3378215509
We enjoyed lunch at Greens Cafe in Jennings where they serve homestyle dishes, or Cajun ‘Plate lunches.’ Greens is a small, locally owned hometown cafe off the beaten path. The plate lunch menu changes weekly. We had great fried fish with spicy corn and potato salad.
Who doesn't like a little pampering during a lazy weekend? Check out Salon Couture and More in Maurice. This could be the reality version of Steel Magnolias. Friendly employees will listen to your problems or happily chatter the afternoon away while you get dolled up. facebook.com/saloncoutureandmore.
One of the best things we did was spending part of the afternoon of shopping in Historic Downtown Jennings at the Re Market in Jennings featuring antiques, local artists, and crafts. Over on Main Street there are nice, unique shops such as Rosebuds, When Pigs Fly Antiques and the Steamer Trunk.
Supper that evening was at Mikes Seafood and Steakhouse in Jennings. This friendly, All-American restaurant offers a lot – there is a buffet, a bar, a large private event room, and plenty of items to choose from on the menu. Our seafood platter had everything we could have asked for.
For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, attend the Barber Shop Jam at Ray’s Barber Shop in Lake Arthur. Ray Marcantel is the town police chief/barber and on the first and third Saturdays of the month, there is a full house of musicians playing at Ray's while patrons get a $10 haircut. Ray Marcantel has been cutting hair since the 1960s. But a few years ago, two friends had dropped in with one asking the other to try out his new accordion. From there, the jams started happening. To the surprise of the friends, a whole 'bunch of people' showed up. It's been a party ever since. August Broussard, in the Cajun French Music Association’s Hall of Fame and the Acadian Museum’s Order of Living Legends for his accordion prowess, plays nearly every Saturday. There is boudin and donuts in the kitchen – only in Louisiana, right? - and some of the finest zydeco, Cajun and blues played for miles around. Park in the yard and slip inside for an uplifting, magical morning. Some of the musicians we heard were Broussard of Lake Arthur, Terry Bussy, Roy Ogea of Lebleu Settlement, Leroy Lapoint,, Joe Morvant of Iowa, Glen Leblanc of Gueydan (son of legendary Cajun accordion player, Shorty Leblanc), and Robert Istre, also from Lake Arthur and 17-year-old accordion player, Darrien Constantine of Jennings. Ray's Barber Shop 335 Nemento Street, Lake Arthur, LA. Ray Marcantel, owner and organizer 337-2241371. Free.
On the way home, hit the backroads and explore the new “Flyway Byway.” This is a scenic trail through swamp, river, farmland and unique landscapes that is part of the Louisiana Trails and Byways program. This 55mile driving trail takes visitors on a scenic loop throughout Jeff Davis Parish, home to more than 160 species of birds. From Lake Arthur, you can take Hwy 14 west to Hwy 99 up to Welsh, and then get back on I10. Located at the southern end of the Mississippi and Central flyways, the Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1937 as a sanctuary for area wildlife. The refuge protects one of the nation’s major wintering grounds for waterfowl, with peak populations reaching more than 300,000 ducks and 80,000 geese. The nearly35,000acre wildlife haven is also home to swamp rabbits, fox squirrel, mink, coyotes, white tailed deer, a large population of American alligators and more. Hunting and fishing are permitted at designated times, with hiking, biking, boating and wildlife observation rounding out the list of available activities. The Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge is open all year, seven days a week from sunrise to sunset.