Cajun-style Mardi Gras: Beyond Crescent City

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NEW YORK -- When most people hear the words "Mardi Gras," they think of New Orleans, but the tradition of Mardi Gras stretches far beyond the Big Easy.

In the days approaching Fat Tuesday, the day before the beginning of Lent, Mardi Gras celebrations take place across Louisiana. And the various locales celebrate the occasion in their own styles.

The south-central region of Louisiana west of New Orleans is especially rich in Cajun culture.

Private clubs called krewes sponsor most of the balls and parades for Mardi Gras. Many balls are private; others are open to the public.

One of the largest open celebrations is the Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras Association Pageant and Ball, which is held annually in Lafayette. Its parades have a reputation of rivaling those of New Orleans. (See www.lafayettetravel.com/vacations/tours/mardi_gras.cfm for more information.)

Other cities with popular Mardi Gras parades are Alexandria, Houma, Lake Charles, Monroe, Natchitoches and Shreveport-Bossier City.

In many of the smaller, rural towns, Mardi Gras is celebrated as Courir du Mardi Gras, or "the running of the Mardi Gras," which harkens back to the traditions of the village festivals of medieval Europe.

"Courir du Mardi Gras represents Cajun history with the Catholic influence," said a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Office of Tourism.

Mamou, Eunice and Church Point hold celebrations in the style of Courir du Mardi Gras. All are within a 90-minute drive of Baton Rouge.

In these towns, men don costumes in the tradition of the old Cajun Mardi Gras. They ride through the town on horseback, collecting food from the community to add to a collective gumbo, which is consumed by the community on Fat Tuesday.

The festivities in Mamou start March 3 at 5 p.m. with a street festival at Sixth and Main streets.

On Fat Tuesday, March 4, the men on horseback leave the center of town at 7:30 a.m. on their ride through the community.

The riders return to the town center at 3:30 p.m. to begin the cooking. Festivities begin at 10 p.m.

Clients who would like to immerse themselves in Cajun culture can fly into one of the regional airports in Lake Charles, Lafayette or Baton Rouge, all of which have service from Houston.

For a hotel with Cajun culture and history, the Bailey Hotel in Bunkie is recommended.

Built in 1907 and run by a Cajun family, it is on the National Register of Historic Places.

For more information, visit the Louisiana Office of Tourism at http://www.crt.state.la.us/. Also see www.louisianatravel.com.

Hotels in Cajun Country

Bailey Hotel
Address:
202 W. Magnolia St., Bunkie
Phone: (866) 346-7111 or (318) 346-7111
Web:www.baileyhotel.com

Best Western
Address:
1531 W. Laurel Ave., Eunice
Phone: (337) 457-2800
Web:www.bestwestern.com/prop_19066

Best Western
Address:
1919 E. Main St., Ville Platte
Phone: (337) 360-9961
Web:www.bestwestern.com/prop_19083

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