Region celebrates culture with spring festivals

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NEW ORLEANS -- Visitors to southern Louisiana this spring will find the joint jumpin' as the annual fests for which the region is famous get under way.

Here's a hint of what's available:

April 21 to 25: Downtown Lafayette expects to host 250,000 visitors during the Festival International de Louisiane, which bills itself as the largest free Franchophone festival in the U.S.

This year, artists from Italy, Haiti, Belgium and Ireland will share six stages with Louisiana's Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band; Dr. John; D.L. Menard; and Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys.

Also part of the festival are the works of artisans ranging from such typical fare as baskets and wood carvings to African arts, Turkish tapestries and belly-dance clothing.

For families with young children, the 243-room Holiday Inn Holidome in Lafayette may be the best bet. (Some area bed-and-breakfasts do not accept kids.) Room rates range from $74 to $94, double; suites are $159. For reservations, call (800) 942-4868 or visit www.holiday-inn.com/lafayettela.

For festival details, call (337) 232-8086 or visit www.festivalinternational.com.

April 23 to May 2: Rooms are still available for the first weekend of the 35th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, held at the New Orleans Fairgrounds, a spokeswoman said.

The event is known for drawing up to 500,000 people, lured by big-name artists. The names of this year's performers will be announced later this month, said the spokeswoman.

There are two components to the festival: the Louisiana Heritage Fair and the Evening Concert series. The fair is the signature feature, showcasing music and Louisiana cuisine and crafts. It's held at the Fair Grounds Race Course from April 23 to 25 and from April 29 to May 2. Concerts are held at various locations during the festival.

This year, the festival will showcase the 10th anniversary of democracy in South Africa with the appearance of South African musicians and artisans.

A three-night Jazz Fest package, priced from $388.50 per room, double, includes hotel accommodations; two days' admission to the Jazz and Heritage Festival; a buy-one-get-one-free Mississippi River cruise; beignets at Cafe Du Monde; $250 in Riverwalk Shopping coupons; and discounts on local attractions.

For package information, call (888) 432-9870 or visit www.nojazzfest.com. For festival information, call (800) 535-2732.

April 30 to May 2: The Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, at Parc Hardy on Rees Street in Breaux Bridge, celebrates the region's attachment to the spiny lobster and the event's reputation as one of the largest gatherings of famous Cajun musicians.

Visitors can count on hearing authentic Cajun, zydeco and swamp pop music performed by more than 35 bands. In addition, there are games and rides; dance contests; music workshops; and Cajun cooking demonstrations.

Admission is $5 for adults; free for children 12 and younger. A three-day pass for $10 can be purchased at the gate.

A word to the wise: Arrive early on May 1. Traffic becomes heavy on Saturday afternoon, and visitors have been known to miss the crawfish races and crawfish-eating contests held Saturday morning.

All hotels in Breaux Bridge are booked for the festival, but rooms still can be found in Lafayette, which is located about three miles away. For festival information, call (337) 332-6655 or visit www.bbcrawfest.com.

To contact Destinations editor Margaret Myre, send e-mail to [email protected].

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