Louisiana destinations cleaned up in the Best of the South 2010, July/August issue of AAA’s magazine Southern Traveler. While New Orleans spots dominated the large city category, Lafayette and all things Cajun came out on top in almost every small city category. Here’s a list of the local winners:

Best small city for a weekend getaway: Lafayette
The gateway to Louisiana Cajun country mixes the warmth of a grandma’s welcome with urbane offerings, a great combination for a quick vacation. “In my opinion, it is the ‘crown jewel’ of Louisiana,” said Gretchen Stewart, who has lived in Lafayette for about 25 years.

History and culture that’s been flavored by France, Spain and the Caribbean are honored here. Learn more at the Acadian Memorial in nearby St. Martinville. Two events in July and August remember the tragic 18th-century exile of Acadians from Nova Scotia.

Speaking of flavors, some of the best food in Louisiana can be found in and around Lafayette. Through Aug. 15, EatLafayette is a dining event that offers discounts and special menus at select restaurants so guests can understand what makes Acadiana culture so appetizing. Get your fill of shrimp Aug. 19–22 at the annual Delcambre Shrimp Festival. Information: Lafayette Convention and Visitors Center, (800) 346-1958, www.lafayettetravel.com

Best B&B: Aaah! T’freres
Since 1993, this bed and breakfast in Lafayette, La., has offered guests its brand of Cajun hospitality and amazing “ooh la la” breakfasts. Owners Pat and Maugie Pastor bring 35 of years restaurant business experience to the table, so guests can expect to be wowed. There are eight themed breakfasts, each with an international flair, but every one starts with a salad and finishes with a divine dessert. In between, guests may enjoy cheese-stuffed crepes topped with homemade strawberry and blueberry syrup or Bananas Foster, eggs, homemade biscuits, ham and grilled tomatoes. “We call it the ‘skip a lunch’ breakfast,” Maugie Pastor says. In the evening, guests enjoy her T’Julep (spiked tea) and crab canapés.

There are eight rooms available for overnight stays, including two in the garconniere in back of the main home. Built for the young men of the house, this was the place for all-night dances and card games. The main house dates to the 1880s and has a splendid front porch that’s a popular gathering spot. The house reportedly also has a spirit, that of a young woman named Amelie, who will turn lights on and off or rattle kitchen pots. The ghost story was featured on the Travel Channel, and the Pastors were given a video clip, which is made available to curious guests. “It saves me a lot of words,” Pastor says. T’Freres, which is French for little brother, is located at 1905 Verot School Road in Lafayette. Information: (337) 984-9347

Best small hotel: The Juliet
With 20 rooms, an outdoor pool and hot tub, free wireless and fitness center, The Juliet Hotel in Lafayette is an elegant property for business or leisure travelers. Guests also enjoy a free continental breakfast and a location close to popular attractions, such as Vermilionville, a Cajun/Creole heritage and folk life park.
The Juliet is an Ascend Collection hotel, the Choice Hotel boutique brand. The hotel is at 800 Jefferson St. Information: (337) 261-2225

Best state park: Lake Fausse Pointe
Whether visitors enjoy Lake Fausse Pointe State Park in St. Martinville, La., for a day or a week, almost everything is here to make that stay enjoyable. Accommodations include cabins and 55 campsites. Rent boats, canoes or kayaks to get out on the lake. There’s a seven-mile canoe trail and three nature trails within the park to put you close to the outdoors. Information: www.crt.state.la.us/parks, (337) 229-4764

Best local musicians: The Mamou Playboys

More than 20 years ago, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys came on the scene with their brand of Cajun French music. Today, the band performs around the world and frequently appears in their home state of Louisiana. The current CD, “Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys Live” garnered their third Grammy nomination.
Catch them Aug. 14 in Breaux Bridge, La., at La Poussière, a traditional Cajun dance hall. Later in the month, the band heads for Europe. Information: www.mamouplayboys.com

Best local shopkeeper: Jennifer Casanova
Jennifer Casanova, manager of Lagniappe Antiques in Breaux Bridge, La., says visitors to the 17,000-square-foot marketplace must have a sense of humor to get the most out of the experience. “If you don’t, we’ll give you one,” she says, laughing. Her ability to please customers and the vision to make Lagniappe Antiques a tourist destination in this small southern Louisiana town eight miles east of Lafayette have made Casanova the clear favorite in the best shopkeeper category.

The store has 50 dealers who offer a variety of antiques (books, furniture, home décor) and art created by Louisiana artists from the state’s Craft Guild. In addition, there are Zydeco dance lessons offered on Saturdays, summer programs for children, and starting this fall, cooking demonstrations will be available at the new Buck & Johnny’s Pizzeria, the on-site restaurant serving gourmet sandwiches, soups and more. Once a Chevrolet dealership that had been vacant for 30 years, the property at 124 W. Bridge St., was bought and renovated by David Buck. Casanova was hired to design the space and manage the shop, which truly has become a destination in Louisiana’s Cajun country since its opening in October 2009. Information: (337) 507-2036, www.breauxbridgeantiques.com

Best Southern steakhouse: Ruth’s Chris

When you think of classic Southern fare, steak isn’t necessarily the first food that comes to mind. But one of the most beloved steakhouses in the country, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, had its humble beginnings in the heart of Louisiana before spreading across the country and around the world.

Ruth Fertel mortgaged her house to buy Chris Steak House in 1965 at Broad and Ursuline streets in New Orleans. When a kitchen fire destroyed the restaurant and she moved a few blocks away on Broad Street, she called the restaurant Ruth’s Chris because her original contract precluded her from using the name Chris Steak House in a different location.

Now celebrating its 45th anniversary, the restaurant chain has more than 100 locations around the country that are known for fine dining, upscale atmosphere and superior service. Information: www.ruthschris.com

Best ethnic restaurant: Prejean’s

Seeing trees with spanish moss and a 14-foot alligator in the middle of the dining room might be the first sign that Prejean’s Restaurant isn’t your average everyday restaurant. And then when you taste the food, average would probably be the last word you’d use to describe it.

Located in Lafayette, La., in the heart of Acadiana, the restaurant holds dozens of medals from culinary competitions. This is Cajun food at its best with such dishes as crawfish and alligator sausage cheesecake, crispy Cajun duckling, blackened catfish étouffée and a selection of hearty gumbos. Traditional Cajun bands entertain nightly, and the region’s rich Cajun French heritage is on display in the antiques that grace the walls and rafters. The restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner and recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Prejean’s is located just off Interstate 49 on Gloria Switch Road in Lafayette. Information: (337) 896-3247, www.prejeans.com

Best craft gallery: Sans Souci

Sans Souci means “no worries,” and shoppers can have a carefree experience in this Lafayette, La., treasure trove. You’re sure to find a memorable gift or piece for your home here as the gallery is home to the Louisiana Crafts Guild and features the work of the state’s finest artisans.

The intimate gallery is adjacent to Parc Sans Souci and is housed in one of Lafayette’s oldest buildings that has seen uses as a pecan buyer’s store, an overnight inn, a post office and a bookstore. The space was restored in 2001 to house the works of guild members. A great time to visit the gallery is the second Saturday of each month during Lafayette’s Art Walk. The gallery is located at 219 E. Vermilion St. Information: (337) 266-7999, www.louisianacrafts.org

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