Preserving the Past in St. Martinville
Nov 04, 2020
Historic haunts, offbeat adventures, and outdoor escapes
History and heritage converge in St. Martinville, or “Le Petit Paris,” as it was called by early French settlers. As the third oldest town in Louisiana, it’s no wonder that St. Martinville’s most popular attractions also happen to be steeped in cultural enrichment, natural beauty, and literary lore. Home to the St. Martinville Cultural Heritage Center, which houses both the Museum of the Acadian Memorial as well as the African American Museum. At the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, which was Louisiana’s first state park, the diverse cultural influences of the settlements of the Bayou Teche. A tour of St. Martinville historic landmarks would be incomplete without mentioning the famed Evangeline Oak, named for the heroine of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s seminal work, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie.
Another local gem to add to your itinerary is the Duchamp Opera House & Mercantile downtown; the classic nineteenth century Greek Revival opera house was restored to its former glory in 2018, and now houses a retail emporium on the first floor, along with a theater and gallery space on the upper floor. Once you’ve toured the salon and perused local goods at the mercantile, stop by Kajun King Restaurant a block away for a hearty Cajun meal (the crawfish potato is a must-try) and their signature drink, a made-to-order daiquiri.
For an all-ages experience that will take you off the beaten path and to the banks of the bayou, discover Acadiana’s only fromagerie, Belle Écorce Farms, where St. Martinville native Wanda Barras has handcrafted her artisanal, award-winning cheese varieties for over twenty years. Popular cheese varieties like creamy chevre and bayou bleu are all made organically on her family farmstead with milk from their herd of cows and dairy goats and available for purchase in the farm store. Call Wanda to make an appointment for a guided tour.
For the outdoorsman or nature lover, a visit to Lake Fausse Pointe State Park should top the list; located adjacent to the Atchafalaya Basin, the 6000-acre park occupies the former home site of the Chitimacha Tribe. Among the park’s abundant amenities are three hiking trails, a paddling trail that leads to Lake Dauterive, a boat launch, and campground accommodations as well as eighteen waterfront vacation cabins. Or, head out to Lake Martin and watch the sunset at Cypress Island Nature Preserve against a spectacular swamp backdrop; whether you’re a local or tourist, the natural beauty of this daily occurrence never quite gets old. The preserve, which is owned and maintained by the Nature Conservancy of Louisiana, is home to one of the region’s most biodiverse ecosystems, including a natural rookery that welcomes thousands of nesting egrets, herons, and majestic roseate spoonbills each spring.
To extend your stay in the historic heart of Cajun Country, Old Castillo Bed and Breakfast provides a dreamy view of the Teche beneath the sprawling branches of the Evangeline Oak. Built circa 1827, the charming B&B opened first as a hotel for steamboat travelers, and then operated as a school for nearly ninety years. In 1887, Charles Dudley Moore wrote in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, “…I felt that I should like to linger there a week in absolute forgetfulness of the world…” Over a century later, the sentiment still holds up, possibly even moreso. To plan your next weekend getaway in St. Martinville, head to cajuncountry.org.