Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Easy decision to head to Big Easy

Exotic New Orleans offers plenty of southern charm

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There is only one great North American city I haven't tasted and toured.

That's the one that sits 1 1/2 metres below sea level, yet stands out above the rest.

Good ol' New Orleans.

But come early in the new year -- Jan. 19 to 24, to be precise -- that's where my wife, Athina, and I are leading a Free Press custom Tour de New Orleans.

And here's the best part. You can join us in the Big Easy.

From what others who have been there have told me, New Orleans is a southern charmer and disarmer, a proud and exotic city where Cajun cuisine was invented and jazz was born. A defiant place that has survived epic fires, floods and invasion forces. A cultural and party hot spot whose sights, sounds and tastes make it a convention-going mecca and Super Bowl venue favourite. And a community with a complex blend of European, Caribbean and African human history that inspired the literary likes of Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner and more recently the post-Katrina HBO series Treme. Oh yes, and of course also inspired vampire series author Anne Rice to vow last year she would return to the city of her birth.

The master of the macabre said she missed her characters, and no doubt the character of the city. As it happens, we'll get to see her former residence on the tour.

But first we need a headquarters in the Big Easy. We've booked into the French Quarter for five nights in the luxurious Roosevelt New Orleans.

On arrival at the hotel we'll meet our tour director, have a meet and greet and get to know you. It'll be a cozy Cajun occasion because we're keeping the trip to a tight 10 couples only, which means booking quickly is recommended.

We depart Winnipeg on a Sunday, so Monday is our first full day in the place also known as the Crescent City.

Over the course of the following four days we'll get to taste, tour and experience New Orleans in our own way, starting with a guided tour of our new neighbourhood, the district known as the French Quarter even though it's dominated by Spanish colonial architecture.

For the foodies among us, and those who simply like to eat, we'll drop by the New Orleans School of Cooking for some hands-on, tastebud-tantalizing classes in Cajun cuisine.

We'll also take a trip back in time to the Oak Alley Plantation, with its pre-Civil War mansion, replicated slave quarters and canopy of giant, 300-year-old oak trees. For those who like to photograph nature, there are some alligators I want you to meet. And that's not a crock. To do that we will take an airboat ride through the swamps and bayous of Louisiana, where you can snap at the gators while they snap back at you, and listen to the captain regale us with swamp stories. There's a guided walking tour of New Orleans' Garden District that will appeal to my wife especially. And, on the last night, a farewell dinner aboard the Mississippi River's Paddlewheel Creole Queen.

There is at least one afternoon designated for exploring on your own, which could be more exploring, relaxing at the spa back at the hotel, or shopping at nearby galleries and markets.

As for the nights, they're mostly our own. That means we can venture out by ourselves, or in groups, to experience the renowned restaurants of New Orleans, all those clubs with all that jazz.

For more detailed information, and how to book your place in a trip I've waited a lifetime to take, go to:

See you in New Orleans.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 E4

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