New Orleans has an aura of romance unlike any other city I have visited. What is there about this place? I keep asking myself. Some of the mystique is obvious, but other elements are completely elusive.
An air of excitement fills the air. Marvelous aromas drift from restaurants, both near and far, stirring the senses and stimulating the appetite. You realize those foods simmering in various eateries are composed of herbs, spices and ingredients distilled from dozens of ethnic groups who have settled in this fascinating city.
On a warm and humid day your body slows down, and you laze along streets and byways, not really caring where you go next. You finally decide to see a part of the city from a seat on the St. Charles Streetcar or join the natives who sit on the levee or (more recently) Riverwalk Plaza and watch the traffic maneuver its way along the Mighty Mississippi.
Traffic inside the Riverwalk Mall can get congested. It can do the same behind the levee where the famed Vieux Carre, or French Quarter is coming alive. Artists exhibit their work on the square in front of St. Louis Cathedral. A sweetheart watches a caricaturist preserve the image of his beloved with a piece of charcoal and a sheet of paper.
Two mimes put on a show for pocket change. A small boy attracts a crowd as he taps out an unbelievable dance, accompanied by a few instruments. Somewhere in the background the strains from a jazz band capture the attention of the crowd. Horses, decorated with hats and other collectibles, line the street, waiting to transport tourists to unknown parts of the Quarter.
Parades choose this part of town to carry out a message, to celebrate carnival, or to show off Easter hats and costumes on a spring weekend. Excitement abounds. The marvelous fragrance of New Orleans' famous coffee finds its way into your senses and Voila! there's a streetside coffee house, filled with happy, chattering, satisfied customers, sipping café au lait and devouring beignets.
Café du Monde has been keeping repeat visitors and locals happy like that for many decades. Located adjacent from the St. Louis Cathedral Square, it's the perfect place for that coffee break you'll want to take, ready or not.
By now you've caught the essence of this mystical city; that dreamy, romantic feeling you're experiencing is a part of the Big Easy's mystique; take care, it's addictive. The desire to wander aimlessly waxes strong. But reason argues that you're going to need a place to sleep, and eventually to eat again. So what' a romantic to do?
Literally thousands of rooms in motels and hotels, in various parts of the city, welcome New Orleans guests. You can choose an expensive place, or something more reasonable. The grand and elegant Roosevelt Hotel is still in business. The Ritz now offers rooms near the Quarter. Name the brand and you'll probably find it somewhere here.
Those who prefer a more intimate setting will do well to make a reservation on one of the European style hotels, located within walking distance of downtown New Orleans and French Quarter attractions. Here are two of my favorites.
Royal Omni Crescent Hotel located on Gravier Street, within minutes of attractions. The historic setting of Royal Omni gives it a feel of being "old," but don't be fooled. True, the elegant rooms and suites are furnished with beautiful antiques, but the hotel is grand in every sense of the word. Rooms set back from the street provide a quiet, majestic atmosphere.
Our spacious suite consisted of a bedroom with king size bed, and a sitting room, with a television set in each room. Closets provided lots of storage space. The huge bath/dressing was a dream with marble tile floors, wide mirrors and a separate jacuzzi. An on-the-premises restaurant and excellent service give guests the comfort and privacy romantics sometimes want.
On the other side of Canal Street there's a charming little hotel called Hotel St. Helene. It's the kind of place you'd hope to find in the French Quarter. This small hotel offers 16 guest rooms and 10 one/two bedroom suites. Rooms are spacious, ceiling soar, and wide pine-plank floors glisten in the old fashioned way. Windows are so tall you can step out onto a balcony from the comfortable sitting room.
Just outside the door another balcony overlooks the courtyard, where a peach tree reaches to the second level. Period furniture includes a canopy bed with mattresses stacked so high you drag the step stool over to get onto it.
You'll find the entrance to this quaint little hotel just around the corner from the front desk and lobby, but that adds to its charm. A locked iron gate opens from the street into the courtyard, where you can enjoy coffee and pastries in the morning, coffee any time of day. At Hotel St. Helene you're smack dab in the middle of the French Quarter. You're only two blocks from the river and the St. Louis Cathedral, minutes from whatever action you seek.
Eating is one of the most important things you'll do in New Orleans. There are more than 1,200 romantic restaurants here. If your pocketbook allows, dine at Brennan's, where breakfast can run over into lunch. They serve dinner, too, and the history of this great old restaurant is something worth listening to.
Be sure to try the Jazz Brunch at the Court of Two Sisters and the lore of this famous eating establishment. Broussard's has a history as well as an intriguing patio dining on some of the best food in town. Across town in the Garden District you'll find a fascinating place called "Upper Line". Take the St. Charles Streetcar; the driver knows the way. Expect wonderful food served in a transformed old row house decorated with paintings by local artists.
But the romance of New Orleans is also discovery, and you'll want to discover your own favorite places to eat. Take your time; don't just gobble your food so you can run to the next event or place to see. Food is important in this place. Cooks and chefs take time and pleasure in creating wonderful cuisine that appeals to all the senses. If you miss that you've missed a part of the New Orleans Experience.
New Orleans is a tantalizing place for lovers, and a favorite place for honeymooners. Hotels, Bed & Breakfasts, Quaint Inns, Plantation Homes, classy clubs, cabarets and hideaways attract lovers from around the world. Historic homes, French Quarter Courtyards, private gardens, riverboats, churches (more than 900) boats, yachts, Botanical Gardens and City Park work with lovers to provide unique New Orleans settings for weddings.
What romantic experience are you looking for? You'll probably find it in this fascinating City That Care Forgot!
Thousands of people visit New Orleans every day, so in order to avoid disappointment, be sure to make reservations at hotels and restaurants.
This city can be very cold in rainy winter weather, very hot during mid summer. The rest of the year is mostly pleasant. Just remember to carry some rain gear, and sweaters or coats for the season you plan to visit.
Most major airlines fly into the New Orleans Airport, which is some distance from the downtown area. Plan to rent a car, or take a cab to your destination.
For more information on accommodations, restaurants and attractions, contact New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, Inc., 1520 Sugar Bowl Drive, New Orleans LA 701123 or call 1-800-6124. Visit their web site at www.neworleanscvb.com.