Luxury New Orleans

New Orleans has a luxurious visit in store for any traveler, whether international jazz groupies, suburban Fashionistas, families looking for a break from theme parks, or the rural visitor in search of old city charm.

New Orleans has an abundance of Zen-like spas, champagne and chocolates at four star hotels and gustatory feasts at some of the world’s most original and satisfying restaurants. This city has it all … the funky, the retro, the southern, the edgy – basically, the cultural mix known to the globe’s most international “it” cities.

The only question is how not to miss some hidden treasures while allowing the seductive slow pace of the city to take effect. The key: don’t be a slave to the early return home. Stay a few extra days. Most people do. More visitors to New Orleans stay extra days than most cities in America. In fact, a common theme amongst transplants to New Orleans is that they came here for Mardi Gras (substitute Jazz Fest, Halloween, Essence or a Sugar Bowl) and never went home.

So, what to do with a few extra days in New Orleans? Try out these stress-free and luxurious strategies any local would recommend:

A Friday Lunch at Galatoire’s
This is not lunch … this is a TGIF feast that welcomes long-standing tribes of the well coiffed, bejeweled and any visitor willing to don a jacket if you forgot one, supplied by this traditional yet sophisticated Creole restaurant. Located in the 200 block of Bourbon Street, you can watch the street scene as people come and go, watch diners from walls covered in mirrors, lazily work your way from endless cocktails and appetizers, through the best trout almondine, pompano, soft shell crab or shrimp Clemenceau, capped by Café Brulot, a century old French concoction made with citrus fruits, liquor and dark roasted coffee. If you have friends in New Orleans, get their waiter’s name to guarantee in-crowd treatment. Lunch should end as dinner begins … with a quieter, but no less charming collection of friends.

Of course, Fridays are not the only day to take a slow lunch, and Galatoire’s is not the only restaurant that welcomes hilarity followed by sated lingering. This is lunch as you would imagine European bohemians might have enjoyed it … right here in the USA, easily accessible by an average 2 – 3 hour direct flight from almost anywhere in the country.

Antoine’s is the grand dame of New Orleans restaurants. Reserve the 1840 room for intimate elegance, or the Rex Room where carnival queens and kings dine, or just hang out in the crystalline front parlor and watch everyone come and go. There are almost no restaurants in America left that offer this 19th century style dining luxury. Enjoy it while it lasts. Prepare by reading Frances Parkinson Keyes’ book, “Dinner at Antoine’s.” Follow lunch by window shopping the beautiful antique shops along Royal Street.

Saturday Morning … sleep in, go to the farmer’s market, or a spa. It’s a toss-up: luxuriate between the sheets, check out the freshest regional foods in town, or be pampered at any one of a half dozen elegant urban spas.

Whether a cottage with a private garden in the Quarter, or a river view room from a high rise, it is hard to find many American cities with more beautiful bedrooms than New Orleans offers. Many feature antique tester beds in which you can imagine arising to dress in a hoop skirted dress with puffy sleeves. Others are right up to the edge of chic modernist retreats. Bed and Breakfasts are scattered throughout the city’s neighborhoods and historic districts.

But the streets of New Orleans will call you … to the farmer’s market in the heart of the city’s Arts/Warehouse District. There you can find bottles of Louisiana fig, strawberry or muscadine grape jams, spicy flavored vinegars and olive oils to take home, or a bag of satsumas for a quick bite of tart yet mellow citrus fruit unlike any you’ve had before. Old roses cut that morning in neighborhood gardens around the city will make a fragrant bedside bouquet. Here you can observe the shopping habits of natives looking for fresh raviolis, breads and pastries, or beautiful soft shell crabs still kicking in the bucket.

Just down the block Julia Street awaits with an awesome row of art galleries exhibiting the works of regional and national contemporary artists. Forget the six-figure works at auction in New York … here art from decorative to challenging is readily affordable. What a wonderful way to support the arts, and liven up your living room at the same time.

Lunch time again…and you are surrounded by restaurants run by some of the world’s most deservedly famous chefs: Emeril Lagasse is right on Julia Street. Susan Spicer is around the corner on Girod. Pick up a po-boy stuffed with dripping hot roast beef, a slice of blueberry pie and a cold Barq’s root beer at Mother’s on the corner of Poydras & Tchoupitoulas, or at the Commerce restaurant at Camp and Gravier.

Saturday afternoon, another hard choice. Shop till you drop or just drop in at a spa. The man of the house will want to consider visiting Aidin Gill’s, a barber shop that will please with a wonderful shave like none you have ever experienced. Aidin Gill’s shop is on Magazine in the Irish Channel and he has a new one now on Fulton Street. M’laldy might well enjoy a massage at one of the several spas located nearby.

For a great choice in shoes, accessories, the latest evening or sportswear, it’s Canal Place, the New Orleans Center and the Riverwalk, all within a short walk and are quality malls. Despite the pervasive tee shirt shops, the French Quarter is filled with wonderful specialty jewelry and antique shops. Take your best friend to help you choose or keep you from breaking the bank.

Shopping in New Orleans is not the grinding, crowded and traffic filled get-it-first or get nothing shopping of large cities. It is slow paced, comfortable and downright pleasurable. It is shopping as a leisure activity. Just try not to buy a beautiful garnet choker worn by some French beauty from the last century, or china and crystal culinary masterworks on Chartres Street, or one of a kind evening separates on Royal, alligator bags and boots, and first edition literary masterpieces on Pirates Alley … in a building that once housed William Faulkner.

Move your dinner reservations until later. Catch a late afternoon respite …get your hair brushed out, nails painted, face smoothed out, or your muscles pinched and pulled at the Ritz Carlton, Miss Celie’s Spa or Loews or Paris Parker Aveda, all downtown, or at Belladonna and Bodyjoys uptown.

Of course, you could just stroll along the Mississippi River levee and be soothed by the balmy air and the distant melodies of a street sax player. What could be more luxurious in this fast-paced era than a stroll along Tom Sawyer’s legendary river? Some coffee and beignets at Café DuMonde in the French Market (just on the other side of the flood wall). Then, return to your room to dress and head out for night two of your music history lesson. A Pimm’s Cup, on the other hand, at The Napoleon house bar might send you on your way as well.

Sunday Morning Services
The churches of New Orleans are as beautiful as the rest of the city’s wonderfully eclectic architecture: less solemn and daunting than European churches, but richer and more textured than spare New England houses of worship. With some guidance, you might seek out one of many storefront churches with gospel services. And, of course, there in the midst of Jackson Square, is the historic St. Louis Cathedral, perhaps the single most photographed of all USA Roman Catholic Cathedrals. Sunday Brunch is special. Brunch, legend has it, was invented in New Orleans. The butchers and grocers at the open air food markets in the Quarter had to close shop at the onset of midday heat. They would retire to a nearby restaurant for a late breakfast/early lunch. Brennan’s and Tujague’s, in the Quarter, were part of this history, but brunch is served all over the city. More often than not, a jazz band will accompany your meal, softly improvising around traditional New Orleans tunes.

Eggs Benedict, Oysters Rockefeller, Grits and Grillades, and Bananas Foster … all integral to New Orleans brunch history, but now sharing menus with new creations of the South, New Orleans creole recipes, culinary institutes and restaurants all over the world. Does it begin to sound as if you are eating your way through a weekend in New Orleans? Don’t worry. Diet when you get home!

Sunday Afternoon in the Park
A stroll through a park filled with century-old oaks and a lazy lagoon graced by scores of geese and ducks and an occasional fish jumping at a fly. It’s City Park, at the other end of Esplanade Avenue from the Quarter. A public transit bus can put you right there and you’re greeted by the grand New Orleans Museum of Art, offering a wonderful display of l9th and 20th century paintings, plus the nearby Besthoff Sculpture Garden.

Or, take the St. Charles trolley to the Audubon Park, home of one of America’s great zoos and a magnificent center of oaks. Just across the Avenue from the park are both Tulane and Loyola University campuses, adding to the overall ambiance of nature’s setting in uptown New Orleans.

Mondays on Magazine Street 
Stay another day and make it up. Magazine Street is where the hipsters and haute mix at trendy boutiques, antique shops and restaurants. It ends at always beautiful Audubon Park.

On the Way Home? 
That about covers it … a week in New Orleans, a week you’ll not soon forget. Come back and see us again, and again. You are always welcomed!

This material may be reproduced for editorial purposes of promoting New Orleans. Please attribute stories toNew Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. 2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130 504-566-5019. http://www.neworleanscvb.com/. Revised 2009.