One of my favourite cities in the world is NOLA, the beignet capital of the world. While you can get different flavours and spice mixes in just about every restaurant, jambalaya universally contains okra. We planted okra in our garden last summer, and very quickly, New Orleans jambalaya became a mealtime favourite.
Imagine your happy place. If you need one, check out the lounge at Soniat House New Orleans, a quaint and luxurious 30-suite hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans frequented by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. (And it’s not just about the honour bar with great wine). I found myself lolling over coffee table books about the great city’s architecture, and realized the room was more relaxing than most spas. The art, many pieces loaned by the New Orleans Museum of Art is incredible, and the antique furniture throughout the townhouse hotel is exquisite. The carriageway entrance, with it’s flickering lanterns and stone walls feels like you are entering one of America’s secret treasures. Perhaps you will meet a free mason, or maybe the ghost of a US President. We did run into Nicolas Cage on the street, but he wasn’t searching for a National Treasure.
Rooms are all unique, and our suite was breathtaking. A hallway with a crystal chandelier, king canopy bed draped in lace, and.. oooh.. that ruby red silk sofa. Sitting on it was a sacred experience. The traditional windows slid up, revealing a balcony graced with wicker that overlooked Chartres Street. Gracious sliding doors separated the bedroom from the sitting room, and if the city of New Orleans hadn’t been so fabulous, I would have stayed in the room all day. I did do a mini-excursion to the antique shops nearby and found incredible mardi gras costumes (including a 20 foot silk cape handpainted with Jack and the Beanstock motifs). Of course I bought it. Did you really wonder? The room was the perfect setting to model my finds for my husband.
The courtyard provided a breakfast oasis under banana trees and sugar cane. Classical music is piped throughout, and the staff ensure that candles are lit on each table at dusk.
One of the highlights of our stay was Jessie – a 71 year-old porter, with a huge smile and kind eyes. He has worked there since he was 19, and makes the biscuits every morning. (The recipe is secret but we’ve been trying hard to replicate it). Breakfast is served in your room or the courtyard on a silver tray and the preserves are homemade.
Families traveling should request the carriage house. With it’s private courtyard, kitchen and exclusivity it would be perfect for the little ones who are learning about the graciousness of the south. Take them to City Park and the Louisiana Children’s Museum and they’ll sleep like kings – as will you in the softest linens you’ve ever felt.
One evening before our short trek to swing dancing and original jazz on Frenchmen Street, we spoke to a few staff members about their beloved city, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Their southern manners combined with their passion for all affected people held us in a trance. We left the hotel, passing horse-drawn carriages and lanterns at each door thinking that there was nowhere more authentic and heartfelt than New Orleans. And if you are lucky enough to experience the warmth of Soniat House, you will be touched by the enchantment the minute you creak open the heavy doors and step into the carriageway.
1133 Chartres St.
New Orleans, LA
Come on. As if I wasn’t in love with New Orleans enough. Now I’ve stayed at the Ritz and there is no possible way that I can be away from this enchanted city for more than a few months. Weeks. Hmm. Loving you, Ritz Carlton. And New Orleans. Where shall I begin? The doorman who read my Mom 2.0 conference nametag and had it memorized for the rest of the trip? The front desk staff (who were shocked that I didn’t do the ‘American thing’ and demand compensation because I tripped on the carpet in my room) and the housekeeper who organized my makeup by colour. THANK YOU. SO MUCH. (And for not knocking on my door at 8am like the other places I stayed in NOLA.) Yeah. The Ritz wins.
But really? Even if I weren’t staying at the hotel, I would be at the bar every night. It’s kind of like a wedding. You know – vibe, stylish dress, where you WANT to be. The courtyard is romantic and packed all the time (even at lunch. Especially when there’s an old-fashioned New Orleans Crawfish Boil). The bar though. OOOh. The bar. The Davenport Lounge (named after Jeremy Davenport, the enchanting “top 10 bachelors in the USA” trumpet player who lent his name to the space) is rife with swing dancers, stunning brides and chic patrons. But I actually didn’t pay much attention to the clientele. Even though I was there EVERY night. Because the jazz was So good. Davenport was suave and super-talented. And the band? Wow. I had the good fortune to befriend saxophonist Aaron Fletcher. He took my husband and I to a couple of authentic NOLA restaurants and shared incrediblr stories. Not only supremely talented (check his own show Sundays at Sweet Lorraines), but a down-to-earth, passionate man who loves the history of jazz almost as much as he loves his own city.
Right. Back to the Ritz. I had a chance on an earlier visit to taste the cuisine at M Bistro. Chef Matt Murphy (a father of 5) brilliantly combines creole flavours with the best ingredients and perfect technique. (Dear Matt – would you like to adopt me as a sixth?) The Bistro was authentic, innovative and perfect in every way. True New Orleans flavours and Matt’s penchant for ‘meet the farmers’ ingredients were clearly defined in the taste of the food. (Travel and Leisure ranked the Bistro one of the Top 10 Farm-to-Table Hotel Restaruants in America, January 2011). I should just live there.
The Spa? Unlike the Guerlian spa at the Roosevelt across the street, the Ritz had a more feminine, nurturing feel. The apothecary bar was super neat – you could choose ingredients for your own scrub. Staff maneuvered you through the space in a gentle, seamless way, and the fountain at the entrance alluded to the relaxation you’d soon experience. You also had the opportunity to shop for unbelievable stuff when you leave. But why would you ever want to?
What do I miss? Coffee in the lobby. The pillows. The ‘undefined’ customer assistants who seemed to be everywhere, anticipating my every whim. The amazing outfits you saw at the bar. The creole perfected my Matt. Free wireless. And the fresh flower arrangements EVERYWHERE that were nicer than those at my wedding. But I’m not bitter. I’m now planning a 10 year renewal of vows. (Which will be held at the Ritz Carlton New Orleans.)
921 Canal Street
– Jill Amery is a sucker for beauty, gracious southern manners, soft sheets, world-class jazz, and the perfect cuisine. But she’s not picky.
From time to time we visit a very special city, where people, food, attractions, accommodations and the arts are all so exceptional that the place has its own soul. (We’ve been trying to find a North American locale to match Paris for a while.) Success! It is without a doubt, New Orleans. When I travel I take notes. How’s this for an interesting list.. Cuisine – turtle soup, jazz, horses and buggies, gracious southern manners, gas lanterns outside every building, mardi gras beads laying in the streets, voodoo, fortune tellers and cheap fedoras.