Nowadays, only the tourists speak French in New Orleans. To hear -- and taste-real Southern Louisiana, head west to the area around Lafayette, where the gumbo and the zydeco are hotter than they are in the big city. By March and April, the crawfish are biting, the alligators are stirring in the swamp, and flocks of nesting ibis, warblers, and egrets are arriving on the banks of Lake Martin. But the real action is in the restaurants. Go for the gumbo and barbecued shrimp at Cafe des Amis in Breaux Bridge (it's also a great bed-and-breakfast); try fried crawfish where they invented it at the Yellow Bowl, near the sugarcane town of Jeanerette; swallow cold oysters at Shucks, in the oyster town of Abbeville; pause for a barbecued-pork sandwich at the Pig Stand in Ville Platte. If you want to bring something home, shop for serious smoked meat and boudin sausage at the Best Stop Supermarket in Scott, just west of Lafayette. The bayou also offers an alternative to New Orleans's music scene; Slim's Y-Ki-Ki in Opelousas is a zydeco-music mecca, where greats like Boozoo Chavis pump the accordion and old folks in cowboy hats will show you how to stomp like a Cajun.
Details Cafe des Amis, 337-332-5273 (B&B reservations, 337-507-3399; rooms start at $85); Yellow Bowl, 337-276-5512; Shucks, 337-898-3311; Pig Stand, 337-363-2882; Slims, 337-942-9980; festival info, 800-346-1958 or www.lafayettetravel.com .