My traveling friends and I spent a day visiting Avery Island and Jefferson Island, which are a few miles west of New Iberia. These “islands” turned out to be full of surprises for us.
We began our day’s adventures at Avery Island. Avery Island is a salt dome that rises above the surrounding marshland. It is home of Jungle Gardens and the Tabasco Sauce Factory. Jungle Gardens is full of plants that you would expect in South Louisiana such as beautiful huge oak trees covered in Spanish moss, azaleas and camellias. But there are also exotic plants imported from around the world that make this a truly unique place to visit. We saw alligators swimming in the marsh and egrets in Bird City, where bamboo structures have been built to give the 20,000 egrets nesting areas in the spring. The gardens are amazing anytime of the year, but camellias bloom from November to March, and azaleas bloom from late February to the end of April. The egrets nest from March to July. Mosquitoes are out in full-force from March to October, so bring your bug spray.
While driving through all of the huge oak trees and marsh, we suddenly came upon a Chinese garden complete with an 800 year old Buddha statue. This was such an unexpected discovery in a Louisiana setting. Later we found more Chinese gardens when we visited Jefferson Island nearby.
The Tabasco Sauce Factory is nearby. We visited the Tabasco Country Store and doing so was definitely worth the time. There were lots of Tabasco related items for sale such as unique t-shirts, dishes, toys, and Tabasco products themselves. Because it was time for lunch, we did not tour the factory, but we wished we had after later talking to a friend that had taken the tour.
Next we found our way to nearby Jefferson Island. One of us found an interesting sounding restaurant called Café Jefferson from a web search. It turned out to be worth the trip by itself! The setting was beautiful. The restaurant had outdoor patio seating and a glass porch with a view of Lake Peigneur in one direction and the beginning of Rip Van Winkle Gardens in the other. The food was delicious, especially the seafood bisque. Be sure to save room for dessert! It was hard to choose between the chocolate cake and the lemon meringue pie.
After lunch we bought tickets to tour the gardens and the Joseph Jefferson Home. The tour began with a very interesting film of the history of the island and Lake Peigneur. Under the island and lake are salt mines that were flooded when Texaco was drilling for oil in 1980. Not only did it flood the salt mines, but the lake and 65 acres of surrounding woodlands disappeared like water draining from a bathtub! We walked through the Rip Van Winkle Gardens to the Jefferson Home on the top of the hill. There we discovered that the gardens were named after the character that Joseph Jefferson famously portrayed in the 1870s. Joseph Jefferson used this house as his winter home. The mansion was full of beautiful furniture, paintings, clothing, and household items that helped our tour guide give us a real understanding of the history of the house and people that lived there. We also saw cute cottages that people can rent and a gorgeous area for weddings.
We had planned to do more in New Iberia but it was time to head back home. The next time we go there, we plan to tour the Shadows on–the-Teche plantation home that is on Main Street in New Iberia. I think March would be the best month to come because the azaleas and camellias would be in full bloom and the temperature would be pleasant. It was a little too hot in August!