Last Updated on June 12, 2023
I’m a big James Lee Burke fan and have read most of his Dave Robicheaux novels. Burke lived in New Iberia, LA as a child and features the picturesque town on the banks of Bayou Teche in his books.
In case you’re not familiar with the series, Dave Robicheaux is a New Iberia detective who solves cases in a somewhat roguish way. He is a ‘mostly’ recovering alcoholic, and he and his partner Clete, who grew up in the rough-and tumble Irish Channel neighborhood of New Orleans, were known as “the Bobbsey Twins” before they were kicked off the New Orleans police force.
Burke is a two-time Edgar Award winner for Best Crime Novel of the Year. Three of his novels, In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead, Heaven’s Prisoners and Two For Texas, were made into movies. I visited New Iberia to follow his trail there and in the neighboring village of Jeanerette, finding much more than I expected.
My home-away-from-home was Bayou Chateau, a 19th century structure renovated into a modern studio apartment. It was equipped with more than I would ever need, including cooking supplies, and stocked with books and games.
The chateau is walking distance to many downtown attractions and restaurants. Looking out on narrow, curving Bayou Teche from my back patio, I understood how Robicheaux found a measure of peace here fishing on the bayou after recurring nightmares about his time in Vietnam. I wished I’d had time to kayak parts of the Bayou Teche National Paddle Trail, a 135-mile trail which passes by the cottage.
If you need more room, Chateau Royale next door has two queen bedrooms each with ensuite baths and a loft with two beds for the kids. Both properties are pet friendly.
For breakfast, I headed for Victor’s Cafeteria, where Robicheaux often dined. My traditional southern breakfast of eggs, grits, bacon and biscuits was delicious, but the décor alone was worth the trip.
There’s a small recreation of Robicheaux’s bait shop, a business he had on the side managed by Batist, an Afro-Creole man.
Among the countless plaques, stuffed ducks and fish, and pictures on the walls, there is a plaque saying “Dave Robicheaux eats here.” Beneath it is a letter from Burke addressed to Victor’s owners, Catherine and Victor, beginning “Mon Ami, you ask ‘Who is this Dave Robicheaux?’ Well, Cher, let me tell you…”
Bayou Teche Museum
Burke’s books often have an element of history in them, so a visit to two local museums was a perfect fit. Bayou Teche Museum relates the story of the Acadians with colorful paintings by another famous New Iberia resident, Blue Dog creator, George Rodrigue.
The museum also tells the legend of how Bayou Teche got its name. Before the Spanish arrived here, the Chitimacha Tribe was plagued by a snake over 10 miles long. They finally killed it with clubs and bows and arrows. But as it died, it turned and twisted, creating the bed for Bayou Teche.
The “elevator” that brought me down to the Avery Island salt mine opens to exhibits covering the area’s musical connection with Swamp Pop and Bunk Johnson, a local jazz musician.
Of course, there’s a section devoted to James Lee Burke with a realistic-looking Dave’s Bait Shop.
The Jeanerette Museum showcases the commercial side of the area. The main hall of the cypress home built in 1902 and repurposed as a museum in 1976 has both side walls lined with handmade cypress patterns. They were used mainly by the A. Moresi Foundry to make parts for sugar mills, sawmills, salt mines, rice mills, and steamboats in the 19th century.
The museum celebrates the sugar cane industry with a 12-minute film about the growing and production of sugar. It’s an interesting place that also depicts life along Bayou Teche. It’s much larger than it looks due to the addition of a second building behind the original.
Albania Plantation was used in the James Lee Burke film In the Electric Mist. The Greek revival mansion was built between 1837 and 1842. Today, it operates as a rental home and event venue.
The gorgeous, curved staircase and crystal chandeliers immediately catch the eye. The home is preserved as if it were ready for the area’s 19th century elite to arrive for a ball.
Outside, the front of the mansion faces Bayou Teche where most visitors would have arrived by boat back in the day. The brick walkway leading to the fountain looks like it’s withstood over a century of use, but Jarrod explained that they are new bricks.
Amazing how lovely this place is.
For another touch of history that has a Burke tie, I toured Shadows-on-the-Teche, built in 1834 with enslaved labor. Burke describes it in Cadillac Jukebox: “I drove down East Main under the arched live oaks that spanned the street, toward the Shadows, a red brick and white-columned antebellum home built in 1831 on Bayou Teche.”
Adam, my guide, told me about the history of not only the owners, but the enslaved people who worked here. Construction began on the Shadows in 1831 as the home of David and Mary Weeks. David died shortly before the home was completed in 1834. Mary and their six children moved in, and Mary managed the home and sugar plantation.
Most of the slaves lived at the plantation a short distance away, but there were a total of 24 men, women, and children working at The Shadows.
In 1841, Mary married Judge John Moore, a prominent secessionist who later helped draft Louisiana’s Ordinance of Secession. During the Civil War, Union Troops used the Shadows as a local headquarters. Mary, her sister-in-law, Hannah Jane Conrad, and three enslaved house-servants, Louisa, Charity, and Sidney, remained on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the home. The rest of the family, however, fled to safer territory.
The Shadows remained in the family until 1958. Then, William Weeks Hall, Mary and David’s great-grandson, donated the house and garden to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Shadows is located in New Iberia’s historic district which is filled with antebellum mansions sheltered by ancient moss draped oaks. Burke describes it in his book, A Stained White Radiance as: “probably one of the most beautiful streets in the Old South or perhaps the whole country.”
Cypremort Point State Park
In A Morning for Flamingos, Dave Robicheaux took his daughter, Alafair, to a fictional open-air restaurant at Cypremort Point State Park. I had to check out the actual park, although there is no restaurant there. The drive took me through endless acres of half-grown green sugar cane stalks waving in the breeze to a park located on a half-mile stretch of a man-made beach.
A boardwalk led me into the heart of a Louisiana marsh filled with wildlife. I spotted a few turtles perched on dead tree logs in the water along with wading birds. Cabins sit next to a small canal leading into the marsh. Actually, they’re more like an apartment since several lodgings are grouped in each of the three pastel-colored buildings raised on stilts above the marshland.
The cabins are located near the back of the park with a magnificent view of the waterway. The park’s soon-to-be-open 20 full-service campsites were almost complete as of spring 2023.
The beach side had several shelters and tables and would be a fun place to picnic.
No trip to Iberia Parish is complete without a visit to Avery Island where young Dave Robicheaux and his brother “washed bottles in the Tabasco factory on the bayou” in Crusader’s Cross. Our tour guide took us through the factory and explained how the company began.
In 1868, Edmund McIlhenny, the head of the family, began reusing old cologne bottles he filled with sauce created from peppers grown on the island, the salt also mined there, and vinegar. His spicy treat became a worldwide culinary option.
You’ll see it on tables in restaurants around the world. In their county store, I also spotted TABASCO candy and tasted TABASCO ice cream after our cooking lesson in the onsite 1868 Restaurant.
Conrad Rice Mill
Elaine, my guide, showed me a video about rice growing and then took me into the old mill to see the process. They were not milling that day, but it was amazing to see such old equipment still working.
In the company store, I sampled some KONRIKO Wild Pecan Brown Rice. “KONRIKO” is the trademark name P.A. Conrad who founded the Conrad Rice Mill and Planting Company in 1912 chose. It’s Kon for Conrad, RI for rice, and KO for company.
Teche Motel is where Dave’s buddy, Clete, rents a room in Creole Belle. Their cottage No. 4 appeared in the 2009 film version of In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead. It’s a working motel, so I couldn’t go inside, but drove by as I viewed the many homes on Main Street, including the abode of Burke’s grandfather.
I also made a stop at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes on Main Street that’s mentioned in several of his books.
Lorraine and Howard Kingston’s Books Along the Teche is definitely worth a stop if you want to find any of Burke’s novels. They have a special shelf filled with his literary works along with other authors.
You’ll always find food mentions in Burke’s books, so I visited some restaurants Dave frequented. One of my favorites is Bon Creole where Dave often enjoyed a shrimp po’boy. Mine was huge and overflowing with tasty fried shrimp.
Provost’s Pool Room is also mentioned in several of his books. It was once the home of an upscale restaurant called Clementine on Main, but is now Calabria Italian Restaurant. Calabria opened in November 2020. It offers Acadiana a taste of Italian dining. I dined on delicious Cheese Ravioli.
A trip to New Iberia will provide you with a deep insight into the Cajun culture. It will also be a relaxing time as the town has little traffic and no parking shortage.
New Iberia also hosts numerous cultural events. The weekend I visited, Cruising Cajun Country with a collection of classic cars was in town. The Annual Books Along the Teche Literary Festival takes place each April. Other festivals include Mardi Gras, Lao New Year, El Festival Espanol De Nueva Iberia, Delcambre Shrimp Festival, Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival, World Championship Gumbo Cookoff and Shadows-On-The-Teche Plein Air.dining