There are many hotels around the world that combine a comfortable stay in historic surroundings. I’ve stayed in a few – from Star Castle on the Isle of Scilly and St. Ermin’s Hotel in London to The Dearborn Inn of Michigan and the Peabody in Memphis.
However, there may be no other accommodations in the world that mix luxury and history as intimately as The Audubon Cottages in New Orleans.
The great artist and naturalist J.J. Audubon toured the American wilds of the early 1800s to catalog the young country’s wildlife. When his nomadic existence brought him to the Bayou for from 1821-1822, he rented rooms in row of Creole cottages along Dauphine Street – just a block or so away from Bourbon Street in The French Quarter. There’s a historical marker commemorating Audubon’s life and work nearby.
For the better part of 200 years, those modest cottages were private residences, sharing a central courtyard hidden from pedestrians behind a high, unassuming wall. But, once executives at The New Orleans Hotel Collection purchased the set of seven cottages, the property was transformed into a boutique luxury hotel that opened this year.
Intimacy and privacy are the key attributes of these accommodations. There is no prominent sign pointing to their location – just a modest brass plaque and a couple gas lamps to mark the spot. The property’s butler, Roderick Bernal, greets visitors at the door and ushers them inside a lush courtyard hidden from the fuss of the French Quarter. While each of the cottages has its own patio, all are mere steps from a central swimming pool (the oldest such attraction in New Orleans, by the way).
I had the pleasure of staying in Cottage 1 – the actual residence of Audubon during his year in The Crescent City. A beautifully appointed two bedroom, two bath space with outstanding beds, designers managed to add clean luxury to the cottage while keeping its original wood and brick walls. This is, after all, a nationally-recognized historic site that local officials demand be preserved. They needn’t worry as there are no better preserved Creole cottages anywhere in New Orleans.
Now, for some, it’d be good to consider that word – “cottage.” For many Americans, that term conjures up images of a little house on a sunny Cape Cod coastline or a log cabin on some woodsy lake in Northern Wisconsin. But, a Creole cottage is outwardly a shack – a simple wooden box built to offer inexpensive housing that can breathe in the bayou heat. Visitors shouldn’t be put off by that reputation. A multi-million dollar renovation transformed these little homes in extremely comfortable visitor spaces.
Of course, like most old New Orleans attractions, the Audubon Cottages are said to be haunted. An ill-fated Confederate soldier who was murdered before he could marry his sweetheart. Play some country music, and he might stop by your cottage.
From the smell of the original cedar logs carved out of the swamp to build the original cottage to the period furniture, from the quiet courtyard to breakfast on my private patio, a stay at the Audubon Cottages is an experience you won’t want to see end. When you add the think atmosphere of the French Quarter and a rainy night in Louisiana, I can say with confidence that I never spent a more magical night in any hotel on this planet.