Louisiana is a remarkably diverse land of prairies, hills, rivers, beaches, and bayous. Discovered by Spain in 1541, the land was claimed by France and named for Louis XIV in 1682. Afraid the land would fall into British hands during the French and Indian War, Louis XV (of France) handed it off to his cousin, Charles III (of Spain). It was during this time of Spanish rule that a number of French Canadians, driven from their home in Acadia by the British, fled south to settle in Louisiana. Their descendants are still called Acadians ("Cajuns"). Napoleon reacquired Louisiana for France in 1801, but the arrangement was kept secret until the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, when the land passed to the U.S.
Louisiana is steeped in tradition, and offers an ambiance unlike anything else. The Creole culture of the original French/Spanish settlers once held sway over the entire state; it has since regressed into the background, but remains a defining element of Louisiana. For many, the Cajun culture of the southwest has come to embody the essence of the state. The cities, from state capital Baton Rouge to the legendary "Big Easy" of New Orleans, are an intriguing mix of metropolitan high rises and historic antebellum mansions, blending old with new to create something truly unique. Sugar and cotton plantations still lie on the banks of the waterways, and it's not unusual to find people living in isolation on the bayou, farming and fishing to make ends meet.