By Paul Oswell, Special to the Van Nuys News Press
NEW ORLEANS, LA — There’s definitely something exciting about staying in a cottage – an actual cottage, mind you – in the middle of the city. And not just ‘the city’, but one of the most tourism charged neighborhoods anywhere in the world.
Sure, many places in the French Quarter say they’re a “retreat” or a “getaway” when really they’re just putting a thin wall between you and the throngs. If you can still hear the taxi drivers honking their horns at the pedi cab drivers, I call false advertising on a description that includes the word ‘oasis’.
Of all the French Quarter boltholes I’ve stayed in, though, the Audubon Cottages – appended to the Dauphine Orleans Hotel (and part of the prestigious New Orleans Hotel Collection) – pull off the neatest trick. After checking in with the delightful staff at the hotel, you saunter a block down the road, and with a real metal key (imagine!), you open the door into…
Well, it’s like Narnia. Or the Secret Garden. The gate closes behind you and you’re standing in a leafy ginnel, at the end of which you can catch a glimmer of a stone wall and a statue and there are fountains trickling and – wait a minute – now you can hear the birds sing and as lobbies go it’s one of the more magical, and that’s for damn sure as hiccups.
There are seven cottages in this collection, which is named after the naturalist and painter James Audubon. If you’re not familiar, don’t worry. A hefty book of his illustrations is there for your perusal on the table as you settle in. Cottage number one even housed the great man in the early 19th century. Oh yes, we’re dealing with history here.
Walking up to the main courtyard – which nonchalantly surrounds the oldest pool in the French Quarter – you see that beyond the seclusion from the street, the cottages are in turn secluded from each other, with vined walls providing an extra layer of privacy.
Through a gate, you walk into your own private courtyard, just in case the divine communal one isn’t enough for you. Wooden French doors open up to a living room with wooden dressers that house fridges and coffee machines. There are antiques and gilded portraits but it’s not stuffy and it’s hard not to feel at home immediately.
Two bedrooms veer off to the left and right of the living room, meaning that two couples could easily share without stepping on each other’s toes. Modernity increases as you pass through the bedrooms into the bathrooms, which are chic, tiled affairs with gleaming showers.
The place screams class. But not in a snobby, exclusive way. It’s welcoming. Whatever stress you’ve worked up bumping past the tourists to get here? You won’t even notice it slip away. If your first point of order isn’t slipping into the heated, saltwater pool, then I’ve no sympathy for you, frankly. There are loungers and towels and it’s surrounded by seductive greenery and masonry. Float languidly amid all this loveliness.
Imagine, though, if a place like this came with its own butler, who would not only cater to your every whim at more or less any time of day, but who would serve you a complimentary breakfast of fruits and pastries in the sunshine of your courtyard.
No dreaming necessary. The butler, Roderick, came and breezily introduced himself after having the integrity to give me an hour or so to comport myself. He furnished me with his phone number and organised a time to bring my breakfast the next day – obviously one of the less onerous tasks on my schedule.
Though the cottages are historic and atmospheric, they have been newly bought up to this reassuringly high standard of décor and naturally they come with mod cons – iPod docks, free wifi and the like, so you don’t feel awkwardly rural, just pleasantly away from it all.
There are few real sanctuaries in the Quarter, and of those that can at least live up to this lofty claim, the Audubon Cottages must rank among the most attractive. In any case, as an addition to an almost-saturated accommodation scene, they make for a refreshing and utterly pleasing option. (For more information, please visit www.auduboncottages.com — 509 Dauphine St. | New Orleans, LA 70112 | T: 504-586-1516)