Events start the Saturday (Feb. 2 this year) before Mardi Gras, with a variety of Cajun and zydeco bands on tap through Tuesday (Feb. 5). The biggest acts play Monday night and in the past often featured local-boys-made-good, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. At about dawn on Tuesday morning, the riders for the courir gather at the American Legion Hall on Main Street. You can meet them there and follow by car into the countryside. Make sure your gas tank is full and pack a lunch -- there are no gas stations along the route, which takes about eight hours. (Some folks follow the courir for a while and return to town for more dancing.) Mardi Gras ends with the return of the riders, usually about 4 p.m., for a short parade down 6th Street and about a half-hour more of dancing. Make sure to buy a bowl of the communal town gumbo at the American Legion Hall before you leave.
Where to eat:
Mamou's festival features home-grown delicacies for sale, including boudin (pronounced boo-dehn), a spicy Cajun sausage made with rice and pork, and the Mardi Gras Association sells gumbo on the day of the holiday in the center of town. Frenchie's (427 6th St.; 337-468-4000) serves up some pretty good traditional Cajun favorites, like gumbo and etoufee. Several school and charity organizations also set up alcohol and food booths on the evenings of the dances and on Mardi Gras day.
But if you want to venture away from town, turn on your GPS and make your way to D.I.'s Cajun Food & Music (6561 Evangeline Highway in Basile, La.; 337-432-5141), where you'll taste some of the best in traditional Cajun cooking, including their fried catfish supreme -- catfish topped with a creamed shrimp and crab sauce. Cajun bands play nightly.
In Eunice, Nick's on 2nd Street (123 S. 2nd St.; 337-457-4921) is a local favorite, and near Lafayette, try Cafe Des Amis (140 E. Bridge St., Breaux Bridge; 337-332-5273) for a delicious, hearty brunch, including their Oreille de Couchon -- powdered doughnuts shaped like pig's ears and stuffed with boudin.
Where to stay:
Most of the motels and hotels near Mamou -- and in the entire area -- book up the weekend of Mardi Gras. Eunice, located about 10 miles away from Mamou, is the closest.
L'Acadie Inn (259 Tasso Loop, Eunice; 337-457-5211; hotboudin.com) is owned by locals Lance and Kelly Pitre, who have been operating their "country inn" for eight years. They offer an extensive Mardi Gras package, including a trailer to participate in a courir and traditional meals during the weekend. Lance will be happy to tell you about Cajun history, and the couple can offer suggestions for other things to do in the area. The inn books up a year in advance, but call and ask if they have any cancellations. They have 21 rooms, and 17 RV sites. Mardi Gras rates run $105 a night for the room and package, and $42 for RV sites.
Potier's Prairie Cajun Inn (110 West Park Ave., Eunice; 337-457-0440; potiers.net) is booked for this Mardi Gras, but again, try calling the week of Mardi Gras to see if there are any cancellations.
Howard's Inn (U.S. Highway 190 East, near Eunice; 337-457-2066) had a couple open rooms in early January, ranging from $89 to $105 a night.
The Days Inn (1251 E Laurel Ave., Eunice; 337-457-3040) runs from $117 to $128 a night, including taxes, and there were a handful of rooms still available as of early January. The Best Western in town already is booked.
If you're feeling adventurous, the Eunice Inn (1151 E. Laurel Ave.; 337-457-4274) does not take reservations. A manager there said there are 24 rooms at the inn, and they're given first-come, first-served. Rates are $45 to $85.
There are also dozens of hotels in Lafayette and Alexandria, both of which are about an hour's drive from Mamou. For Lafayette: lafayettetravel.com; 800-346-1958. For Alexandria: apacvb.org; 318-442-9546 or 800-551-9546.
Campgrounds also abound in this area. Try Chicot State Park in Ville Platte, which has a few cabins and hundreds of camping sites. For reservations: crt.state.la.us/parks; 877-CAMP-N-LA (877-226-7652).
Other courirs/Mardi Gras festivities:
A handful of towns around Southwest Louisiana, including Eunice and Church Point, celebrate the Courir de Mardi Gras. (For Cajun and zydeco events in the week before and after Mardi Gras, go to arnb.org/Mardigras.php.)
In Church Point, children run on the Saturday before Mardi Gras, meeting at 7 a.m. at 1036 E. Ebey St. with a parade down Main Street in the early afternoon. A male-only courir is held on Mardi Gras day, with a parade with floats to follow through town. churchpointmardigras.com.
In Eunice, about 10 miles south of Mamou, men and women riders gather at the Northwest Community Center the Tuesday morning of Mardi Gras. A dance featuring Cajun music is held the night before and the evening after the ride. eunicechamber.com; 337-457-2565
For those looking for a bigger party, without chicken chasing, the town of Lafayette, 45 minutes south of Mamou, holds the largest Mardi Gras celebration in Acadiana. Lafayette's Mardi Gras is more akin to New Orleans' than Mamou's, with parades and invitation-only balls, but it also features Cajun and Creole bands at stages open to the public, dancing and Cajun food. lafayettetravel.com/visitors/eventsandfestivals/mardigras.
If you want to venture even farther out of Cajun Country, you might try Baton Rouge's Krewe of Spanish Town parade, an hour and a half away, held the Saturday before Mardi Gras every year. This political-satire parade has a small-town feel, but does some big-city partying. After attending last year for the first time, it has now become one of my don't-miss events for the Mardi Gras season. spanishtownmardigras.com.