The French Quarter’s famed streets, like Bourbon and Royal, see much of the foot traffic from the 18.51 million visitors who come to New Orleans each year. But just a few blocks away, the overlooked riverfront is working to draw in tourists as well.
The city has been slowly revamping the historic five-mile strip that runs along the Mississippi River. The 20-acre waterfront Crescent Park opened in 2015, and the sculpture-dotted 16-acre Woldenberg Park finished its renovations in 2018. While further improvements stalled during the pandemic, there’s more on the horizon: Harrah’s New Orleans will transform into Caesars New Orleans in 2024 and unveil a new 340-room hotel tower, and the recently purchased Outlet Collection at Riverwalk New Orleans — which saw vacancies crop up during COVID — will see the arrival of new shops from high-end national brands over the next two years, owners say.
But a recent addition is luring luxury travelers to the riverfront already: the new Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans, a property that embraces the city and its prime location within it. From top-tier restaurants guided by distinguished local chefs to a spa refuge with treatments from a cult favorite French beauty brand, here’s why you should check in:
The Four Seasons moved into the former World Trade Center, a plus-shaped 1968 landmark oriented toward the four points of the compass and centrally located at Canal Street and the Mississippi River. Designed by modernist architect Edward Durell Stone (whose other designs include Radio City Music Hall and the Museum of Modern Art), it towers 34 stories above the river and is still used to help ships navigate.
White shiplap on the guest room walls represents the area’s history and the Mississippi’s continuing role as a busy port. Local artist Dawn DeDeaux salvaged materials from the World Trade Center’s heyday, like signage, ashcans and mail chutes, and transformed them into shadow boxes that offer a glimpse into the past.
Much of the Four Seasons’ design also draws on its destination. Each hallway holds wall-mounted iron sculptures that, like the building, help orient north, east, south and west. Made by the Young Artist Movement (an arts education and workforce development program for area youth), the pieces recall the ironwork common to many historic New Orleans homes and the balconies ubiquitous in the French Quarter. In the light, bright guest rooms, subtle white plaster reliefs of magnolias, the state flower, hang above the bed.
A design standout is Miss River, a restaurant that embodies its feminine persona with a palette of pinks (from the quartzite marble bar to the scalloped textured wallpaper), rounded edges, gleaming bronze accents and a beautiful Belle Époque aesthetic. London-based Alexander Waterworth Interiors took inspiration from the architectural details of the French Quarter’s ironwork, the colors of the Garden District and the shapes of the region’s natural elements.
Near the entry to the New Orleans hotel, you’ll find the showstopping Chandelier Bar. The city’s most luxurious new hot spot awaits under a light fixture made of 15,000 glittering hand-strung Czech Republic crystals flanked by black marble columns and numerous clusters of potted palms and other greenery, a nod to the city’s Garden District. The glamorous lobby lounge makes you want to sit at the circular bar, a pillow-laden sofa or one of the white-marble-topped tables just to soak up the atmosphere.
Good looks aside, a new bar isn’t worth its ice if it can’t make a mean drink in this city, a place known for inventing classic libations and its rich cocktail culture. The menu pays homage to Big Easy classics, like the sazerac, brandy crusta and hurricane. Sip the World Fair Fizz, an elevated spin on the Ramos gin fizz. The lavender libation mixes gin, lemon, orange blossom water, wildflower honey, egg whites, butterfly pea flower tea and champagne.
And if you need a nibble, order local snacks like blue crab claws tossed in a Creole mustard vinaigrette or cheese-stuffed boudin sausage, or go for the caviar service.
To sample offerings from some of New Orleans’ leading chefs, you don’t need to leave the luxury hotel.
On the fifth floor, you will find the domain of Louisiana native Donald Link, the chef who helms lauded NOLA restaurants such as Herbsaint, Cochon and Pêche. At the hotel’s Chemin à la Mer, the forest-green-infused space looks out over the Mississippi through oversized windows and on the patio. It’s tempting to fill up before the main course with the latest haul of Gulf Coast oysters (we enjoyed a creamy Murder Point selection from Alabama); the rich gumbo; and the fresh tuna crudo with mint, snow peas and sauce chien (a flavorful Creole sauce). But save your appetite for the smoky pan-seared Gulf shrimp circling a generous helping of cheesy cauliflower-rice gratin or the succulent duck confit sitting in a pool of white bean pistou that shouldn’t be overlooked. And for dessert, the rice pudding “cloud” with brown-sugar-braised pineapple is a light but satisfying finish.
Known for the Israeli restaurant Saba in NOLA’s Uptown neighborhood and tapped to open a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean eatery in Wynn Las Vegas in 2023, Israeli-born Alon Shaya pays homage to his adopted hometown at Miss River. Here, traditional Louisiana cuisine gets an upscale treatment. Use buttery crackers to scoop up the gooey blue crab au gratin starter baked with Gruyère and béchamel. Luscious duck breast slices, a duck egg yolk, liver pâté and scallions crown the clay pot dirty rice. The buttermilk chicken arrives at the table whole and fried for you to admire before it’s taken to the primed-for-Instagram “food stage” where the chef carves it.
The Spa and Pool
Take a break from the boisterous French Quarter in The Spa at Four Seasons. The eight-treatment-room facility on the fifth floor feels like a natural oasis with lots of white oak, light gray travertine and rattan.
The reason to come is for the facials — it is the only spa in Louisiana to feature services from the beloved French skincare brand Biologique Recherche. Try the BR Customized Facial for a treatment carefully tailored to your skin’s needs. A unique aspect of the facial is that it relies on cold elements, like chilled silver cryoglobes, to soothe the skin. It’s a refreshing, reviving antidote to the often sweltering, muggy New Orleans weather or a late night overindulging on Bourbon Street. Our knowledgeable aesthetician added layer upon layer to our face (she used 30 different products) while peppering in helpful tips to ramp up our at-home routine. Unlike other facials, where our sensitive dermis ends up red and we’re forced into hiding until it returns to normal, we left with radiant, depuffed skin.
Afterward, spend time in the coed relaxation room, where you can sip prosecco from a cushy white lounger or the furnished balcony that faces the river.
Also perched on the fifth floor is the city’s largest hotel pool. The 75-foot arched infinity pool offers a cool respite in the steamy summer and a warm one in the winter, when it gets heated. Plunge underwater to hear music or plant yourself in one of the curtained-off cabanas or under a black-and-white umbrella. Be sure to order a frosé — the cocktail gets a boost from fresh strawberries — to drink while you gaze at the river vistas.
New attraction Vue Orleans opened at the top of the hotel tower in March 2022 (it’s not owned by the Four Seasons). Residing on the 33rd and 34th floors, the observatory offers indoor and outdoor unobstructed 360-degree views of the river and the cityscape.
The vistas come with interactive touchless digital displays about New Orleans’ history and present. Stop by the Story Café to learn about local treats like king cake and pralines — and how to pronounce the latter — from PBS chef Kevin Belton and Louisiana Eats! public radio show host Poppy Tooker. Hear local music from brass-band jazz to bounce through life-sized trumpet horns. Explore the city and its many neighborhoods (like Freret Street and Faubourg Marigny/Bywater) and sightseeing spots (like City Park and Madame John’s Legacy, which was featured in Interview with a Vampire and 12 Years a Slave) on a viewfinder map. And, of course, you’ll find out everything you ever wanted to know about the mighty Mississippi.