College basketball fans know the Triangle area of North Carolina as home to some of the most intense rivalries in the sport. Meeting planners have long recognized the area as a leading destination with all the services and facilities that are more often found in much larger cities. Now, astute tour and travel operators are recognizing the Greater Raleigh, N.C. area as a prime destination for hub & spoke tours.

Raleigh has always had a history of hospitality. Upon deciding in 1788 to move the Constitutional Convention to a more central location than Tryon Palace in New Bern, the group thought it appropriate to be within 10 miles of Isaac Hunter’s Tavern in Wake County. Eventually, a 1,000-acre parcel of land was purchased from Joel Lane, who also operated a tavern. According to local legend, Lane extended extensive hospitality to the legislators in the form of Cherry Bounce, a potent mix of mashed cherries, sugar and whiskey that had been aged for several weeks.

Almost 225 years later, Raleigh and the 11 other municipalities in Wake County are still welcoming visitors. From Apex’s Historic Salem Street to Zebulon’s Five County Stadium, home of the Carolina Mudcats AA professional baseball team, there is no shortage of attractions, history and culture to explore.

North Carolina State Capitol, Raleigh

The newest addition to the Raleigh itinerary arrived in April 2012 with the opening of the Nature Research Center. This 80,000- square-foot wing of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences brings to life science and research that impacts our daily lives. Through interactive exhibits visitors engage with science in an exciting new way. The main museum is connected by a covered walkway, while the North Carolina Museum of History is located just across the plaza.

Also in Raleigh, the North Carolina Museum of Art is featuring its dramatic, innovative West Building and a new collection of 30 Rodin sculptures. The 160-acre Museum Park allows for a unique setting of art and nature. Scenic paths wander through woodlands and meadows passing dramatic pieces of art.

A visit to the State Capitol reveals a National Historic Landmark and one of the best-preserved examples of a Greek Revival-style civic building. Cherry Bounce, the potent drink that aided in selecting the location for the Capitol, is not available on the tour of the grounds and interior.

Destination Western Triangle

Southern Season in Chapel Hill

Southern Season in Chapel Hill

The Western Triangle is a foodies’ dream come true.  Southern Season in Chapel Hill is a 60,000-square-foot culinary delight. Filled with wines, teas, gift baskets, chocolates, North Carolina food products, Italian dinnerware and much more, this may be the largest food marketplace in the country. Tours are available through all nine specialty stores. A full schedule of cooking classes headed by both staff and visiting chefs is available. No visit is complete without breakfast, lunch or dinner at the Weathervane.

Close by in Pittsboro is the Fearrington House Inn, the central spot in a serene English-style village. Here are just a few of the awards granted this Relais & Chateaux property – A Top 10 World’s Best Foodie Destination, Departures Magazine; #3 Small Hotel in the U.S. 2011 Reader’s Choice Awards, Conde Nast Traveler; 2011 Forbes Five Star Award, Forbes Travel Guide; and the Relais & Chateaux 2012 Top Gardens Award. Along with its 2011 Forbes Five Star Award the recognition just keeps coming. The village itself includes gourmet restaurants, boutiques and McIntyre’s Fine Books. A delightful day trip awaits you.

The 55-acre Sarah P. Duke Gardens on Duke University’s West Campus in Durham features five miles of paths through what is considered one of the premier public gardens. Colorful seasonal plant varieties present continuous splendor. The Duke Chapel with its stained-glass windows, 5,200-pipe Flentrop organ and 50-bell carillon welcome guests. Also on campus, the Nasher Museum of Art features classical and contemporary art and sculpture.

Destination Smithfield

 Ava Gardner

Ava Gardner

Less than an hour from downtown Raleigh on I-40 sits Smithfield.
Actress Ava Gardner has her story told in the Ava Gardner Museum. From her humble beginnings to Hollywood, Ava Gardner was the true beauty of her time and a skilled actress on both screen and later television. The museum documents her life with memorabilia, posters, film clips, costumes and magazine covers, and includes her marriages to Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra.

Conveniently located off I-40 and I-95, Carolina Premiums Outlet is sure to please even the pickiest of shoppers. From designer fashion and sportswear giants like Polo Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein Men’s to Chico’s and Banana Republic Factory Store, you’re sure to find that special something. Reservations should be made online and groups of 15 or more receive a V.I.P. discount book.

Duplin Winery

Just off I-40 at Exit 380 and after a few turns you’ll find the Duplin Winery in Rose Hill. More than just a tour and tasting, Duplin Winery is loaded with special events. In its first year April Main Squeeze was hugely popular and sure to be repeated in 2013. Check the website regularly and you’ll often discover music in the courtyard on both weekdays and weekends. The annual Grape Stomp and Concert, scheduled this year for Sept. 8, will feature production tours, wine tasting and live music. The Duplin Dinner Theatre productions combine NC wine, dinner and entertaining theater. Christmas dinner theater tickets are now available. Still not had enough of Smithfield-area wineries? Plan a stop at four additional wineries that comprise the Muscadine Heritage Wine Trail.

Explore the Raleigh and Smithfield areas and much more by selecting the “Soul of the South Post-FAM Tour” following the American Bus Association Marketplace 2013. Hosted by the North Carolina Department of Tourism, Film & Sports Development and Visit Charlotte, Marketplace is scheduled for Jan. 5-9.

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