Research Triangle, NC

Brain-powered triplet cities: Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill

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For food alone, the brain-powered triplet cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill make a tempting weekend escape; Bon Appétit crowned Durham–Chapel Hill “America’s Foodiest Small Town” in 2008. But the region also boasts crackling cultural and music scenes—Durham is home to indie label Merge Records—and gets a jolt next month from the expansion of Raleigh’s North Carolina Museum of Art.

STAY

An easy drive from strategic points Chapel Hill and Carrboro, the Umstead is the region’s most indulgent hotel. It may feel a tad corporate (the five-diamond-rated property was built by the founders of local software colossus SAS), but warmth comes from a coddling staff, lush grounds, and quirky art in public areas. You’ll also find intimacy at its temple-quiet spa, where body treatments such as the Red Flower Hammam Tibetan Ritual are as sensuous as they sound. For rootsier charm, there’s Chapel Hill’s circa-1924 Carolina Inn. Successive renovations have burnished this tasteful property to a warm glow. The inn’s profits—per its founder’s request—still benefit libraries at the University of North Carolina, on whose campus it sits.

DO
With its long-awaited expansion next month, Raleigh’s North Carolina Museum of Art will unveil twenty-nine Rodin sculptures as well as works by Ellsworth Kelly and Roxy Paine. If the weather’s nice, explore the wooded trails of the surrounding art park. Another Saturday must is a stop at the Carrboro Farmers Market. Hint: Farmer’s cheese from Chapel Hill Creamery pairs perfectly with Farmer’s Daughter scones and Little Flying Cows honey. Later, catch what’s-next bands at live-music mecca Local 506, or watch the Tar Heels or Blue Devils play at March Madness mecca Hi5 sports bar.

EAT
At Chapel Hill’s Lantern, Andrea Reusing alchemizes lovingly sourced local ingredients into symphonic Asian plates such as house-made red curry and tofu stew and tea-and-spice-smoked chicken with yang chow pork. In Durham, brightly hued Watts Grocery showcases chef Amy Tornquist’s highly personal locavore takes on staples; think soul-warming shrimp-and-grits cake or molasses barbecued pork ribs over broccoli rabe. The Umstead’s on-site restaurant, Herons (919-447-4200), has charmed local foodies—no mean feat—with a confident, intelligent menu by new executive chef Scott Crawford. You’ll dream about vanilla-poached lobster with parsnip puree and buttered tangerine long after you’ve returned home.

Photograph by Bill Russ, courtesy of NC Tourism

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