February 2015

Wisconsin’s vibrant metro is an all-around charmer

by Carolyn Blackburn

  • /Portals/0/images/articles/MFG/2015/0215/Madison_1.jpg

    The Coopers Tavern

  • /Portals/0/images/articles/MFG/2015/0215/Madison_3.jpg

    Hop Head Beer Tours

  • /Portals/0/images/articles/MFG/2015/0215/Madison_2.jpg

    The Coopers Tavern

Groups gathering in Madison, a city well equipped for meetings business, won’t run out of things to do when business has concluded. Entertaining options such as intriguing cultural offerings and fun attractions, a tempting dining scene, shopping opportunities and nightlife will fill every day of the group’s stay.

Built on an isthmus between the glacial lakes Monona and Mendota, Madison also offers natural beauty that attendees will appreciate when they’re out and about.

Following is a sample day’s itinerary to showcase what a group might expect when convening in this lovely Midwest college town.

Rise and Shine

In the morning hours from about 7 a.m. to noon, planners may like to mingle a morning session with a great cup of coffee and an activity to get the blood pumping.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Arboretum (www.uwarboretum.org), attendees can start the day “on the right foot,” according to Erica Rykal, spokeswoman for the Greater Madison CVB.

“Bring your group out for some fresh air and exercise to begin the day,” she says of hiking the various trails within the Arboretum’s 1,200 acres that border the southern half of Lake Wingra.

Morning is also a great time to visit the 1917 Wisconsin State Capitol (www.tours.wisconsin.gov), the only capitol to be built on an isthmus with the only granite dome in the U.S.

The interior of the 284-foot-high capitol, according to Rykal, contains 43 varieties of stone from around the world, decorative murals, glass mosaics and hand-carved furniture. Tours running about 55 minutes are available for groups of 10 or more people with reservations.

“Make sure to stop by the sixth-floor museum and observation deck, which is open during nicer weather, for spectacular views of the entire city,” Rykal adds.

The popular Dane County Farmers’ Market (www.dcfm.org), a go-to source for local chefs keen on preparing the freshest dishes, is a must-visit option for groups, especially during the warmer months when it’s held outdoors.

“Visiting the Dane County Farmers’ Market is a great morning activity to give your group a taste of Madison’s farm-to-table dining scene, as they may spot chefs picking up items for their restaurants,” Rykal says. “Locals rave about Stella’s Spicy Cheese Bread. Grab a loaf of that or your favorite breakfast treat and sit on the lawn of the Wisconsin State Capitol for a snack and some great people-watching.”

Right before a lunch outing, groups might check into a wellness class at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center for a recharge. The variety of free programs includes yoga, meditation and T’ai Chi.

Making Midday Memories

It’s probably a good idea to start the afternoon hours, lasting from noon to 5 p.m., with a delicious lunch at a local eatery.

Two possibilities are The Old Fashioned (www.theoldfashioned.com), which serves traditional Wisconsin fare in a tavern-style setting and has space upstairs for private parties, and Cento (www.centomadison.com), where specialties include handmade pastas, and Chef Michael Pruett can create a special menu for groups of seven to 125 people.

“Or let attendees choose what they please by eating from one of Madison’s many food carts,” Rykal says, adding that Madison recently made USA Today’s list of Best Cities for Food Trucks.

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