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Northern Indiana’s cultural kaleidoscope

Courtesy Elkhart Co. CVB

Traveling the roads of northern Indiana, a tour group can encounter a lot of interesting characters. From fighting Irish to farming Amish, the people of this region — and the traditions they preserve — are some of the best parts of the trip.

Great ethnic and cultural traditions stand out in northern Indiana, along with a bevy of other interesting attractions and activities to keep groups entertained. In addition to visiting Amish craftspeople and enjoying some of the area’s traditional food, tours can include visits to a Frank Lloyd Wright home and a wolf sanctuary in the Lafayette-West Lafayette area; marveling at classic cars and famous confections in South Bend; and enjoying Fort Wayne’s museums, gardens and other cultural attractions.

Amish Country
The north-central area of Indiana is home to one of the country’s largest Amish populations, and numerous attractions in the area highlight Amish religion, heritage, culture and food. In addition to visiting those attractions, groups can opt for one of the itineraries the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau has arranged to highlight gardens, crafts and cuisine in the area.

“We have a new tour that we call Delicious Stitches,” said travel trade marketing manager Sonya Nash. “It combines food with fabric and fun shopping stops. You visit four local stores, and along the way, you get fabric rolled up to look like a cinnamon roll. At the end, you get a homemade cinnamon roll from a shop owner.”

The tour is designed to appeal to quilt and food aficionados. It can be run as a single-day experience or combined with other tours, such as the Quilt Garden tour, to create a multiday visit. The Quilt Garden itinerary includes visits to some of the 18 gardens in the area that have been planted in quilt designs, combining botany with the region’s craft heritage.

The visitors bureau has also put together a number of culinary tour options that showcase both Amish and “English” food.

“You can meet a chef and have a gourmet, hands-on cooking class,” Nash said. “You can do everything from Thai food to Chinese, vegetarian and low-fat. The Amish cooking class is extremely popular, and we have an Amish wedding feast that explains the wedding process to visitors.”

South Bend
To sports fans across the nation, South Bend means Notre Dame football. So groups that tour the northern Indiana city often include a visit to the legendary campus and its football stadium.

“Groups can get a picture in front of Notre Dame’s golden dome or attend Mass in the basilica,” said Colleen Bormann, marketing and promotions manager at the South Bend/Mishawaka Convention and Visitors Bureau. “You can also go to the football stadium and see the famous ‘Touchdown Jesus’ mural on the side of the library. Jesus appears to be making the referee’s sign for a touchdown, right by the end zone.”

The sporting tradition continues over at the College Football Hall of Fame, a South Bend tourism staple. Although the hall of fame will eventually move to Atlanta, it is scheduled to remain open in South Bend through the end of 2012.

Outside of sports, other attractions give groups a look at the city’s past and present. The Studebaker National Museum memorializes the famous bullet-nosed cars and the company that produced them, displaying dozens of classic cars, as well as artwork, memorabilia and exhibits about the company’s history in South Bend.

Groups can also visit the South Bend Chocolate Company for a delicious diversion.

“You get the inside scoop and taste some of South Bend’s famous chocolate,” Bormann said. “It [the company] has artifacts in a chocolate museum, and you get a factory tour, where you can have a sample straight off the production line.”