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Amish bring Old World charm

The Amish Village, courtesy PA Dutch Country

Traveling country roads in Amish communities, you may find yourself cautiously sharing the pavement with a horse-drawn buggy. Admittedly, you might even twist your neck to get a glimpse of the passengers inside.

American society is curious about this culture that arrived in our country in the 1720s. But in spite of a recent boom in Amish-themed entertainment in pop culture, most Americans know little about the group. It is known they are conservative and separate from the non-Amish world, that they wear clothing that generally looks alike, that they go to their own schools and that they are reluctant to adopt most modern conveniences, like electricity.

How in the world do they do it? It seems clear they must be so different from other people.

Travel professionals throughout Amish areas suggest that tour groups take the time to do more than just wonder. Visit an Amish home; ask them questions; eat dinner at their tables; talk about quilts, woodworking — their lives.

“It’s so interesting and surprising to visitors,” said Jackie Hughes, public relations manager for the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau in Indiana. “It doesn’t take long to realize they have the same concerns as us — their kids, the economy, their health — the regular stuff that makes up our own day-to-day time and worries.”

Yes, when visiting an Amish area, bank groups are guaranteed great comfort food, the best of artisan and hand-crafted housewares and spectacular scenery. But the most profound experiences result from getting to know those folks inside the buggy, if only just a little.

Pennsylvania Dutch Country

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania Amish of Lancaster County is America’s oldest Amish settlement. Today, thousands of Amish continue to make their living in agriculture as well as small businesses and cottage industries.

“All done in a tasteful way, our three main Amish attractions do a wonderful job of interpreting the community and their customs,” said Joel Cliff, media relations manager for the PA Dutch Country Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“The Amish Experience features a movie, ‘Jacob’s Choice,’ which tells the story of growing up Amish. There are also tours of a homestead and family dining. These folks also offer special access with the Amish VIP — Visit-in-Person — tour. This is an intimate, up-close experience. Amish Village features a tour of an Amish homestead, and the grounds have a schoolhouse and typical Amish tradespeople.

“Amish Farm sits next to a Target Store, and what makes this especially interesting is that once you enter the farmhouse doors, the outside world disappears with the sights and smells of a blacksmith, schoolhouse, covered bridge and more.”

Bird-in-Hand Stage is offering two Amish-themed productions in 2013.

“‘The Confession’ is a musical based on three famed nonfiction stories about an Amish girl, and ‘Half-Stitched’ is a lighter production about an Amish quilting club,” Cliff said.
Cliff suggests that visitors take part in the area’s Mud Sales, community auctions that provide a natural opportunity to mingle with Amish neighbors as they help run the sales.

“It’s a day full of food fun and great bargains — but bring your boots, as the name appropriately suggests,” he said.

Ohio Amish Country

Take a culinary tour, an artisan excursion, a shopping spree or a combination of all these in Holmes County and the surrounding area, home to one of the largest Amish populations in the world. Or have a women’s getaway, a multigenerational adventure or, simply, a rest and relaxation experience.

“We have customized tours that provide guides for an authentic Amish experience,” said Kurt Kleidon, public relations representative for the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. “Groups can visit a small schoolhouse and hear the kids sing, have a meal with an Amish family, tour a farm and visit shops that not only have quilts, baskets and food but furniture pieces that are featured in top fashion magazines. The Amish have moved with the times.”

Many visitors visit for the traditional Amish food, Kleidon added.

“We have the home-style roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and homemade pies, and fun things like the coveted dandelion gravy in May at Boyd and Wurthmann.” The area is also renowned for chocolate and cheese shops, farmers markets and even a sophisticated winery.
Named by USA Today as one of the “10 Great Places To Buy From Artisans,” this shop offers bank groups handmade quilts, baskets, pottery and treasures made of stone, metal and wood. Thirty furniture stores also give this area the title “Furniture Heartland.”

Nearby, the 80-acre Rolling Ridge Ranch features ringtail lemurs, alligators, wildebeests, kangaroos and nearly 70 other species. More musts on the itinerary are the up-close and personal experiences available at the Farm at Walnut Creek, Schrock’s Amish Farm and Yoder’s Amish Home.