Driving the country roads that zigzag Indiana’s Amish communities, you’ll likely pass several horse-drawn buggies – a visible reminder that life is different here. Unlike other vacations spots that might make you feel like you need to hurry from one site to another, in Amish country, you can’t help but slow down and take in the scenery.
So, if you’re looking for a lovely, languid weekend getaway, Indiana Amish country is only a three-hour drive from Detroit!
A little Amish history
Amish communities in the United States were first settled in Lancaster County, Penn., in the 1730s. Today, large settlements exist in Ohio and Indiana. The name “Amish” comes from the religious leader Jakob Ammann, who believed in a strict adherence to religious guidelines derived from the Bible. Ammann’s group valued commitments to family and community and sought to be humble in both behavior and appearance.
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They believed their group should separate from the outside world. That’s why you won’t find electricity in most Amish homes, though rules on technology and dress vary among congregations. The Amish are a kind and welcoming people, but you shouldn’t photograph – or ask to photograph – them; it is against their religious beliefs.
Getting to know the area
Start your visit by getting a sense of the countryside. Stretching out like wagon wheel spokes north from the city of Goshen, other Amish hometowns – including Elkhart, LaGrange, Middlebury, Nappanee, Shipshewana, Topeka and Wakarusa – are within short drives of each other.
One way to get to know the area, and its rich history, is to download the free Heritage Trail Audio Driving Tour. The winding tour includes stories and insights into the Amish way of life and will also take you along some back roads that you might miss otherwise.
Buggy rides and more
A horse-drawn buggy might look like an uncomfortable mode of travel, until you try it out yourself. The gentle pace and surprisingly cushy seats invite visitors to sit back and relax. Buggy Lane Tours in Shipshewana offers a variety of options, from short seven-minute rides that cost $4 per person to a full four-hour jaunt that includes a tour of a working farm – where your kids can milk cows and feed calves, and sit down to a meal with an Amish family at $38 per person. And Amish Acres Historic Farm & Heritage Resort in Nappanee includes guided tours, demonstrations, buggy rides, shops, inns and food within its property.
Tasty spots not to miss
Beyond buggy rides, another popular activity in Amish country is sampling food. Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury offers family-style dinners and an all-you-can-eat buffet. Don’t forget to grab a slice of pie – or maybe buy a couple to take home with you (lodging and shops are available here, too).
Locals will also point you to three favorite spots in Shipshewana for unique eats: Rise ‘n Roll Bakery and Deli makes one-of-a-kind caramel cinnamon doughnuts that are light and airy. There are sample boxes throughout the store, so you can try the chocolate cookies, caramel rolls, spreads and just about everything else!
Around lunchtime, you’ll find a line out the door at JoJo’s Pretzels, located in a shopping area in downtown. You can even watch the pretzels made before you buy. Yoder’s Meat & Cheese Company stocks naturally fed beef, pork and chicken. My kids loved trying out all the samples they offer – from a slew of cheeses to beef jerky and different sugar (for a real kick, let your kids try the habanero sugar!).
When to go
Fall is a great time to visit, since there are three festivals to celebrate the season. The Nappanee Apple Festival in September includes a parade along with entertainment, kids’ games and everything you can think of centered around the fruit. You can even find the world’s largest 7-foot, 600-pound apple pie. Or try an old-fashioned country fair in Bonneyville and Middlebury for the Fall Festival, both of which happen that same month.
Where to stay
There are several resort-type properties, like Das Dutchman Essenhaus and Amish Acres, that have everything you need – lodging, dining, shops and recreation. You can also find plenty of chain hotels like Holiday Inn Express, Best Western Inn & Suites, Econo Lodge and others nearby. Get the full list, including special offers, at AmishCountry.org.
This article originally appeared in a September 2011 issue of Metro Parent.