A rural escape to Indiana’s Amish Country is just the ticket in these crazy times
At a time in our history when cooped-up people are yearning for open spaces, fresh air and a chance to get away from the urban frenzy, the pastoral landscapes and small towns of Northern Indiana Amish Country beckon curious travelers seeking simple pleasures. We feel safe traveling down scenic backroads where clip-clopping horse buggies are more prevalent than cars, where folks tend farms the way they have for generations. It’s all about life in the past lane.
Highlights of an Amish Country tour are meeting the Amish and Mennonites in their homes, businesses or schools. A popular group option features a hearty, home-cooked meal followed by a question-and-answer session in which tour members can ask about the Amish lifestyle, a way of life that eschews electricity, owning cars and doing without other modern conveniences. Perhaps your travelers will visit a one-room Amish schoolhouse and meet the teacher.
The Amish and Mennonites are known for expert craftsmanship. Workshop visits showcase their skills—from buggy making and basket making to wood carving and leatherwork. Groups also can book demonstrations of quilt making, rug weaving, and pie or cinnamon roll making.
Das Dutchman Essenhaus, a dining/lodging/shopping campus in Middlebury, is a magnet for Amish Country travelers. Groups feast on bountiful buffets at the Amish-style restaurant, which seats 1,100 and is the largest restaurant in Indiana. Its tempting bakery turns out scrumptious rolls, breads, cakes and cookies, not to mention more than 30 kinds of pie.
On the park-like Essenhaus campus, tour members can take horse carriage rides, play miniature golf or peruse the Village Shops, which purvey everything from quilts and home decor to jewelry and ladies apparel. For evening entertainment, groups can attend a faith-based musical, comedy or drama in the 160-seat Heritage Hall theater. The 89-room Essenhaus Inn & Conference Center provides overnight accommodations that include amenities like complimentary hot breakfast and an indoor heated pool.
The Barns at Nappanee, Home of Amish Acres, is another hub for tour groups. It offers buggy and wagon rides around the historic farm, musical productions in the 1911 Round Barn Theatre and an Amish-style Thresher’s Dinner in the 1876 restaurant barn.
On a Tuesday or Wednesday from May to September, groups may want to devote some time to the open-air Shipshewana Flea Market, the Midwest’s largest flea market. In nearly 700 booths on 40 acres, vendors sell crafts, antiques, books, toys, yard decor, garden supplies, silk flowers, you name it. Nearby, Menno-Hof Amish Mennonite Interpretive Center has exhibits on the religious history of the Amish, Mennonite and Huterite people that left Europe for North America.
Indiana’s Amish Country abounds with agritourism experiences, just the thing itinerary planners are looking for these days. On a haywagon ride at Cook’s Bison Ranch in Wolcottville, visitors can hand-feed the shaggy beasts while learning how they’re raised. Groups can arrange a chuckwagon meal featuring roast bison. Dutch Creek Farm Animal Park in Shipshewana offers horse-drawn wagon tours that give safari-goers a bucket of feed for the friendly animals, a menagerie populated by deer, llamas, zebras, camels, kangaroos, ostriches and other exotic critters.
Groups may opt to visit a modern dairy farm that processes cheese and yogurt at its on-site creamery. Or how about getting acquainted with the humped inhabitants at a camel dairy farm that makes lotions and soaps from camel milk? One Amish farm gives a presentation on Clydesdale breeding.
Also on the agritourism circuit is Fruit Hills Winery & Orchard in Bristol, which offers tastings of its grape and fruit wines. In a nearby Elkhart County park lies Bonneyville Mill, a much-photographed historic landmark where the miller shows how huge millstones grind grain into flour and cornmeal.
Groups touring Amish Country from late May to mid-September will marvel at the county’s signature event—Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail. The color-splashed display of quilt-inspired flower gardens and giant, quilt-themed murals dazzles visitors in diverse locations along a 90-mile loop connecting Bristol, Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury, Nappanee and Wakarusa.