April 2010 Issue
Tour Amish Country to shop, dine and unwind.
In an ironic twist of the economic downturn, the Amish have become, well, trendy. Although shopping, dining and touring Amish Country has always been popular, people are flocking to counties with large Amish populations for new reasons: lessons in simplicity.
In the past, visitors traveled to Holmes, Geauga or Adams counties for fresh cheese, great furniture and maybe a hearty meal, enjoying simple pleasures for a day or weekend before returning to the modern comforts of home. Now, however, as people have been forced to scale back on everything from fancy vacations to dining out, the “English” (as the Amish call outsiders) are looking to the Amish way of life for lessons in living more simply.
“They’re all kind of wondering how the Amish make it,” says Sharon Grover who operates Ridgeview Country Tours in Middlefield (440/693-4000, ohioamishtours.com), excursions that cover Geauga, Trumbull, Mahoning and Ashtabula counties. “[Amish families] have seven kids and one income and [visitors] are like, ‘We have people in the U.S. with two incomes and two kids that can’t make it.’”
Lessons for the ‘English’
To help answer some of these questions, Grover hopes to incorporate Amish cooking and canning into her tours, but for now, she offers trips that are both educational and fun, all while giving glimpses into the resourceful lives of the Amish.
Aside from her popular group bus tours, Grover offers excursions through Ridgeview Farm (ridgeviewfarm.com) designed to teach English children about the Amish.
“A lot of times, they have Amish as neighbors but don’t know them and have a lot of misconceptions,” says Grover.
She puts those stereotypes to rest by taking groups of 20 or more children around the property to teach them Amish farming practices, all while discussing the importance of family life in Amish communities. She also discusses similarities between the lifestyles — like the fact that children in all communities do chores — so that kids understand that they are not so different from each other.
For those interested in a more comprehensive experience, Grover offers various bus trips for at least 20 people.
One such tour, Goods and Goodies, offers visitors the opportunity to experience a different way of life through up-close-and-personal trips to various Amish businesses and homes, complete with “goodies” given at each destination. Tours begin at Middlefield Swiss Cheese House, which includes samples, a visit to the museum within the facility and a game to win free Swiss cheese. Visitors receive a bag of cheese at the end of the tour. From there, the tour continues to Ridgeview Farm, where visitors receive a seasonal gift, an Amish bakery for bread, a craft and quilt shop with a free handmade item and Fig Tree Bulk Food Store, which includes a jar of jam. Midday, the tour stops at an Amish home for an authentic Amish wedding dinner, where favorites like baked chicken, seven-layer salad and fresh-baked pies and bread are served.
Grover is also willing to customize day or overnight tours for groups. And if your group has fewer than 20 people, smaller tours can be arranged for an additional fee. Or visit ohioamishtours.com to download a drive-it-yourself map, the perfect way to spend a leisurely day in Amish Country.
In northwest Ohio, Hardin County offers opportunities to tour its Old Order Amish settlements. Unlike the communities in other parts of Ohio, Hardin County’s Amish don’t advertise their wares or allow large bus tours; however, a downloadable driving map is available at hardinohio.org.
With the help of the map, visitors can find off-the-beaten-path farms and family businesses selling honey, maple syrup, baked goods, handmade toys and furniture, and seasonal fruit and vegetables, all sold at homes that advertise with nothing more than a sign at the end of a winding country driveway.
Small, guided group tours are available and can be reserved by contacting Jannette Jacobs, vice president of chamber and tourism at the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance (419/673-4131). The one-day tours include morning stops at Mary’s Bakery, visits with a custom-cabinet maker and a basket and rug weaver, followed by a scenic drive along River Road and Old Sandusky Trail. Tours stop for lunch at the Plaza Inn restaurant, known for broasted chicken and homemade pie.
In the afternoon, the tour continues with a stop in Mount Victory for antiques shopping, plus trips to the Hardin County Historic Village & Farm and the Hardin County Sullivan-Johnson Museum.
Town and Country
The Holmes/Wayne/Tuscarawas county region offers a variety of tours of the communities that comprise the largest Amish population in the world. If you’re looking for a more unusual experience, try a tour of Amish farms on horseback. Eric Guggisberg, at the Guggisberg Swiss Inn in Millersburg (330/893-3600, guggisbergswissinn.com), will take groups of five or fewer on a peaceful, 45-minute ride through the woods on the horse of your choice.
“There are gorgeous views wherever we go,” says Guggisberg.
Inexperienced riders need not pass up this opportunity — Guggisberg teaches beginners everything they need to know about riding a horse. Experienced riders can arrange a tour separately. Either way, riders will enjoy the scenery and the occasional chat with an Amish farmer plowing his fields.
“It’s a nice ride,” says Guggisberg. “Very peaceful.”
The rides run from about 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and you don’t have to be a guest at the inn to participate; however, reservations are strongly recommended on most days and are required Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
You can experience farm life in Holmes County with La Vonne De Bois, owner and tour guide at Amish Heartland Tours (330/893-3248, amishtoursofohio.com), during her new Fun on the Farm tour. The excursions, offered Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from April 20 through Oct. 23, include a three-hour visit to The Farm at Walnut Creek in Sugarcreek (330/893-4200, thefarmatwalnutcreek.com). Visitors take a horse-drawn wagon ride and get to feed animals, from goats and sheep to llamas and giraffes, followed by tours of prototype Amish homes and a trip to the small bakery on site. After the farm visit, there is a back-roads tour that includes a trip to an Amish artisan and a meal in an Amish home if visitors wish to add it to their package.
Another new tour offered by De Bois, Grape Escapes, offers adults a way to spend the day sampling cheese and wine while visiting Amish Country. The tour includes a lunch of gourmet grilled cheese and soup at Heini’s Gourmet Market and dinner at an Amish home, where visitors can uncork wine purchased along the way.
Each winery stop includes up to five free samples at Broad Run Cheesehouse and Swiss Heritage Winery, Breitenbach Wine Cellars and Silver Moon Winery. Shopping opportunities include stops at the Holmes County Flea Market, along with Guggisberg Swiss Cheese and Heini’s Cheese Chalet.
Along with the new experiences, De Bois still offers her standby trips, including the popular 12-hour Progressive Meal tour, which offers three meals in three different Amish homes, along with stops at various businesses and a tour of the historic mural, Behalt, at the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center. Throughout the tour, visitors enjoy scenic views and cultural talks from the tour guide, along with unplanned stops that allow travelers to experience Amish culture first-hand.
The meals include a variety of home-cooked favorites, like sausage gravy and biscuits, homemade cinnamon rolls, fresh mashed potatoes and, of course, pies.
Swiss Valley Tours, located in Sugarcreek (330/852-3898, ohiotimelessadventures.com/grouptour/swissvalley.pdf), also offers a sampling tour that includes an Amish meal. The Taste of Home tour takes visitors to Amish homes and businesses where they receive gifts at each location.
“It’s by far the most popular tour,” says Mary Beachy, owner and tour guide at Swiss Valley Tours. At every stop, visitors get various Amish-made goods and crafts, including hand-carved pliers from The Warther Museum, cheese from Broad Run Cheesehouse and Swiss Heritage Winery, a loaf of homemade bread from Elsie Yoder, a box of chocolates from Coblentz Chocolates and a bag of homemade noodles after dinner in an Amish home.
The How Do They Do That tour covers some of the same places, but involves taking visitors behind the scenes to see how things are made, such as candles at Lamp & Light Candles, cheese at Broad Run, knives at The Warther Museum and chocolate at Coblentz.
Not only do these tours offer visitors a chance to shop and explore Amish Country, but they also give insight into the day-to-day details about how the Amish live resourcefully.
“The Amish are automatically green,” says Sharon Grover of Ridgeview Country Tours. “They show that the materialistic stuff is not really important.”
Times, dates and prices may vary. It is advisable to call before traveling.
Experience Adams County
See southwest Ohio’s Amish settlements.
Although steeped in Amish culture, Adams County in the southwestern portion of the state only recently began offering bus tours. To date, two tours have been scheduled, one last spring and one set for April 17. Space is limited and seats filled quickly last year, so organizer Lynne Newman advises booking early. If you miss out on April’s tour, check back for new bookings.
“We may do it again this year,” she says. “We didn’t intend on it being just once a year.”
Depending on the tour, highlights include a quilt show, a trip to Moyer’s Winery, a stop at the birthplace of country music singer Lloyd Estel Copas (known as Cowboy Copas), a trip to Miller’s Furniture, Bakery & Bulk Foods and a meal in an Amish home. A local historian rides along to give further details about the locations.
For more information, contact Lynne Newman at 937/587-3358.