The Amish have become a part of reality television thanks to popular series such as “Breaking Amish” and “The Amish Mafia.” Before that, most Americans got their first glimpse into Amish culture by seeing the well-received 1985 Harrison Ford movie, “Witness.”
It is understandable why those of us who routinely use modern appliances and have come to rely on the latest technology for practically every aspect of our lives would be fascinated by a segment of society that has tried their best to keep their lives as unchanged as possible since the 18th century. Lancaster County, Pa., has the largest population of Amish and Mennonite families in North America.
The area is famous, of course, for automobiles having to share the road with horse-and-buggies. If you’re someone who has a need for speed, then Lancaster is not the place for you. Of course that is exactly why this part of southeastern Pennsylvania, a three-to four-hour drive away, is a great place to get away from the hustle, bustle and congestion of Queens. And yes, there are plenty of Amish tourist companies that will let you enjoy a very leisurely five-mile horse-and- buggy ride.
Lancaster will frustrate the impatient and it will also challenge those who are trying to watch their weight. Family-style restaurants such as Bird-in-Hand, Good ’N Plenty, Plain & Fancy and Miller’s Smorgasbord offer generous portions of locally produced harvest and meats at every reasonable prices.
Even if you’re watching your calories, you should treat yourself to a slice of either coconut cream, or the local favorite, shoofly pie at the Kling House Restaurant in the Kitchen Kettle Village located in Intercourse, Pa. Anyone who complains that we don’t make anything in this country anymore should visit this retail haven, which boasts over 40 shops selling quilts, candles, leather goods, jewelry and pottery that are made within five miles of the shopping center. You can also buy homemade Lancaster County jams, mustards, syrups, fudge, cakes, pretzels, kettle corn and ice cream at Kitchen Kettle.
Nearby Reading, Pa. was the home to the first factory outlet store mall in the United States, so it’s no surprise that Lancaster would be home to two of the largest outlet malls in the Northeast: Rockvale and Tanger. There are also a number of freestanding outlet stores, including Sony and Nike.
If you are a bit down because the holiday season is now behind us, then you will be glad to know that there is a museum where the holiday spirit reigns throughout the year. The National Christmas Center in Paradise, Pa. is home to countless ornaments, wreaths, trees, and Nativity scenes, as well as several exhibits on the history of Christmas and how it’s celebrated all over the globe.
On display here is the original letter that Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to the editorial board of the New York Sun in 1897 asking if Santa Claus existed. The first line of their reply to Virginia, which ran as an editorial, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” has become nearly as famous as Christmas itself through its message of the power of belief.
Railroads were crucial in the development of many Pennsylvania towns in the 19th century and they were vital to Lancaster County. The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania gives visitors a chance to step back in time and wander through parlor cars and admire the mighty locomotives.
The Strasburg Railroad gives passengers a chance to experience an old time train ride around the Lancaster County countryside. You can indulge in wine and cheese or have a full dinner on board. You also have the option of simply enjoying the ride.
The American Music Theater offers Broadway-style entertainment from spring through fall, a Radio City Music Hall-type show during the holiday season, and hosts concerts throughout the year by such diverse musical acts as the Beach Boys, Olivia Newton-John, Bobby Vinton and Roy Clark.
When the weather warms up, Dutch Wonderland is a popular amusement park that attracts equal amounts of locals and tourists.
There is no shortage of reasonably priced lodging in Lancaster. The Best Western Eden Resort has heated indoor and outdoor swimming pools and its suites are perfect for families. If you like hitting the links, the Lancaster Host Golf Resort is for you.
Before you leave Lancaster County, here are a few more suggestions for your visit:
Sugarplums & Tea, located at 403 Bank Barn Lane. What’s not to love about teas and treats?
Indulge your senses and delight your palate in the relaxing atmosphere in Chef Paul’s charming, one-of-a-kind bakery and tearoom. Treat your sweet tooth to one of the many tasty pastry items and desserts and then complement your savory delight with a fresh cup of coffee or tea or a specialty drink.
But before you head back out, be sure to check out the 120 varieties of loose teas with blends from all over the world.
Whenever the ground turns white with a blanket of snow, the folks at Aaron & Jessica’s Buggy Rides switch from buggies to sleighs for a peaceful ride through snow-covered Amish farmlands.
Try outdoor skating at the Ice Park at Clipper Magazine Stadium; usually four-to-five days a week from around Christmas until mid-February.
Savor the culinary and artistic delights of the annual Fire and Ice Festival in Lititz — mid-February.
Enjoy the giant inflatables, carnival games, movies, and more at the annual Indoor Winter Family Fun Fest at the DoubleTree Resort, Lancaster — usually the three or four days following President’s Day.
Join naturalists with the Lancaster County Parks Department for maple sugaring demonstrations in the sugar bush of Central Park. See trees being tapped, sap boiled to syrup, with some made into candy — weekends during the last half of February and early March.
Witness the breathtaking snow geese migration at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area, where you can see upwards of 80,000 waterfowl at one time; usually the last half of February through early March.
Find great buys, get some PA Dutch eats and talk with local Amish farmers and craftsmen as the unique Lancaster County tradition of “mud sales” season kicks off in late February (through early April). These community auctions benefit local fire companies and provide some of the most authentic interaction available with the Amish neighbors.
Also, thrill to great balloon rides daily from the U.S. Hot Air Balloon Team, based in Bird-in-Hand. During the wintertime, the flights are weather-dependent, but the views that time of year are equally spectacular, if different, from the summertime.
For more information, call the Lancaster Visitors Bureau at (800) PA-DUTCH or log onto padutchcountry.com.