Pennsylvania Dutch Country:
A Winter Wonderland
Copyright © 1998 Stacie Clark. All rights reserved.
This winter, after the frenzy of holiday shopping, after the family has gathered, all the gifts have been given, dinner's been served, and the house has been restored to normal, you might find yourself in need of a bit of relaxation; don't we all? How about giving yourself the gift of travel, to a time more peaceful, more relaxed, and a place beautiful in its simplicity and exciting in its diversity -- the Amish country of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania?
You're probably wondering, "Where exactly is Lancaster County?" Located in south central Pennsylvania, the village of Lancaster is approximately half an hour's drive from Hershey, Pennsylvania, the "sweetest place on earth" and home to Hershey Park. The state capital of Harrisburg can be reached in less than an hour from Hershey, and in less than one-and-a-half hours you could be in Philadelphia viewing the Liberty Bell. A free map and visitor's guide is available by calling 1-800-PA-Dutch or by visiting the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitor's Bureau.
Lancaster County is best known as home of the Pennsylvania Dutch, a gentle community of people who have rejected the materialism of modern society and instead have cherished and protected their traditional family values and ways of life. Nestled in beautiful rolling hills, you can still find Amish farmers planting their fields with mule-drawn plows, and see horse-drawn buggies on the roads.
Abe's Buggy Rides offers two-mile tours through the countryside in a traditional Amish family-style carriage. You'll be taken past old farmhouses and a one-room schoolhouse in some of the most beautiful farmlands (even more beautiful covered in snow) in the country. Abe's, located in Bird-In-Hand, is open year-round every day except Sunday, and riding conditions are comfortable even in winter. You may contact Abe's by email or by calling 717-392-1794.
Plain and Fancy Farm offers a variety of Amish attractions, including a tour of an Amish country homestead, winter sleigh rides (snow permitting), the F/X Theater (featuring "Jacob's Choice," a story portraying an Amish Family's struggle to maintain their lifestyle), and excellent Pennsylvania Dutch cooking in their restaurant. This is an excellent "all-in-one" place to experience the Amish lifestyle and culture, and you might learn something, too! For more information, email Plain and Fancy or give them a call at 717-768-8400.
For a tour of a different kind, try taking a ride on the Strasburg Rail Road. Located in the historical village of Strasburg, Pennsylvania, "Traintown USA," this authentic steam locomotive offers a "ride into history," exhibiting the simple pleasures of turn-of-the-century travel. The Strasburg Rail Road will be presenting Thomas the Tank Engine with Sir Topham Hat for children on April 30 and May 1 and 2, 1999, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. For more information, visit their Web site or email them.
If you are a train enthusiast or if you have small children, you won't want to miss the Choo Choo Barn, featuring 1700 square feet of Amish Country in miniature, complete with 18 operating toy trains. On their Web site, you'll also find information about the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and the Toy Train Museum.
When you've toured all you care to tour, and you've sampled the scrumptious menus at one of the many restaurants in the area, be sure to visit a gift shop or two to take home some souvenirs. You'll find a large listing of shops carrying everything from chocolate to cedar chests and even the traditional Hex signs. Bickels potato chips are the best I've ever tasted and the Kutztown ring-bologna isn't bad, either!
If you'd like a little theater with your dinner, be sure to visit the Dutch Apple Dinner Theater. They offer a relaxing buffet dinner and a show you watch from your table. The Dutch Apple has a friendly staff, an excellent menu and Broadway quality theater with a price you can't beat. Visit their Web site or give them a call at 717-898-1900.
During the warmer seasons, the Dutch Wonderland Amusement Park opens their gates to family fun with everything from roller coasters to a carousel and Hershey Park, just a short drive away, springs to life.
Lancaster County offers so much more than can be listed here, including beautiful golf courses, outlet shopping, farmer's markets, museums and of course, old covered bridges. If you'd like to hear more about Lancaster County's attractions you might consider purchasing "Wilkum," a video about the Pennsylvania Dutch country and tourist attractions. This video can be purchased via the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau, or by email.
If you are flying to Lancaster County, the closest airport is Lancaster Regional. USAir services this airport and tends to have lower fares. Visit the USAir site, or make your flight reservation at Airfare.com. This is a fairly new site, but it seems to have a very user-friendly interface and greatly discounted rates.
If you choose to drive to the Amish Country, you can find directions from any city in the United States by visiting MapQuest and searching city-to-city directions. Driving times and distances from major cities are also available via the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Lodging in Lancaster County ranges from corporate chains varying in price, to Hilton to Best Western. But if you want a real treat, consider a Bed and Breakfast Inn. There are several across the county, including Frogtown Acres Bed and Breakfast in Paradise, Pennsylvania. Built in 1816, this inn has four individually decorated rooms and is filled with antiques and Pennsylvania Dutch nostalgia. If bed and breakfast isn't your style, give the Historic Strasburg Inn a try. Sitting on over 58 acres, this hotel features 18th-century charm with 90s amenities, including a heated outdoor pool, jacuzzi and on-site pub. Visit their Web site for more information or to make reservations. (Another good resource for making hotel reservations is the Pennsylvania Directory of Lodging.)
When visiting Lancaster County during the winter, be sure to pack plenty of warm clothes. There tends to be snow on the ground any time from mid-December to mid-March and it has been known to snow in April. Roads are usually in good condition and free of ice, but exercise caution if you are unfamiliar with driving in snow. If you go, have a great trip, and be sure to let me know what you thought of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country!
Stacie Clark is a published freelance writer based in Northeast Tennessee. Trained in hotel management, Stacie was working for Radisson Corporation in California before leaving her career to be a stay-at-home mom. She has combined her knowledge of the travel industry with her desire to write, resulting in a bi-weekly travel column for the Loafer in Johnson City, Tennessee and other freelance work.