Pennsylvania Dutch Country

Overview

Introduction

In the southeastern part of Pennsylvania 65 mi/105 km west of Philadelphia (centered on the city of Lancaster), this pretty, rural area of rolling hills is home to members of three religious communities: the Amish, the Moravians and the Mennonites, all of whom practice a lifestyle of prayerful devotion through unadorned living. (Although the term "Pennsylvania Dutch" is often used to describe them, their forebears were not Dutch but German and Swiss. The term "Amish Country" is also used to describe the area.)

The very religious and conservative Amish forgo modern conveniences (including electricity and automobiles) in favor of a simple, formal way of living that makes use of hand tools, horses and modest black clothing. The Moravians and Mennonites practice less austere regimens, but they, too, are distinguished by a lack of ostentation.

Though all three of these groups have distanced themselves from modern society, they have not rejected the income that can be derived from those who are interested in their lifestyle. The Lancaster area has many attractions, including more than 25 museums. Bring yourself up to speed on the history and culture of the Amish at the Mennonite Information Center in Lancaster, where personal tours of Amish country are available.

Also check out the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, where visitors can take a ride on the country's oldest operating short-line railroad. Other stops include Wheatland, the estate of former U.S. President James Buchanan; the People's Place Quilt Museum in Intercourse; the Amish Farm and House (lecture tour of a working farm with a residence built in 1805); the Hans Herr House (oldest Mennonite meetinghouse in the U.S.); and the Ephrata Cloister in Ephrata, which features 10 unusual buildings dating back to the 1700s. Take the Amish Country tours for a delightful look at many of the region's farms.

Or if you prefer to shop, head 15 mi/24 km northeast of Ephrata to West Chester, home of the TV shopping network QVC. There you can take a tour that includes a glimpse of the live show and, of course, shop in the Studio Store.

There are many restaurants and shops specializing in the food and handicrafts of the groups. (The Amish are known for their beautiful quilts.) You are also likely to see the Pennsylvania Dutch selling items at roadside stands or from their homes.

Most visitors to the area stay in small local hotels and charming bed-and-breakfasts (you can choose from more than 150 in the area).

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