Uncover Amish Country
Tips, Tricks & Highlights for Your CLE Amish Country ExcursionBy: Lexi Hotchkiss, www.LexiHotchkiss.com
Ever wondered what life would be like without your fancy electronic devices and high-tech smartphones? [It’s called nomophobia and we know you’ve got a bad case of it.] Kind of curious how life works when you don’t watch TV, drive a car or even have electricity?
Too afraid to find out?
That’s the beauty in visiting Amish Country. It’s part adventure and part education. But, mostly, it’s a really fascinating opportunity to explore the beauty, simplicity and downright specialness of a unique culture right here in Northeast Ohio.
The Cleveland area is home to one of the largest Amish settlements in the world–specifically within the picturesque, bucolic destinations of Geauga and Tuscarawas Counties.
And, if you’ve got a weekend to spare, these areas offer gorgeous road trip opportunities through everyday Amish life.
Here are some tips, tricks and highlights to get your Amish Country excursion started.
Take the Back Roads
“Never be afraid to go off the beaten path. Some of the best Amish shops you’ll find are off the back roads,” says Lynda Nemeth, executive director of the Geauga County Tourism Council.
When visiting the area, you might first start by visiting the destination’s visitors center. It’s there that you’ll be pointed in the right direction.
“When visitors come to Tuscarawas County, we always direct them onto route 39 and tell them to head west. After that, just follow signs and see what’s fun,” says Tiffany Gerber, Tourism Manager at thethe Tuscarawas County Convention & Visitors Bureau,
In Geauga County, visitors are encouraged to not only stop by the visitors center, but explore the drive-it-yourself Amish Country tours on their website, as well.
“I always tell folks, ‘Bring an empty cooler and ice packs!’ Everywhere you go in Amish Country there’s wonderful treats to take home,’ Nemeth laughs.
Your first food stop should be, according to Nemeth, an Amish bakery. The specialty? A fresh-baked fry pie, which is a hand-held deep-fried fruit pie.
[We’ll pause for a sec so you can wipe the drool off your chin.]
During early spring in Geauga County, you also can’t seem to turn a corner without running smack dab into a sugar house where they’re cooking real maple syrup.
“There’s nothing – nothing - like fresh maple syrup as it come right off the evaporator,” says Nemeth.
Visitors who travel in groups can also get the opportunity to dine in the home of a genuine Amish family in both Tuscarawas and Geauga Counties.
Here, you’ll feast on a traditional, multi-course Amish supper topped off with famous homemade pie. [TIP: Be sure to connect with the destination organizations prior to arriving, as they can connect you with those operators who arrange these ultra-unique opportunities.]
“We have a growing wine, cheese and chocolate experience in the region. In Tuscarawas County’s Amish Country alone, we’ve got five wineries, several cheese houses and numerous locations selling handmade chocolate.”
Geauga County also plays host to two popular cheese houses in Middlefield, as well as the Middlefield Market where, on Mondays, they hold a massively popular “line auction.”
When’s the best time of year to visit Amish Country?
“Every season has its perks,” says Nemeth.
In late winter/early spring, Geauga County becomes a hotspot for fresh-off-the-tree maple syrup at the various steamhouses throughout Amish Country.
Spring brings gorgeous sprouting flowers, baby animals on the farms and immaculately kept yards at the homes of the Amish.
According to Nemeth, summertime is all about the fairs and festivals in Amish Country, which happen almost every weekend.
The fall brings the return of apple butter to the region and, of course, offers prime leaf-peeping opportunities.
“Visit September through October for the best fall colors,” says Gerber. “And, don’t miss the Amish selling big, beautiful mums and pumpkins at stands.”
And, during the holidays it’s all about the holiday shopping opportunities – particularly at places like Sugarcreek, Ohio – known as “Little Switzerland” where the Amish do much of their business.
Stay the Weekend
“One misconception that some visitors have is that everything shuts down on Sundays. That’s just not the case,” says Gerber.
While the Amish themselves may not be present on Sundays, both Geauga and Tuscarawas Counties offer a full destination experience.
“The beauty of this area is that visitors can customize their itinerary based on their specific interests,” says Gerber.
So, if you’re in the mood for theater, they’ve got that at the Carlisle Inn featuring Amish-inspired musicals. If you’re seeking a little offbeat culture, they’ve got that at Sugarcreek’s world’s largest cuckoo clock. [And, get this, Tuscarawas County is home to several museums including a funeral museum and gas pump museum – right on the cusp of Amish Country.]
In Geauga County, visitors can head to Punderson State Park for boating, fishing, hiking and even to play a championship-rated 18-hole golf course. There’s also Patterson Farms, home to a farm market open year round and providing crisp and tasty apple varieties, fresh bakery and locally-grown seasonal produce.
In Tuscarawas County’s Amish Country, Gerber says, “Hand-made furniture is a must!”
But, if you come to town with just your plastic, let us remind you of that whole “no electricity” concept the Amish have going on. That being said, make sure to have plenty of cash on hand. You’re going to need it.
“There are so many niche places to buy one-of-a-kind, homemade and unique gifts like beautiful hand-quilted items, Amish-made bread boards and handmade soaps inside gorgeous gift baskets,” adds Nemeth.
Thankfully, you won’t find anything like this at big box department stores.
Respect the Culture
Remember that when you visit Amish Country, you’re taking time to enjoy someone else’s neighborhood.
Please remember that the Amish have deeply held religious and cultural beliefs that aren’t something that most people encounter everyday.
Then, learn the dos and don’ts associated with Amish Country etiquette here. It’ll help you to have a more enjoyable experience, while gaining a true understanding of this unique way of life.
Connect with the Experts
Because the Amish don’t use computers and often have limited accessibility to landline phones, trying to get in touch with each and every stop on your tour is impossible.
But connecting with the destination experts is a cinch.
In Geauga County, use the tourism council’s award-winning app, which offers interactive maps of the area that show you highlighted attractions, deals and discounts that are in your immediate proximity.
Contact the Tuscarawas County Visitors Center for, among many other things, connecting with step-on guides who’ll literally join you in your car for a personalized tour of Amish Country.
Gerber also encourages visitors to start all planning by booking accommodations before doing anything else. And, her office can help.
Here are the details…
Geauga County Tourism Council
14907 North State Road
Middlefield, OH 44062
Tuscarawas County Convention & Visitors Bureau
124 East High Ave.
New Philadelphia, OH 44663