There's a lot of relaxation and fun to be had in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, along with a look at a rural lifestyle and culture that hasn't changed much in more than a century and isn't likely to change anytime soon.
In late June and early July, you can enjoy a little bit of everything at the Kutztown Festival — from food that includes a Pennsylvania Dutch Ox Roast to an entertainment schedule that features a demonstration of timber framing, the skill needed to build a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch barn. You can shop on line if you want a souvenir before you go, but you might want to wait until you can attend the auction of handmade quilts, billed as the nation's largest.
Quilts aren't the only handmade mementos to collect at the festival — scan "Craft Links" to see some of the craftsmen and women you'll meet including jewelers, sculptors, potters and weavers. And take a look at "Recommended Events" for connections to other events and venues in the Berks County area, such as the Berks Jazz Fest next spring.
The festival Web site also offers "hex signs" for sale. They're not really hex signs, just decorations, according to the Lancaster County Information Center, and they stem from traditions brought by the original German immigrants to the area some three centuries ago. Go to the top of the page and click on "Amish" to get acquainted with the people whose culture you're coming to visit. Then try "Visitor Info" for an introduction to the people and towns of Pennsylvania Dutch country, traditional foods, and attractions such as the Amish schoolhouse and covered bridges.
While you're at the information center Web site, you should also check out the towns of Strasburg — home of the Amish Village and Strasburg Railroad, and of Bird-in-Hand, Intercourse and Paradise. "Local Info" has details on more villages and local businesses. Planning an overnight stay? Click on "Lodging" and look through the "Farm Bed & Breakfast" listings.
Don't think your kids will be that interested in farm life and Amish and Mennonite culture? Plan to spend time in Strasburg at the National Toy Train Museum — showing off model trains as old as the Stevens Alcohol Burning Locomotive, which the Web site says dates to about 1840.
Lancaster County presents itself as the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, with "Road Trips & Itineraries" that include one for visiting Amish sites, and another on Agritourism that includes suggestions for working farm vacations. They also list five driving tours just for visiting the county's historic covered bridges.
If you look under "Things To Do," you'll find links to all sorts of attractions with some connection to the Pennsylvania Dutch. Indulge your craving; that section also has links to Hersheypark — and Hershey's Chocolate World Visitors Center. And in these days of rising prices, you should check out "Special Offers" for coupons and discounts.
While you're in Lancaster, visit Wheatland, the estate of James Buchanan, the nation's 15th president.
Find another selection of interesting places to stay in the area by visiting the Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce and looking for "Romantic Bed & Breakfasts."
Pick up more ideas of places to see and things to do at the Dutch Country Roads page of Pennsylvania's official VisitPA — from amusement parks to trout fishing.