In the green east-central Iowa River Valley along Interstate-80 (100 miles east of Des Moines), the seven Amana Colonies have clung to their roots with German steadfastness since 1855. Almost half the residents are descendants of the original German colonists; inns, restaurants and shops draw heavily on traditional foods and handicrafts.
Click ahead to learn about some of our favorite attractions in the Amana Colonies.
Start your Amana exploration with one of the tours offered through the Amana Heritage Society. The Heritage Package takes you through the Communal Kitchen Museum, Community Church Museum, Agriculture Museum, Homestead Store Museum and Amana Heritage Museum. Or check into five custom tours, with topics ranging from architecture to agriculture (319/622-3567; amanaheritage.org).
Local ham, bacon, sausage and cheese fill Amana Meat Shop and Smokehouse (800/373-6328; amanameatshop.com). Hahn's Hearth Oven Bakery(left) offers treats such as fresh bread and cinnamon rolls -- but be aware that this little Middle Amana gem has irregular hours and often sells out by 10 a.m. on summer days (319/622-3439; nps.gov/history/nr/travel/amana/).
The colonies' winemaking tradition continues at Ackerman (319/622-3379; ackermanwinery.com) and Ehrle Brothers, the Amanas' oldest winery (319/622-3241). Take a refined break from sweet colony wines at Fireside Winery (pictured at left; 319/662-4222; firesidewinery.com). Or buy a pitcher of beer and sit on the deck at Millstream, Iowa's oldest brewery (319/622-3672; millstreambrewing.com).
Classic quilts hang from the beams of this 1895 granary in the historic Amana Colonies. Heritage Designs Quilting and Needlework offers a variety of quilting, cross-stitch, punch needle, embroidery and tatting supplies. Fabrics include reproduction lines from the Civil War and the 1930s (319/622-3887; heritagedesignsquiltshop.com).
Put a personal spin on the "Handcrafted in the Amana Colonies" label at Amana Arts Guild workshops, including classes in basketry, watercolors, ceramics and silkscreen prints. Make a reservation for a weekend or weeklong class September-October (319/622-3678; amanaartsguild.com). Or take a class in an artist's studio, such as painter Michele Maring Miller's weekend classes. Reservations required (319/622-6330; maringmillergallery.com).
Photo Courtesy of The Old Creamery Theatre Company
Iowa's oldest professional theater has been performing in the Amana colonies since 1988. The Old Creamery Theatre Company performs a variety of comedies, dramas and musicals, such as I'm All Ears (pictured at left). Also look for the Christmas show and monthly cabaret (800/352-6262; oldcreamery.com)
Popular shopping options include the High Amana General Store(left), offering old-fashioned candy, handmade soaps and antique toys. (319) 622-3232; amanaheritage.org At Amana Woolen Mill, visitors can tour the facilities and watch the looms in action, as well as purchase products such as blankets. (800) 222-6430; amanawoolenmill.comLeham Books and Gifts sells Home Grown figurines, holiday items and more. (800) 840-2387; lehmbooksandgifts.com