Afternoon sun warms the fields, lifting the scent of damp furrowed earth and wild lilacs into passing cars, along with the clip-clop announcement of approaching Amish buggies.
Here in Indiana’s Elkhart and La Grange counties (110 miles east of Chicago), land and local custom are nearly inseparable. Even the spirit of quilts that warm beds all winter emerges from the ground in spring when blooms appear in 20 quilt gardens graced with names like Dutchman’s Puzzle and Wagon Wheel.
During the Elkhart County Quilt Garden Tour (May 30–October 1, 2015), teams in Shipshewana, Middlebury, Elkhart, Nappanee, Goshen and other towns tend more than 115,000 annuals that replicate quilts, some the size of a suburban home. (Admission to all is free.) Twenty-one quilt-pattern murals also decorate the route.
While some avid gardener-tourists vow to see all of the region’s planted patchwork, most travelers take a more meandering path, stretching a day trip into a weekend of visiting family-owned shops, art galleries, Amish heritage sites and restaurants.
For more information: Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau (800) 262-8161; amishcountry.org
Pick up a free Heritage Trail audio CD at sites along the trail or at the Elkhart County Visitor Center. The quilt gardens are open May 30 through October 1, 2014.
Start at Elkhart’s The Daily Grind for coffee, pastries and quiche (elkhartdailygrind.webs.com).
The Midwest Museum of American Art showcases 19th- and 20th-century American works, including 45 Norman Rockwell-signed lithographs and Overbeck sisters’ pottery (midwestmuseum.us).
Take guided tours of the well-preserved 1848 Havilah Beardsley House and ornate 1910 Ruthmere Mansion (ruthmere.org).
The turkey-cheddar panini or a salad with pecans and blue cheese are appealing options at the combo cafe-gift shop B on the River (b-ontheriver.com).
Paths wind through woodlands, bonsai displays and sculpture-studded formal gardens at Wellfield Botanic Gardens (wellfieldgardens.org).
Mod Closet sells 1950–70s clothing and bangles (modcloset.com).
In nearby tiny Bristol, wind down over a glass of regional grape or orchard-fruit wines at Fruit Hills Winery (fruithillswinery.com). Or stay in Elkhart to sip cocktails amid contemporary art and dine on a veal chop seasoned with a 10-pepper blend and smothered in wine, mushrooms and sweet cherry peppers at 523 Tap and Grill (523tapandgrill.com).
In all its former Vaudeville glory, the 1924 Lerner Theatre anchors downtown Elkhart’s recently restored arts and entertainment district and hosts headliner acts and theatrical performances (thelerner.com).
Spacious rooms and a hot breakfast buffet make for comfy stays at Staybridge Suites; from $109 (staybridge.com/elkhartnorth).
In Middlebury, stop for cinnamon rolls, doughnuts and free coffee at Rise ’N Roll Bakery and Deli (risenrollbakery.com).
Das Dutchman Essenhaus functions as an Amish resort, restaurant and shopping complex (essenhaus.com).
Free Krider Gardens replicates a design locals created for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair (middleburyin.org).
Tomato basil soup and grilled cheese make a tasty lunch in The Legendary Grind at the Middlebury Mercantile (574) 538-7242.
Rulli’s Italian Restaurant deserves its “like mamma’s” reputation for baked ricotta-stuffed shells and pizza (rullispizza.com).
McKenzie House Bed and Breakfast guests enjoy a pool, gardens, a movie-rec room, multicourse gourmet breakfast and luxe, ultraprivate quarters. From $99 (mckenziehousebnb.com).
The Shipshewana Auction and Flea Market fills 100 acres with 900 vendors (several sell breakfast and lunch) every Tuesday and Wednesday, May through October (tradingplaceamerica.com) across from Menno-Hof Information Center and Amish-Mennonite Museum (mennohof.org).
In downtown Goshen, Olympia Candy Kitchen serves burgers-and-fries lunches, chocolates and ice cream (olympiacandykitchen.com).
The 1896 Old Bag Factory houses antiques shops, cafes and studio-galleries of jewelers, ceramists, quilters and sculptors (oldbagfactory.com).
Housed in Nappanee’s former Hoosier cabinet factory, Coppes Commons is a one-stop shop for everything Amish-made (coppescommons.com).
Family quilts and an 1897 home reveal town history at Nappanee Center (nappaneechamber.com).
Amish Acres Historic Farm and Heritage Resort introduces visitors to Amish life through family-style dinners, tours and documentaries (amishacres.com).
A Queen Anne-style home, The Homespun Country Inn offers five guest rooms and a gourmet breakfast; from $93 (homespuninn.com).