Soft afternoon sun warms the fields, lifting the scent of damp, furrowed earth and wild lilacs into passing cars. Here in Elkhart and La Grange counties (110 miles east of Chicago), land and customs are nearly inseparable. Even the spirit of quilts that warm beds all winter emerges from the ground in spring when blooms appear in 16 quilt gardens and 21 quilt-theme murals sprinkled throughout the area.
While some avid gardener-tourists vow to see all of the region’s planted patchwork, most travelers take a more meandering path, interspersing gardens with shops, art galleries, Amish heritage sites and restaurants. Many visitors make time for a walk or bike ride on the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, dubbed the Amish Highway by locals. The paved trail flanks tidy farms and threads through towns with quilt gardens. Families pick wild raspberries along the path's shady fringes. Men in suspenders lift their bearded chins in greeting as they pedal past visitors in Middlebury's Krider Gardens. The slow pace suits both visitors and locals—relaxation, after all, is what a weekend here is all about.
For more information: Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau (800) 262-8161; amishcountry.org
The Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart showcases 19th- and 20th-century American works, including 45 Norman Rockwell-signed lithographs and Overbeck sisters’ pottery (midwestmuseum.us).
Cafe-gift shop B on the River serves light lunches, such as turkey-cheddar panini, and salads with walnuts and feta cheese. (b-ontheriver.com).
Paths wind through woodlands, bonsai displays and sculpture-studded formal gardens at Wellfield Botanic Gardens (wellfieldgardens.org).
Wellfield Botanic Gardens
Mod Closet sells 1950–70s clothing inside The Black Crow on Main home store (modcloset.com).
Nine miles away, in tiny Bristol, wind down over a glass of regional grape or orchard-fruit wines at Fruit Hills Winery (fruithillswinery.com).
Back in Elkhart, a hamburger piled with bacon, mushrooms, cheddar cheese and fried onion strings stars at 523 Tap and Grill (523tapandgrill.com).
523 Tap and Grill
In all its former Vaudeville glory, the 1924 Lerner Theatre anchors downtown Elkhart’s restored arts-and-entertainment district and shows plays, concerts and movies (thelerner.com).
Spacious rooms, an indoor heated pool and a hot breakfast buffet await at Staybridge Suites Elkhart North. (staybridge.com/elkhartnorth).
Start the day with fresh cinnamon-caramel doughnuts at Rise ’N Roll in Middlebury (risenrollbakery.com).
In Goshen, the Old Bag Factory houses antiques shops, cafes and studios featuring metalwork, sculptures and furniture (oldbagfactory.com).
Old Bag Factory
Kelly Jae’s Cafe blends Asian flavors with the Spanish tapas concept; try the crab cakes with tomato-caper remoulade. (kellyjaescafe.com).
For dessert, treat yourself to hand-dipped chocolates from Olympia Candy Kitchen (olympiacandykitchen.com).
The Shipshewana Flea Market (every Tuesday and Wednesday, May through September) looks like a 100-acre tent city populated by 900 vendors selling toys, potted plants, tools and food (tradingplaceamerica.com).
Shipshewana’s Menno-Hof center teaches visitors about Amish and Mennonite life (mennohof.org).
Pumpkinvine Nature Trail
Das Dutchman Essenhaus delivers a carb-reload with beef and noodles over mashed potatoes, plus custard pie for dessert (essenhaus.com).
Guests at McKenzie House Bed and Breakfast enjoy a pool, gardens, a movie-rec room, gourmet breakfast and garden views (mckenziehousebnb.com).