The road to Charm—population 65– takes me deep into the heart of Holmes County, Ohio, the second largest Amish region in the United States. It’s all buggies and horses, mares and their foals nuzzling in fields and girls in bonnets and boys in black hats riding in carts pulled by ponies as I make my way south along the winding narrow road. My destination is Amish Country Riding Stables, where the horses are already saddled and ready for our hour long trail ride through the woods and fields of Doughty Valley, an expansive stretch of land surrounded by tree-covered hills.
The stables are located at Guggisberg Swiss Inn & Winery and afterwards, of course, sampling their award winning wines is a must. I’m admiring the scene—a large gazebo overlooking a pond when I feel a gentle nudge. I turn and am eye-to-eye with one of the horses from our ride. Allowed to free range throughout the grounds, the equines like to join the party, softly prodding an arm or a shoulder in order to get the attention—and the petting—they think they deserve.
This is one of the delights of Holmes County, a patchwork of villages, small towns and side roads that lead to new discoveries.
If you were ever wondering what the world’s largest cuckoo clock looks like, travel no further than Sugarcreek, a small village with Alpine facades and a 23-feet tall and 24-feet wide clock in the center of it all. On the half hour, a cuckoo pops out followed by a polka band and twirling dancers. To get the full Swiss experience, consider attending the Ohio Swiss Festival, held the fourth weekend after Labor Day each year. It’s a chance to indulge in all things Swiss including steinstossen (competitive rock throwing) and a yodeling contest. No wonder Sugarcreek is known as the Little Switzerland of Ohio.
A mega shopper destination, the Village of Berlin goes from large—the 20,000-square-foot, multi-level Berlin Village Gift Shop, once a dairy barn and now packed with clothing, jewelry, handbags, home décor, garden accessories and quilts. Even larger, are the 26-000-square-foot Berlin Village Antique Mall and the supersized Holmes County Flea Market, a 55,00- square-foot building with 350 spaces featuring more than 60 vendors.
So many goodies, so little time. Dating back almost 60 years, Troyer Country Market in Berlin carries an amazing array of foods including small batch, naturally-made jar goods ranging from the typical (but yummy) apple butters, salsas and pickles to such intriguing food items as hot pickled asparagus, brandied peaches, Bluegoose jam (a mixture of blueberries and gooseberries) and candied jalapenos as well as their own house-made sausages.
Just a mile north of Berlin, take a tour at Heini’s Cheese Chalet founded by Swiss immigrant Hans Dauwalder in the 1920s. The family-owned business sends its cheeses all over the country but continues to operate as it did all those years ago with early morning deliveries of old fashioned metal cans filled with fresh milk from Amish farmers. Back in the 1970s, the family also developed their Original Yogurt Cheese, a big seller as is their unique and tasty cheese fudge. Visitors can watch cheese and fudge making as well as taste before they buy, choosing from samples of over 50 varieties of cheese, meat, jams, and fudge.
Across the road, Kauffman’s Country Bakery offers a large assortment of breads, rolls, cookies, pies and cakes at. During the holidays they make 500 different varieties of fruitcakes and their signature German Stollen Bread. Other items include seasonal breads– Sauerkraut Rye, Irish Soda, Kolachi Poppyseed and Braided Challah and sweets like Pumpkin or Mint Whoopie Pies. Smoothies, ice cream and sandwiches are available at the café.
Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen, north of Berlin in Mount Hope, doesn’t show up on my GPS. I ask a young Amish boy leading a big draft horse for directions and he points down the road. Go past Miller’s Buggy Repair, he says, and turn left—it’s right across the street from Mount Hope Livestock Auction. I expect something small but it’s a big, modern restaurant with a full parking lot, hitching posts for horse and buggies and an old fashioned Amish menu– think fried chicken, beef and noodles, mashed potatoes and great pies.
Hotel Millersburg opened its doors in 1847 in downtown Millersburg, the county seat, making it among the state’s oldest hostelries. Located in the Millersburg National Historic District, the hotel has a courtyard, full-service restaurant and tavern. In keeping with local history, they also offer one of the largest quilting retreat centers in the region, equipped with cutting tables and ironing tables, all handicapped accessible.
There’s more than handcrafted beer at Millersburg Brewing Company, a cool combination of historic façade and urban element interior. The menu is eclectic and offers a great variety including such sandwiches as their Shrimp Po Boys– cornmeal breaded shrimp and chipotle slaw served on a warm bun and Boss Hog BBQ. Savor the food and the beer while enjoying live entertainment.
19th century time travel starts at Yoder’s Amish Home in Millersburg with horse and buggy tours, tours of their schoolhouse and 1885 barn where in the spring newborn animals including, in the spring, newborn animals—think lambs, colts, bunnies and Beagles. Yoder’s is an Old Order Amish heirloom farm and owners Eli and Gloria Yoder are dedicated to the preservation and education about Amish culture and lifestyle. On site, there’s a petting zoo, gift shop, covered picnic area and a bakery.
Nicknamed the “Canoe Capital of Ohio” because of the many liveries offering access to the beautiful Mohican River, Loudonville has other attractions as well such as the Ugly Bunny Winery featuring wines ranging from sweet to dry and bourbon barrel-aged and live music.
Also in Loudonville, Landoll’s Mohican Castle surely is one of America’s most unique lodging and dining venues, just as they advertise. The castle, a bold mix of cobblestone paths, cupolas, balconies, spires, pitched rooftops and wrought iron railings, surrounded by lushly landscaped gardens. Gordon Ramsey stayed here, filming an episode of his “Hotel Hell” series here. Gordon’s no longer there but you can enjoy the show’s menu he created at the hotel’s Copper Mug Bar & Grille.
For more information, Holmes County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau, 330-674-3975; holmescountychamber.com or visitamishcountry.com