Spread out in a loop across the fertile east central Iowa countryside, the seven villages that make up the Amana Colonies were laid out in the middle of the 19th century and meant to be an ox cart’s drive apart. Today, the Colonies (20 miles southwest of Cedar Rapids) are a National Historic Landmark, allowing visitors a window to the religious and secular lives of early German settlers.
Driving a rental car rather than an ox cart, I was able to see a lot over a weekend visit. In the main colony of Amana, I sampled homemade fudge at the Chocolate Haus and dandelion wine at the Grape Vine Winery, then watched basket-weaving demonstrations at the Broom and Basket Shop.
In West Amana, I traipsed around an art gallery that had formerly been the village church. In South Amana, while shopping at Fern Hill Gifts and Quilts, I discovered that it had been the town’s general store when Jesse James and his gang robbed it in 1877. In Middle Amana, I discovered something else: If you want to try the breads and pastries at Hahn’s Hearth Oven Bakery, you’d better be there by 9 a.m. or risk disappointment.
Where to stay: The Guest House Motel in Amana.
Where to eat: The Colony Inn in Amana, where bountiful breakfasts will fuel you for the day.
When to visit: If you’re into German festivals with lots of oom-pah-pah, go in May for MaiFest or October for Oktoberfest.