East of South Bend, US-20 again becomes a road worth traveling, especially through the quiet agricultural expanses around the towns of Middlebury and Shipshewana, heartland of Indiana’s sizable Amish population. As in other Amish areas, it’s the general look of the land, rather than specific attractions, that make it enjoyable to visit; as elsewhere, the few attractions that offer an “authentic Amish experience” leave a lot to be desired. One of the largest tourist traps, the 1,100-seat Das Dutchman Essenhaus, offers groaning all-you-can-eat buffets at the west edge of Middlebury, but rather than fight your way through the bus-tour hordes, turn north here into the quiet town center and stop by the Village Inn (107 S. Main St., 574/825-2043). This perfect little country café is run by, and popular with, local Amish and Mennonites, who, along with everyone else, enjoy the hearty coffee-shop food—not to mention great handmade pies for around $3 a slice. If you need to work off the calories, head a block west of Main Street to walk the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, an old railroad line transformed into an arboretum of fruit trees.
Back on US-20, seven miles east of Middlebury, Hwy-5 runs north just short of a mile to the intriguing Menno-Hof Mennonite-Amish Visitor Center (510 S. Van Buren St., 260/768-4117, Mon.-Sat., $7), outside the hamlet of Shipshewana. Operated by the local Amish and Mennonite communities, who built the large barn that houses the center during a six-day barn-raising, the center gives an overall introduction to the Amish and Mennonite beliefs and lifeways. Surprisingly high-tech multimedia exhibits also tell of their resistance to modern technology, their long struggle for religious freedom, and their love of peace, which has helped them through centuries of torture and abuse—so often, as in the “Dungeon Room” recreated here, at the hands of fellow Christians.