Lancaster County bed and breakfast, Amish Country, PA

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THE REAL DEALS

Unwind in Lancaster County

Culinary packages offer a taste of central Pennsylvania's heritage.

Lancaster County is home to 25,000 Amish, many of whom are of German ancestry (the term Pennsylvania Dutch Country actually comes from Pennsylvania Deutsch). The area is rich in farmland and picturesque back roads as well as delectable local specialties like hand-twisted pretzels, rhubarb cobbler, Amish whole-grain pale ale, and whoopie pie--devil's food cake with heavy cream inside.

Three area B&Bs have put together culinary tours led by members of the Lancaster Historical Society and available on select dates in the spring and summer for $250 per couple. Note that the tours can be crammed into one long day--which could trim the cost of accommodations--or split between two days. The tours cost the same amount either way.

Beer & Pretzel Weekend
The guided tour begins with a visit to the Dutch Country Soft Pretzels factory, where you'll try their signature soft pretzels, and continues to the Lancaster Brewing Company for a taste of the brews. Next comes a stop at the Intercourse Pretzel Company, known for its crunchy, hard pretzels. After a pretzel-twisting lesson, you'll wander the craft and quilt shops of the village at Intercourse and then head to Stoudt's Brewery, where owner Ed Stoudt will lead a tour and dole out beer samples. Cap off the evening with dinner at Stoudt's Black Angus Steak House. Tales of bootleggers and tricks for defying Prohibition spice up the tours. When: Apr. 14-15, 2007.

Wine & Cheese Weekend
You'll explore the scenic Amish countryside, with stops at an Amish farm and a cheese cave (which produces eight cheese varieties) and Twin Brook Winery for a tour and tasting. There's a dinner reception at Carr's Restaurant, which showcases locally-grown foods, and complimentary copies of a recipe collection. When: June 2-3, Sept. 8-9, Nov. 3-4, 2007.

Beer & Pretzel Weekend
All the same stops as in April except that you'll visit 19th-century Bube's Brewery and dine at The Catacombs in place of Stoudt's Brewery and its steak house. When: July 14-15, 2007.

Details: The $250 package rate includes the cost of all tours, lectures, tastings, meals, and transportation by van. Based on a group of two; a solo traveler would pay $200.

Contact: Both the tours and the accommodations are booked through the three participating B&Bs (see below). For more information about visiting the area, see the official tourism website, padutchcountry.com.

WHERE TO STAY: Accommodations are booked separately from the tours and range from $85 to $225 per room per night, plus 7.1 percent tax. Owned by a professional chef, the Harvest Moon B&B in New Holland has four guest rooms outfitted with antique wood furnishings, (888/824-3763, harvestmoonbandb.com). The Artist Inn B&B, located in the tiny town of Terre Hill, doubles as the innkeeper's art gallery and offers two guest rooms and a suite with floral motifs as well as a separate stone cottage (888/999-4479, hartistinn.com). Three frilly Victorian-style rooms and a suite make up the Sheep Hill B&B, which has an antiques shop on-site (800/557-7750, sheephillbandb.com).

GETTING THERE: Driving is the best way to get to Dutch Country, and you'll need a car anyway for exploring the area. Approximate driving times: an hour and a half from Philadelphia or Baltimore; two hours from D.C.; three hours from New York City; six hours from Cleveland; and eleven hours from Chicago.

If you're coming from further afield, you can fly into Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Harrisburg (45 minutes away). There's even a tiny Lancaster airport with puddle-jumper flights from Pittsburgh.

The lowest fares we found to Philadelphia in mid-April are: $218 from Chicago (United), $233 from Minneapolis (Air Tran), $294 from Charleston (US Airways), $321 from Houston (US Airways), and $326 from Los Angeles (US Airways). An economy-car rental from the Philadelphia airport starts at $20 per day (Thrifty).

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