The city of Lancaster has long been known for its connection to the Amish, or Pennsylvania Dutch. The quiet town is renowned for horse and buggy rides, farmer's markets and shops that sell intricate handcrafted quilts and wooden toys. However, there is much more to this historic city than 18th-century charm and outdated modes of transportation. In recent years, an explosion of art galleries and museums, fueled by local artists of all disciplines, has transformed Lancaster into an artful destination — it's a Mecca for the arts.
The Lancaster Arts Hotel (717-299-3000 or lancasterartshotel.com ) offers 47 rooms and 16 suites, and every room is a gallery. They each feature exquisite handcrafted furnishings, brick walls and exposed ceiling beams, sumptuous beds with 330-thread-count Egyptian-cotton sheets, flat-screen televisions, wine refrigerators, Wi-Fi access, and iPod docking stations. Constructed within an abandoned brick tobacco factory, built in 1881, the avant-garde "boutique" hotel celebrates local artists with a gallery that showcases a different artist each month. Early November's featured artist is Claire Giblin. Her show "Wind Horse — The Prayer for Peace" features bold abstract acrylics and sculptures formed from found objects. All of the art in the rooms and throughout the hotel is for sale. In fact, everything in the hotel is for sale. The wall mirror that makes you looks slender? It's for sale. The comfy mattress? It's for sale. Love the coffee maker or Turkish robe? You can buy them, too!
The PA Arts Experience Trail (717-917-1630 or paartsexperience.com ) takes art appreciation to a higher level. Instead of merely viewing paintings and sculptures in a gallery or museum, the custom-designed tours allow you to visit artists at work in their studios. Begin your itinerary on the drive to Lancaster with a stop near York, Pa., to see the paintings and print work of internationally renowned artist Robert Patierno. At his studio, in a renovated brick utility building, the congenial artist explains the workings of the print shop and then brings the paintings to you as you sit and nosh on a lunch he has prepared. Go from intricate to colossal in the world of sculpture with a visit to the studio of jeweler Kristan Winand, who fashions necklaces, earrings and bracelets, as well as the expansive space of George Mummert, whose enormous works include a bronze Triceratops skull that is on permanent display at the Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. A trail concierge will schedule visits of six to eight artists for the road trip.
Fine dining couldn't be easier with the on-site John J. Jeffries Restaurant (717-431-3307 or johnjjeffries.com ). Named after a tobacco inspector from the Lancaster Arts Hotel's previous existence, the restaurant showcases a menu that changes seasonally. Chef Sean Cavanaugh works with organic growers and the finest produce and seafood suppliers throughout the country, as well as more than two dozen small organic family farms, to craft his unique dishes. The fall menu includes a bison-and-wild-mushroom quesadilla, a red-beet-and-lentil salad, and pan-roasted Alaskan halibut. For dessert, try the Poached Heirloom Pear topped with Champagne Sabayon. Wine pairings and a four-course tasting menu are also available.
Still haven't had enough art? Then visit Lancaster's Gallery Row (717-509-2787 or lancasterarts.com ), with more than 18 galleries. The Christiane David Gallery (717-293-0809 or christianedavid.com ) features abstract impressionist paintings from the Belgian-born artist in oils, acrylics and watercolors. Artist Frieman Stoltz exhibits his work at Gallery 2 (717-390-7222 or lizhess.com), and the Lancaster native captures his Amish-Mennonite background with depictions of the Pennsylvania Dutch lifestyle in an ethereal modern style that gives the impression of stained-glass windows. The adjacent Red Raven Art Company (717-299-4400 or redravenartcompany.com ) is dedicated to C.X. Carlson, the artist, muralist, cartoonist and illustrator who painted more than 15,000 works in his lifetime but may be best known for creating Elsie, the Borden Company cow. Gallery Row celebrates the first Friday of each month by highlighting nearly 100 art destinations in town that hold open houses until 9 p.m. or later. There are also five art museums, including the Lancaster Museum of Art (717-394-3497 or lmapa.org ), the Lancaster Quilt and Textile Museum (717-299-6440 or quiltandtextilemuseum.com) and the Demuth Museum (717-299-9940 or demuth.org ), home of famed American modernist Charles Demuth.
The Calico Corners Outlet (717-290-1820 or calicocorners.com ) has everything for your home — fabrics, furniture, bedding, window treatments — but even better, the designer-name furnishings are discounted up to 70 percent off retail price. (You can save even more with a $10 off coupon from padutch.com/coupon/calico.html .)