When there comes a time to break away, many people head for the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside, daydreaming of horses hooves cracking the sweet air as silent Amish carriage are pulled along narrow, winding roads.

Too often their dreams crash head-on with cacophonous commercial displays, which abound in Lancaster County. After a pleasant drive of slightly more than two hours from Washington, where the city and its suburbs fade into small towns and farmland, they are rudely awakened by signs that beg them to STOP and buy "Amish Stuff." The signs also implore hungry visitors to eat at huge barracks-style restaurants where they can gorge on fried chicken, ham, roast beef and all the fixings - if they care to wait until the loudspeaker shouts out the names of 100 diners ahead of them.

It doesn't have to be that way.

For those willing to venture off Route 20, take it easy and look around, the real Amish world will slowly unfold itself.

Many Amish people live in the part of southeastern Pennsylvania bounded by Somketown to the west, New Holland to the north, Morgantown to the east and Quarryville to the south. There they work and worship today much as their ancestors and more than two centuries ago, clinging to the literal interpretation of the scriptures and fiercely guarding old ways. They try to avoid association with people and things they consider too "worldly." To observe their fascinating lifestyle, it is bad too visible; it is much better to find a perch in the country in a guest home, take as many walks as you care to and look around.

On a Sunday morning, if you see an Amish carriage filled with a family dressed in their finest, you will probably see many more heading in the same direction. They will be going to a worship service at the home of a member of their congregation, since the Amish do not believe in church buildings. If you are fortunate enough to come across the home where the service is being held, you will see the men and boys in their dark hats and hand-made suits with no lapels, and the women and girls, their heads covered in light organdy caps, in their simple Sunday best covered with long aprons. Their clothing and hair styles are traditional, thepatterns handed down through the generations.

On a recent trip, a local woman was over-heard telling a shopkeeper about a faux pas by an over-eager tourist. The tourist was speeding through the farmlands seeking hex signs (which, in fact no Old Amish family would have on their property, unnecessary decoration of any kind is considered a sign of pride) and drew up in front of an Amish farmer. "How do I get to see some of them real Amish farms?" the tourist asked the farmer, who answered. "Oh, well, you just go on down the road a piece . . ."

Tourist homes can be the most satisfying places to stay; many are on the farms of local Mennonites, who sometimes offer farm breakfast, horseback riding and other treats that couldn't be found in a motel.

A list of farm homes, with information on special services offered at each, is available from the Pennsylvania Dutch Tourist Bureau, 1800 Hempstead Rd., Lancaster, Pa. 17601, or by calling 717/393-9705. Make sure to ask for the farm home list when writing, and include 25 cents. The tourist bureau will also send brochures on eating places, motels and points of interest.

A pamphlet provided by the 340-23 Club, which was founded to foster tourism in Lancaster County, also lists tourist homes, along with motels, restaurants and the whole gamut of tourist information. That free pamphlet is available by writing to the 340-23 Club, P. O. Box 239. Intercourse, Pa. 17534.