When my husband suggested going to Lake Constance in Germany for our European vacation, I drew a blank. Obviously, I needed to do some research. The more I learned about the region, the more interested I became. Known in Germany as the Bodensee, this natural lake fed by the Rhine River lies on the border between southern Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Offering charming seaside towns with many attractions, delicious cuisine and inspiring views, it turned out to be one of my favorite destinations so far.
Lake Constance, Europe’s third largest lake, consists of two sections—the Obersee measuring 40 miles long and nine miles wide, and the smaller Untersee. It’s just over an hour’s train ride from Zurich, Switzerland, or four-and-a-half hours from Munich or Frankfurt, Germany. The cities and towns along the shoreline are linked by roads, trains, buses, and ferries. It’s easy to travel between them or across the lake with little or no advance planning. And, there are no border crossing formalities since all are European Union countries. You’ll find great scenic beauty in all directions, panoramic views of the Swiss alps, the lake and surrounding pastoral countryside. The locals were friendly and helpful, and we were utterly enchanted by the place.
We split our time there between two of the larger German cities, Friedrichshafen and Konstanz, spending four nights in each and using them as hubs for day trips. Arriving in Friedrichshafen by train, we easily walked to Hotel City Krone located a few blocks from the harbor. Our modern, efficient room served as a comfortable base during our stay.
If you like to start the day with a solid meal, book your hotel with breakfast (Frühstück) included. In Germany, these are typically an all-you-can-eat extravaganza. Hotel City Krone did not disappoint. I especially enjoyed the self-serve espresso machine and aromatic selection of croissants, pastries, rolls, and crusty breads. Our habit is to stuff ourselves at the hotel’s breakfast buffet, subsist on portable snacks for lunch, and then enjoy an evening dinner out. This saves both time and money.
Although much of Friedrichshafen’s city center is post-World War II construction, it offers pedestrian-friendly streets, public plazas, plenty of shops and restaurants. The broad seafront esplanade encourages strolling and people-watching. Climb the observation tower on the harbor seawall for an unobstructed view of the town, lake, and distant mountains.
Adjacent to the harbor, the Zeppelin Museum draws visitors with an extensive array of artifacts illustrating the history of airships. Its main draw is a full-size replica of the passenger cabins from the Hindenburg, which mysteriously exploded and burned while docking in New Jersey in 1937. Visitors can walk through and experience what it was like on board the air ship. Friedrichshafen is where zeppelins were first manufactured, and they are still made here today. For a bird’s-eye view of Lake Constance, you can take a zeppelin sightseeing tour.
One day we took a train to Bregenz, Austria, stopping in Lindau, Germany, on the return. Bregenz, located at the eastern end of the lake and backed by high mountains, offers some pre-WWII buildings of historical note. What I found most intriguing was an outdoor theater at the lakefront. Stadium-style seating overlooks an elaborate stage built out in the lake. It provides a totally unique venue for opera presentations during the annual Bregenz Festival each summer.
The old-town section of Lindau is on an island, joined to the city’s mainland section by a bridge and railroad causeway. The train station sits steps away from a picture-postcard harbor whose entrance is guarded by a lighthouse and a lion statue. Pay the nominal fee to climb to the top of the lighthouse, which affords a spectacular view of the lake, harbor and city. Lindau’s maze of narrow streets lined with stores and restaurants, and fountain-decorated plazas invite you to linger.
St. Gallen, Switzerland
Another day trip took us directly across the Bodensee by ferry, docking in the Swiss town of Romanshorn. Upon our arrival, we boarded a train for a half-hour journey to St. Gallen to see the Abbey of Saint Gall and its spectacular library—a UNESCO World Heritage site. Founded in the eighth century, the Abbey and its Baroque cathedral were worth seeing.
For me, the library was the highlight. Two stories high, richly decorated with ceiling frescoes supported by floor-to-ceiling wooden bookcases, it imparted a sense of awe. Ancient priceless books, some more than a thousand years old, are protected behind glass or grill work. The collection includes rare tomes on history, philosophy, religion, medicine, geography, the natural world, and more. Oh, how I longed to look inside them!
Strolling through the old town’s pedestrian-only streets, you see many decorative oriel windows—box-like structures that project from the sides of buildings, dating from the 16th to 18th centuries. Most are colorfully painted or made of intricately carved wood.
While we could have easily spent more time in Friedrichshafen, our plans called for a move to Konstanz at the lake’s western end. Watch for Part II of our Lake Constance exploration coming soon. For more information on visiting Lake Constance, see www.bodensee.eu/en.