My husband Tom and I spent more than a week vacationing at Lake Constance in Germany, Europe’s third largest lake. Known in Germany as the Bodensee, this natural lake fed by the Rhine River lies on the border between southern Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Its largest section, the Obersee, stretches 40 miles long and nine miles wide. As a result, the lake is popular for water sports—especially sailing—and as a vacation destination.
Open European Union borders and multiple modes of transportation make it simple to travel between the towns along the shoreline. Because it is such a large area, we decided to split our time between Friedrichshafen, toward the eastern end of the lake, and Konstanz at its western tip, spending four nights in each location and making day trips from there.
After visiting Friedrichshafen we traveled to Konstanz by ferry, a simple, inexpensive and scenic way to go. A clear and sunny day allowed us glimpses of the Swiss Alps. I spent most of the journey on deck, taking photos and reveling in the journey.
Konstanz harbor bustled with multiple ferry lines, pleasure boats and commercial watercraft. The train station and city bus terminal are adjacent to the harbor, forming a triad of transportation options for visitors that make it easy to get around. We utilized all three during our stay.
From there, it was only a short walk to Hotel Constantia, our home base for our visit. At check-in we received a pleasant surprise, two city bus passes were included with our room fee. The hotel is ideally located, close to city center attractions, restaurants, and shopping. There is a small grocery market across the street. The generous buffet breakfast, included with our room, got our days off to a good start.
Vehicles are mostly excluded from the Altstadt (old town), making it pleasant for strolling. The cobbled, maze-like streets open onto lovely public squares sporting whimsical fountains. The largest plazas, Saint Stephensplatz and Munsterplatz, are both anchored by impressive historic church buildings. Museums, parks, and historic structures round out the attractions here.
One afternoon, we took a city bus to the Bodensee Therme, a large swimming pool complex. A soaring two-story atrium houses an enormous indoor heated pool and smaller jetted spa pools. Beyond its glass wall overlooking Lake Constance lies a large outdoor pool and more spa pools. A luxurious sauna, restaurant, and clean, efficient changing rooms add to the experience. The water was blissfully warm, and we felt like kids playing in the continuous wave stream that pushed us around and around. Later, we relaxed on the shallow contoured soaking ledge. Bodensee Therme offers fun, inexpensive and enjoyable entertainment.
One of the “don’t miss” attractions near Konstanz is Insel Mainau, a 110-acre garden island. You can take a bus from the city center which drops you right at the entrance. A short bridge connects the isle to the mainland. Plan to spend an entire day here, because it takes that long to see everything. Stroll through lush plantings of flowers, shrubs, and trees along the shore. Climb the central hill through vineyards and along shaded paths in the arboretum. Take a refreshment break in the tiny café inside the Schloss, a Baroque palace dating from 1746. Tour the glass conservatory of tropical plants and a formal rose garden with statuary depicting the four seasons. Many themed and demonstration gardens, topiary and water features delight the senses. My favorite was the Butterfly House, whose humid, tropical warmth and delicate, colorful residents encouraged us to linger.
On another day, we took a ferry across the lake to the little town of Meersburg. Passing through a historic city gate, we entered the lower city, a single street lined with shops. Along the lakeside is a broad pedestrian promenade with many restaurants. Outdoor tables and public benches beneath ancient plane trees encourage visitors to loiter, enjoying the panoramic view of the lake and distant mountains.
Climb to the upper part of town and discover more picturesque city gates—remnants from ancient fortification walls—narrow cobbled lanes leading to hidden plazas, boutique shops, restaurants, and castles. Meersburg boasts not just one, but two castles. There is the Baroque-style New Palace, completed in 1750, and the much older Meersburg Castle which was founded in the 7th century by King Dagobert I of the Merovingian dynasty. Reputed to be Germany’s oldest inhabited castle, it provides a fascinating glimpse into life in the 14th to 17th centuries. Guided tour highlights include the castle dungeon, the tower chamber, castle kitchen, and hall of arms.
One of my most memorable experiences of the entire vacation was a leisurely lunch at the Burg Café in Meersburg Castle. The café fills an indoor hall and overflows onto a stone balcony. We snagged an outdoor table on the sun-filled balcony and lingered over our meal. Mellowed by a crisp, fruity white wine, I tucked into a green salad and flammkuchen, sort of like a flatbread pizza. With the rustic castle walls at our back, a delightful view of the lake ahead, and a pleasantly warm day for November, it was hard to leave. So, we ordered coffee and dessert to delay as long as possible.
We spent more than a week at Lake Constance, however, we barely had time to get acquainted. This is one place that I would gladly return to. If you missed it, check out Discovering Lake Constance – Part I to learn more about this delightful destination. For information on visiting Lake Constance, go to www.bodensee.eu/en.