Lake Constance, known locally as the Swabian Sea (schwäbische Meer) or the Bodensee in German, is undoubtably one of the most beautiful areas in Central Europe. In fact, it’s hard not to imagine Julie Andrews in the classic film the Sound of Music singing her way around the shores and nearby Alps that surround it. As Europe’s third largest lake, Lake Constance’s shores border the three countries of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The lake was carved out and created by a large glacier during the last ice age and is currently 63 kilometers long and 14 kilometers at its widest point. The deepest part of the lake is about 250 meters below the surface.
Lake Constance is an area where one can always find relaxing things to do. Swimming and canoeing are givens, but the surrounding areas and towns also contain lots things for both the active and adventurous as well as for those who prefer to relax and retire. There are plenty of nature trails, watersport areas, archaeological and historical landmarks, old castles, orchards, vineyards, camping grounds and of course plenty of scenic views. The small towns and cities along the lake are also quite enchanting with friendly people who don’t take themselves too seriously.
Though at times a bit crowded, summer is the best time to enjoy the Lake region’s many activities. The late fall and winter months are cold with most outdoor activities coming to a halt, though one can stay in several of the coastal towns and use them as a base for the relatively nearby ski slopes of the Alps and beyond.
Things to See and Do
The Town of Konstanz
Named after the Roman Emperor Constantius Chlorus, the German city of Konstanz is about as close to the Swiss frontier lands as you can get. The city was a spiritual center for medieval Christianity with at one time nearly a quarter of its citizens exempt from paying taxes due to their clerical roles. The city’s importance also grew from the fact that it controlled the area’s only bridge across the Rhine, making Konstanz both a strategic and prosperous trade center. Today this small city is famous for its thriving arts scene as well as the University of Konstanz. Of course, being on scenic Lake Constance itself also greatly adds to the city’s charm.
Probably the most famous structure in the town is the Konstanz Cathedral. The foundations of the cathedral (when it was just a church) are believed to go back to at least the early 600s. Throughout the centuries the church was expanded and molded into the grand cathedral that it today. One can climb to the top of the cathedral’s tower for a great view of both the city and the surrounding countryside.
One of the other must-visit places is the Konstanz Harbor, the entrance of which is marked by the Imperia, a statue commemorating the election of Pope Martin V in 1417. The place where this occurred was in the famous Konzilsgebäude, an old warehouse built in 1388 built for trade with the surrounding areas.
Other recommended activities include take one of several ferry tours around the lake. There are several companies that offer this. Tour rates are always changing so check TripAdvisor or other travel sites for the best rates and packages.
Lindau is one of the larger towns on the German side of Lake Constance. The town itself is only partly on the mainland and extends into the lake via a small island. The town’s harbor is one of Lindau’s main attractions and features a famous 13th-century lighthouse called the Mangturm. At the outer part of the harbor is another famous monument, a statue of a Bavarian lion nearly six meters high as well as another 33-meter-high lighthouse. Both of these monuments are more recent and date from 1856. The lighthouse especially is a great place for scenic views of the surrounding area.
Besides its old landmarks, Lindau’s real charm are its people and the old town area. It is here that one will find Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque-style houses dating back over several hundred years. Many of these can be found on Maximilianstrasse, Lindau’s main street which also contains fountains, arcades and a good number of cafés and restaurants.
Two other things worth seeing in Lindau are the Old Town Hall, first built in 1436, and St. Peter’s Church, or the Peterskirche, dating all the way back to the latter part of the 10th century.
Insel Mainau (The Flower Island)
The 110-acre “flower island” of Mainau is just under 4 miles off the southern shoreline of the Überlinger See. Along with the spectacular garden that contains over 1000 different varieties of plants, Mainau island also is home to an 18th-century palace known locally as the Schloss. Originally built for the Grand Duke of Baden, the Schloss contains several exquisite rooms with art and artifacts from the period. One can also tour the defensive ramparts of the structure and examine what were the castle’s defenses.
The gardens on the island by the Schloss are quite impressive and contain many varieties of plants from all over the world.
Insel Mainau is accessible by ferry or a small pedestrian bridge linking it to the mainland.
Wollmatinger Ried-Untersee-Gnadensee Nature Reserve
Being one of the largest and most beautiful natural lakes in central Europe, Lake Constance has several nature reserves along its banks and surrounding hills. However arguably the most prolific of these is the Wollmatinger Ried-Untersee-Gnadensee Nature Reserve, found where the river Rhine flows into the Untersee on the German shores of the lake. This area contains mainly plants and animals including over 200 species of birds.
More information about the wildlife in this region can be obtained at the NABU-Centre.
Between Lake Constance and the Lech Valley lies the scenic region known as the Allgäu. This area is famous for its many trails, small lakes, ponds, forests and natural spas and springs, all at the foothills of the mighty Alps. This is arguably the best area in the region to go hiking or camping.
Reichenau Island is definitely one of the most intriguing spots in the Lake Constance area. The island is connected to the mainland by a long causeway. Though scenic and beautiful in its own right, the Reichenau is most famous for the historically significant churches and monasteries that occupy it, a few going back to the 8th century.
One of the oldest is Church of St. Peter and Paul, founded in 724 AD by Charles Martel, the most powerful Frankish ruler of the early Middle Ages who is most famous for checking the Muslim advance into Europe at the Battle of Tours in 732. He is also known as the grandfather of one of the most famous Holy Roman Emperors, Charlemagne.
The church is a great example of early Romanesque architecture in the region. Other churches/monasteries on the island include St. George’s Church in Oberzell and Minister of St. Mary and St. Mark. Both of these have also priceless works of art within them including Ottonian wall paintings archaeological treasures from the ages.
Of course there is much more to explore in the region. More info can be found at the Lake Constance region website.
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