Europe's third largest lake is widely considered one of its most beautiful, thanks to its incomparable Alpine setting. Yet what makes the freshwater lake truly unique is its geographical position between three countries: Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Oddly, it has never been established what part of the lake belongs to which country, thus making it impossible to determine what country one is officially in during a boat ride. The River Rhine flows through the lake, entering at the east end, passing through the city of Konstanz and exiting near the medieval Swiss town Stein am Rhein. The romantic island of Mainau with its landscaped gardens and sculptured flowerbeds is worth an excursion. The little town of Stein am Rhein, the Swiss answer to Rothenburg just 28 km west of Konstanz, should not be missed.
Cultural and bathing town on the south-eastern shore of Lake Constance
The capital of Vorarlberg lies on the south-eastern shore of Lake Constance at the foot of its local mountain, the Pfänder. More than 2,000 years ago there was already a Celtic settlement in the area of the historic old town, which was fortified with a wall and is now called the “Oberstadt” (upper town). The much younger Unterstadt (lower town) lies on the lake shore, along which a wide promenade runs with beaches at its ends. In front of the promenade floats a stage, which is used at the Bregenz Festival. The grandstand is on land and holds more than 4,000 visitors. The centre of the lower town is the Kornmarkt with the Kunsthaus (house of arts) and Vorarlberger Museum.
Zeppelin plant on the northern shore of Lake Constance
This town on the northern shore of Lake Constance named after the first King of Württemberg was only established in 1811. Because of free trade privileges with Switzerland the city grew rapidly and attracted industrialists and tourists, including the Russian Tsar Alexander II. In the early 20th century the Graf von Zeppelin from Konstanz set up his airship factory in Friedrichshafen. This was converted into arms factories in the Third Reich, but today they belong to Airbus.
Across Lake Constance with the paddle wheel steamer
Crisp white awnings, burnished brass and shining mahogany, teak and cherry wood: The (according to the trade press) “best restored steam ship in Europe” demonstrates the craftsmanship of an entire epoch and masterworks of the Art Nouveau. The historic paddle wheel steamer was built in 1913 for the crowned heads of Europe. Since its restoration in 1984 it has also been accessible to the public. Gourmet tours, jazz concerts on board and other offers are available under www.hohentwiel.com .
2000 years of history at Lake Constance
Despite its two thousand year history the city on the southern shore of Lake Constance is vibrant. This is due to the University, which attracts many young people, to the theaters and concerts. Since 1993 the harbor is dominated by a massive statue that rotates once around its own axel every four minutes. A nine meter high female figure with a plunging neckline holds two gnomes in her hands. This is the legendary prostitute Imperia and the two gnomes are the Emperor and the Pope. During the Council of Constance 1414-1418 she slept – and played – with both. Jan Hus, who criticized the power and demoralizing influences of concubines within the Roman Church most violently, was burned at the end of the Council in Constance at the stake.
The old town around the cathedral and the town hall is especially beautiful and interesting.
Picturesque island town in Lake Constance
The picturesque old town of Lindau is located on an island in Lake Constance. It is connected with the mainland by a sea-bridge. Maximilian Street leads past patrician houses from the Gothic and Renaissance era, finally ending at the harbor, which is dominated by a lighthouse and a six meter tall Bavarian lion. A beautiful riverside walk with views of the Alps skirts around the old town.
The 1,064 metre high mountain above Bregenz is the most famous vantage point in the region with its unique view of Lake Constance and 240 Alpine peaks. When the weather is clear, the view reaches from the Allgäu and Lechtal Alps in the east over the Bregenzerwald, the steep peaks of the Arlberg region and the Silvretta, further over the Rätikon to the Swiss mountains and the foothills of the Black Forest in the west. Lake Constance lies at our feet, framed by the Rhine valley and the Upper Swabian hills. From Bregenz, a cable car takes you close to the summit, where some restaurants await. Several marked hiking trails start at the top station.
From a humble hermitage to a magnificent abbey
When Gallus, the itinerate Irish monk, became ill on his journey to Italy, he was forced to stay behind and founded a hermitage in the wilderness south of Lake Constance in the year 612. After just 300 years, St. Gall had grown into a major town and its Benedictine abbey was renowned throughout Europe. The abbey's magnificent Baroque architecture dates back to the 17th century when the abbey church was constructed. The abbey's library is unique throughout the world. It contains over 2,000 manuscripts, including the Psalterium Aureum from the year 860 – a Carolingian masterpiece written in gold ink. It was this library that inspired Umberto Eco to write his murder mystery, “The Name of the Rose.”
The “Rothenburg of the High Rhine”
This small jewel of a town lies in the lovely hills of Schaffhausen near where the Rhein leaves Lake Constance. Thanks to its medieval buildings, brightly-painted facades and magnificent timber-framed houses, this town, which was chartered in 1385, is also known as the “Rothenburg of the High Rhine.” In 1459, the town council made an alliance with Zurich and Schaffhausen in an effort to protect itself from attack by the Habsburg family. This is why Stein am Rhein now belongs to Switzerland. At the center of town you will find the town hall square, which, in addition to the town hall itself, features buildings dating to the 16th century.