Around Lake Constance by Bicycle
The Lake Constance bicycle path is wunderschön as the Germans
so nicely put it. Because of the altitude, it enjoys nice weather and excellent
growing conditions. The surrounding landscape is lush and green. The water in the
lake is famously clear and the birds sing about how happy they are to live in such
a nice environment.
2002. Called the Bodensee by Germans, this tour of Lake Constance is a 4-day, 150-mile
(241 km) circular bike trip. We begin at Radolfzell and end in Stein am Rhein leaving
an open leg of about 15 miles (25 km) between those two towns. In theory, you will
stay close to the lakeshore so there shouldn’t be any serious hills, right? The
theory is only correct if you take the ferry from Konstanz to Meersburg. Otherwise,
you will climb a few hills on the first day. The rest of the ride holds closely
to the theory with only small hills. The path is paved most of the way but like
our other rides, there are sections where the path is graveled. However, the gravel
is firmly packed and should be easy riding even on wet days (heaven-forbid).
The German name for Lake Constance is Der Bodensee. When appropriate,
I will use that name as too. When he was alive my father-in-law - like most Germans
- loved coffee. Germans normally drink their coffee strong and flavorful. If it
is weak, my father-in-law called it "Bodensee Kaffee." Because the Bodensee
is so clear you can see its bottom as you look down from the shore. The utterance
was simultaneously a damnation of the coffee and an acclamation of the pristine
waters of the Bodensee.
Eckhard and Vivi-Anne, friends from Seattle, accompany us again on this ride.
They joined us last year for the Five-Rivers Tour as well. By now, they are almost
as experienced as we are. Not only do they ride around Lake Constance, they also
join us on our ride down the Rhine as far as Karlsruhe. There they peel off and
catch a plane back to the Pacific Northwest. They have plans to join us for our
tour of the Saar and Mosel in 2003 so we will see them then. Eckhard is a native
German speaker as is Maxa. Vivi-Anne speaks Swedish and English but she and I only
speak enough German to get through a menu or maybe a train station on a good day.
We are not much help except to provide comic relief for the German speakers. We
discovered last year that Eckhard has a sweet tooth. So, we’ll be sure to stop at
a few bakeries along the way.
The Lake Constance area is a high plateau that glaciers carved out during the
last couple of ice ages. It is famous for its great weather. As an example, as we
are riding this tour, it is raining all over Europe. But here, on the lake, we enjoy
sunshine and soft winds (except for a couple of hours in the Rhine Delta). This
region is also famous as a fruit-growing region with its produce actually commanding
a premium in the markets of Europe because of the quality of its fruit.
path signs change a little as the ride progresses. This condition is normal for
bike tours because the routes cross several different governmental domains and each
one has a different idea about what the sign should be. Of course, the other governments
are already sure their sign is the best one so no one changes to conform to anyone
else. Hence, different signs. This time most of the signs are an arrow, bent around
a blue circle (sometimes shown as the back tire of a bike) as shown here. However,
in Switzerland, they become a red circle with a white pictograph of a biker in the
center. Signs can be confusing so watch them closely. There are others for short
distances but overall, the route is well signed and easy to follow. By the way,
“Kürzer oder Schöner” simply means “shorter or prettier.”
There are plenty of bed and breakfast
establishments and other types of accommodations. On the southern shore, the number
of opportunities seems to drop off. The cost is a little more expensive too, but
everything in Switzerland is more expensive it seems. As a choice, we like Zimmer
(advertised as Zimmer Frei) but there are also Gasthäuser (Guest
Houses), Pensionen (pensions or bed and breakfasts), Jugendherbergen
(Youth Hostels), and hotels. For a complete discussion of the different types of
accommodations and tips on reservations, see my
Overnight Accommodations page.
A word to the wise, every year over 380,000 people ride bicycles around Lake
Constance. Of that number, only 10,000 do not have advance reservations. If you
are traveling during the high season of July and August, calling ahead at least
a day, would be advisable. Even safer, would be to take a guided tour that will
assure you of accommodations. The extra money might be well worth it. We have no
problem on this tour but we are here in early June and there is plenty of capacity.
Besides the cities of Konstanz, Friedrichshafen,
Bregenz, and Stein am Rhine you will find the islands of Reichenau Mainau and Lindau
interesting. Mainau Island is a must-see attraction even if you miss most of the
We used two different biikeline
guidebooks on this tour. Bodensee-Radweg, scale 1:50,000, and Rhein-Radweg,
Teil 1, 1:75,000. The Rhein-Radweg book is good for the south shore and beyond
as far as Basel. But of course, it is also good if you want to start at Andermatt
in Switzerland and ride mostly downhill 213 kilometers to Rorschach on Lake Constance.
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Day 1: Radolfzell to Bodman via Konstanz
Our starting place is Radolfzell.
We ride southeast toward Konstanz into bright sunshine. After arriving by train
from the north (everywhere in Germany is north of here), we spent our first night
in a suburb of Radolfzell called Markelfingen. Our hosts were the family R. Pronet.
Their B&B (actually more like a small hotel because of their spacious breakfast
and recreation room) is located on Genadensee Strasse 18, 78315 Radolfzell-Markelfingen,
Phone 07732-14904. It was a value at €53.80 double occupancy (the cost for two people
to spend one night) and that includes the “Kurort” tax or the tax that
many resort towns levy upon their guests. The bathrooms were in the hall, not in
the rooms. We find this frequently but when possible, we prefer to have our own
The topography today starts out flat as we ride the lakeshore into Konstanz then
around to Mainau Island at mile 25. From there we encounter some hills. At mile
27, we find one hill particularly steep. Of course, if you are a wimp or just a
little smarter than we are, you can take a ferry around all the hills by visiting
Mainau, then riding south a few blocks to the ferry to Meersburg. The path is in
great shape. Most of the way you share a paved road with light traffic but there
are a few short sections of gravel.
We start our trip cyclometers
at the Radolfzell Bahnhof.
in Gästehaus R. Pronet we met people from Stuttgart at breakfast and discussed the
several different German dialects. The wife has relatives in this area but her husband
who was born and raised around Stuttgart speaks that dialect but he cannot understand
the local Bodensee dialect. He needs a translator to communicate.
Enter Allenbach. As we ride
along on this sunny morning, we see hawks hunting mice in the fields. We see several
diving into the long grass and then flying off with their breakfast. Unfortunately,
they are probably causing a catastrophe to the mouse family. Perhaps creating another
single parent with 15 hungry mousettes to feed. And just think about the daycare
The beauty of the countryside is hard to describe. Rolling hills, fields, small
red-tiled-roof villages, the clear blue of the sky and the slightly darker blue
of the water. Man, this is why we ride! Well, this and the bakeries, don’tchaknow.
turn right off the trail to follow the road onto the Island of Reichenau. This is
commonly referred to as the Salad Island because of all the vegetables that are
grown on the island. The island itself has a colorful history. Previously completely
separated from the mainland, it was one of the first parts of Lake Constance settled
by ancient Stone Age and Bronze Age people. It was settled because it was fertile
and easy to defend from other tribes. The churches on the island date from the 9th
and 10th Century. For example, at mile 11.9 in Oberzell, the Church of Saint Georg
is one of the oldest churches in Germany. It was built in the 9th Century in Carolingian
Renaissance style (shortly after Charlemagne - 742 to 814 CE) it has wonderful frescos
inside that are amazingly well preserved. Some of them have been restored while
others seem to be original.
On our bike tours, Maxa and I often check out interesting churches. They are
often repositories of fine art and antiquities. Plus, a prayer now and then for
good weather never hurts.
are back at the bike path to Konstanz, which we enter at mile 15.1 (24.3 km). Bike
path signs here are marked with colored dots. Blue dots lead us to the Island of
We are at a Parkplatz for
the Island of Mainau. We must jog right, then left to follow the signs to Mainau.
There is a dwarf breed of cattle raised in this area called the Schwartzwalde Oxen
(Black Forest Oxen) that are about 2/3 the size of other cattle. Raised on a cattle
ranch in Montana, I find these critters strange looking.
your bikes at the bike stand and walk through Mainau Island. Mainau is the Flower
Island of Lake Constance. There are over 3,000 different species of flowers on Mainau
and over 500 different species of trees. The castle was built by a master of the
Teutonic Order and finished in 1746. One can learn about the castle from the information
plaques placed around the gardens. Mainau Island has an ideal subtropical climate
promotes plant growth. From March through September, you are rewarded with a plethora
of plants and floral displays. Spring is a favorite time for the locals but it is
spectacular any time between March and September. It is one of the best-kept gardens
in Europe. The guidebooks will explain that owners were foresightful enough that
upon the birth of a daughter, they planted mulberry bushes so they could feed the
silkworms that would spin the silk for their daughter’s wedding dress. I don’t know
if that happened, but the mulberry bushes are still there.
If you, like us, are a fool and love hills,
then as you leave Mainau, follow the lakeshore to the right. You might be tempted
to play it smart and follow the signs toward Meersburg. That is the wimp’s way because
you’ll board a ferry to Meersburg and bypass the Überlingersee route. You will miss
all the hills. And this is the only hilly part of the entire lake bike path. Na,
you wouldn’t want to do that, would you? Go for it! You have to have a reason to
drink Bier after all. I learned from a somewhat dubious source that it
is possible to catch a boat from Wallhausen across the Überlingersee to the town
of Überlingen itself. I don’t see anything about it in our guidebook but if you
made it to Wallhausen and want to avoid the rest of the hills, this would be your
This is the top of a steep
hill (240 feet high in 1.2 km) just outside of Marienschlucht. We are close to Dettingen.
We chose the alternate, paved road, hoping to avoid another hill or two in the forest.
I am not sure we made a good decision because the hill we did climb is one of the
steepest we have ever encountered. Oh well, I have never met a hill I couldn’t push
This is Langenrain. We have
been steadily climbing a gentle ridge and riding a new path next to a busy highway.
The path does climbs and drops several times until we get close to Bodman.
Bodman. We have been sharing
a busy road with traffic since Liggeringen. And we’ve been doing so in the rain
so we are not as happy as we could be. The drop into Bodman is nice but we are coasting
down it in a heavy rain shower. We end our day at Hotel Garni Seerose, Seestrasse
12 in Bodman. The room costs €52.00 double occupancy (the cost for two people to
spend one night) but again, the bathrooms are down the hall. They have a good restaurant
in the hotel and they do include breakfast within the price of the room.
We toured Bodman a little. It is a small town but in addition to the old parish
church (Pfarrkirche) there is an interesting story about the vineyard here.
Planted in 884, it was one of the first vineyards established in the region. Charles
the Fat (Karl der Dicke) planted it and then later gave it to the knight
Johann von Bodman. Today there is a restaurant in the building where they pressed
the wine. The wine press is called a Torkel in German. The word comes from
the way people walked after they had pushed the press handle round and round for
several hours as they pressed the juice. They wobbled or staggered and that word
in the local dialect is torkel.
Another interesting eating experience is the local specialty in the Hotel Seerose
is a dish called Maultaschen. The word means big pouch or something like
that. Maultaschen are like huge ravioli. After an evening walk, I chatted
with the hotel owner who makes the dish daily. He first rolls the dough out very
thin. Then he places dollops a mixture of cooked ground pork, beef, spinach, and
nutmeg with spices atop the dough. Fold the dough over, seal the three open sides
with a fork, and then drop it into boiling water or stock. With a simple sauce,
it is to die for!
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Day 2: Bodman to Nonnenhorn
We follow the lakeshore around
and find no hills of significance. Today we plan more sightseeing than any other
day on this tour. Not only do we stop for the Pfahlbaumuseum just before
Meersburg but also we tour the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen. The path is paved
except for two or three short sections of compacted gravel.
We stop for a morning break
at the Pfahlbau Museum.
This museum is an active research project into Bronze Age (2,000 BCE) life around
Lake Constance and similar places in Europe. The word “Pfahlbau” means
built on pilings. Archeologists have discovered several sites on Lake Constance
as well as around other lakes where people built entire villages on pilings over
the water. The reasons were simple. Homes thus constructed were safe from most of
the natural enemies of humankind. Another advantage for people whose livelihood
depended upon fishing was that it made that activity much easier. Such settlements
also offered some strategic protection from other people whose intentions, shall
we say, were not honorable (raping, pillaging, slaving, etc.). Interestingly, research
here at the Pfahlbaumuseum indicates that all the different groups of people
on the lake lived in peace for thousands of years. It wasn’t until the fall of the
Roman Empire and the rise of the feudal system that frequent armed conflicts began.
In the yet to be written book, History According to Tim,
you would learn that wars happen because of the egos of kings, the hegemony of religion,
and the greed of merchants. People left to themselves, are peace-loving, kind, charitable,
gentle, and loving. Of course, they would be poor and vulnerable but happy nevertheless.
We ride into Meersburg.
This is where the ferry from Konstanz lands and so we could have been here yesterday
about noon if we hadn’t wanted to climb all the hills. But if we had taken the wimp
route, we would have missed the Maultaschen and the nice walk along the
lake at sunset. There has been a lot of traffic on the bike path today. We have
had to share it with a couple of cars but most of the traffic has been bicycles
and walkers. This is the beginning of the season but it is already busy with tourist.
We are surprised that we
have climbed a 100-foot hill up to Schloss Kirchberg, a palace owned by the current
Markgrafen Max von Boden. It looks as if Max is converting the Schloss into condos.
How capitalistic of him. It sounds like something that could happen in America.
Across the lake, we can just make out the Swiss Alps. If the day were clear instead
of hazy, what a great photo they would make.
Schlosskirche in Friedrichshafen.
It is on the path and it looks interesting so we stop to check it out. The interior
is classic Rococo and the stained-glass windows are worth a couple of photographs.
The church was completed in 1705. You will find much monochromatic relief on the
ceiling and on the columns. While in Friedrichshafen, stop at the Zeppelin Museum.
The history of the lighter than airships is fascinating and fraught with political
This is downtown Friedrichshafen.
A lovely waterfront.
Langenargen. Just a few
kilometers from here is a small suspension bridge designed by the same man who designed
and built the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. He was an engineering student
when he designed and built this bridge but one can see the similarity to the Golden
Gate Bridge. This bridge is the first suspension bridge of its type in the world.
stop for the night. We can recommend our lodging this evening, Pension Albrecht.
Each room (they have 7) has its own bathroom and breakfast is quite good for Southern
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Day 3: Nonnenhorn to Arbon
Again, following the lakeshore,
we ride to Lindau Island and then through Austria into Switzerland. Crossing the
Rhine Delta, we learn about the Sahara Wind that is a frequent weather event in
this part of the world. The wind is a result of extremely high temperatures and
resulting high pressure over the Sahara Desert that causes a strong wind to blow
across the Mediterranean Sea and actually cause a Venturi effect over the Swiss
Alps. By the time it reaches Lake Constance, it typically blows about 30 to 40 mph.
Other than the wind, a couple small hills, the path is flat and mostly paved. When
not paved, it is compacted gravel and easy riding.
ride onto Lindau Island. What a cute little city. We enjoyed the market and even
scored some lunch items. One of the photographs shows a church from the year 1000
and in front of it, a three-wheeled BMW Isetta built in the early 50s.
We don’t know
for sure but we think this is about the border between Austria and Germany because
the path signs change to larger black on white signs of about 10” by 16”. There
just aren’t any good places to have your passport stamped these days.
We ride through Bregenz
without stopping for anything except to exchange some old Austrian currency for
the new Euros and grab a cup of coffee. However, we have it on good authority (from
more than one reader of this website) that Bregenz is a beautiful city. There is
a cog train called “Pfanderbahn” that goes to the top of Pfander mountain.
You will find a wondrous panorama from the 1,062-meter high mountain. We didn’t
do it but others swear that it’s worth the time and the minimal cost.
After leaving Bregnez, we
cross the Rhine Canal. We are fighting the humungous headwinds I talked about in
the overview. It came up suddenly and we cannot believe how strong it is. It is
a relief to ride when it is at our side (90 degrees) but when we are riding into
it, we have to gear down almost to our lowest gear.
We are crossing the “Alter
Rhein” or Old Rhine because it is the actual riverbed and it is the border between
Switzerland and Austria. Today, most of the water flows through the canal that we
crossed just outside of Bregnez. So, this makes the third country in which we have
stop for the night at the Pension Garni Sonnenhof, Rabenstrasse 18 CH 9320 Arbon.
The charge 82 Swiss Franks or about €59.00 per room double occupancy (the cost for
two people to spend one night). By the way, the Swiss are a little slow on the uptake
with the Euro. Given their independent attitude, they may never pick up on it. Breakfast
is included and it is a great breakfast too. It was a mixture of German and French
style – a pleasant change.
Day 4: Arbon to Stein am Rhein
You know you are in Switzerland
if you hear the cowbells. As we ride through the fields, we notice the gentle ringing
(clanging?) in the background. The sounds blend with that of the birds and the wind.
I wonder what it would be like to be the unlucky cow that has to wear a bell for
her entire adult life. If cows had advocacy groups, I bet they would lobby against
cowbells. While I am contemplating obscure questions, I wonder how many pounds of
these stupid gnats we have eaten this morning. They hang out in small clouds that
you are in the middle of before you see them. Wear your glasses, breath through
your nose, and do not smile.
As we ride along the lakeshore, we can see across the lake to the other side
where we were just two days ago. Today, the weather is clear with no haze. Perhaps
that strong wind yesterday cleared the air. There were fewer accommodations on the
Swiss side but the beauty is astounding. Not to say it isn’t pretty on the north
side but when we were there, the haze blocked much of our view of the Swiss Alps.
Today, we might be too close to see the Alps in all their majesty but we can see
the blue lake and the hills to the north of the lake. Most of the day is paved with
a few short graveled paths. There is only one hill and that comes just before you
enter Stein am Rhein. The top of the hill is a great place for taking photos looking
across Untersee towards Stein am Rhein and the castle Burg Hohenklingen.
Enter Kreuzlingen where
we purchase our picnic lunch from the local market. Konstanz is just a little further
but we won’t stop to sightsee today. We are headed for a mid-afternoon coffee break
at Stein am Rhein.
We enter Stein am Rhein,
one of the most picturesque towns in Southern Germany. The city center is a pedestrian
zone so there are no noisy vehicles except for the occasional delivery van. One
can sit under an umbrella and marvel at the 300 and 400-year-old buildings that
have been kept looking their best. It is truly a wonderful place.
This is the end of the Lake Constance
Tour. There is a bike path along the north side of Untersee back to Radolfzell
and Konstanz for those of you not continuing down the Rhine. From here, we continue
west toward Basel but that travelogue is covered in our Rhine
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