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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.

Tour Overview: Map of Lake Constance TourJune 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.

Signage:Path Signage Path SignageTPath Signagehe 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.”

Accommodations: 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.

Stops: 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 other sights.

Lake Constance Guidebook by bikelineRhein Teil 1 Guidebood by bikeline

Maps and Guidebooks: 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

Day Overview: 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 bathroom.

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.

Mile 0 (0 km): We start our trip cyclometers at the Radolfzell Bahnhof.

Mile (3.5 km): Here 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.

Mile 8.4 (13.5km): 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 costs.

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.

Mile 9.9 (16.0 km): Exterior of Reichenau Oberzell ChurchInterior of Reichenau Oberzell ChurchWe 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.

Mile 13.7 (22.1 km): KonstanzKonstanz HarborKonstanzWe 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 Mainau.

Mile 19.9 (32.1 km): 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.

Mile 22.1 (35.5 km): Mainau Garden IslandMainau Castle GardenMainau CastlePark 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.

Tip: 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 last chance.

Mile 30.0 (48.2 km): 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 up.

Mile 30.9 (49.8 km): 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.

Mile 37.0 (59.5 km): 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

Day Overview: 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.

Mile 14.5 (23.4 km): We stop for a morning break at the Pfahlbau Museum. Pfahlbaumuseum 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.

Mile 17.0 (27.3 km): 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.Schloss Kirchberg

Mile 21.4 (34.4 km): 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 FriedrichshafenSchlosskirche in Friedrichshafen

Mile 28.1 (45.2 km): 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 intrigue.

Mile 29.0 (46.6 km): This is downtown Friedrichshafen. A lovely waterfront.Friedrichshafen Downtown Waterfront Waterfront Friedrichshafen

Mile 33.9 (54.5 km): 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.

Mile 39.8 (64.0 km): World's First Suspension Bridge by the designer of Golden Gate BridgeEriskirch Town SquareWe 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 Germany.

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Day 3: Nonnenhorn to Arbon

Day Overview: 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.

Mile 5.2 (8.4 km): LindauLindau MarketLindau HarborA three wheeled BMW Isetta built in the early 50sWe 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.

Mile 7.5 (12.0 km) approximately: 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.

Mile 10.4 (16.7 km): 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.

Mile 17.9 (28.8 km): 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.

Mile 25.9 (41.7 km): 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 ridden.

Mile 36.7 (59.0 km): Arbon Pension SonnenhofWe 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

Day Overview: 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.

ErmatingenKreuzlingenOverlooking Lake Constance and Stein am RheinStein am RheinStein am RheinStein am Rhein

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.

Mile 18.1 (29.2 km): 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.

Mile 36.6 (58.9 km): 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.

Editors Note: 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 Tour.

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