When someone mentions “lake country” — it’s Italy that usually comes to mind, but there’s a smaller, cheaper, less crowded version — the Bodensee (Lake Constance in English). It covers, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, but the German part is most accessible, least expensive and the focus of this month’s travel post.
The water is clear, warm and clean. The lakeside towns are charming with just enough going on not to be bored. Perfect for a weekend escape.
You might start in Friedrichshafen — along the center/widest part of Lake Konstanz. It has the most lakefront area to walk along (the Seepromenade). It’s a good base for lodging and allows you to easily travel via ferry or catamaran to towns across the lake. Several restaurants and bars lie along the water, and there’s a beach club that can get packed on the weekend evenings.
For sightseeing, you can check out the Zeppelin Museum (one of several around the area as Mr. Zeppelin was from Konstanz, but this seems to be the largest). You can also take a ride in a Zeppelin over the lake for the bargain price of about 200€ (N.B. Look for a 2 for 1 special if you’re not traveling solo or can find a buddy.)
There’s also a lovely old church to stop into on your way to the Stadt (state) beach. Entrance to the beach costs 1.50€, which gives you access to bathroom facilities, food and beverages for purchase and steps into the lake. There’s plenty of grass to throw a towel down and soak up the sun (be sure to bring your own towel). [N.B. Topless bathing in Germany generally isn’t the norm, but you might see it on occasion.]
If you’re looking to spend the night at a place with a ton of character, try Hotel Buchhorner Hof, one of the oldest hotels in Friedrichshafen. Stuffed heads of various creatures adorn the walls, and there’s plenty of parking nearby.
As is the case with many of the lodging options in this area, you might have a hard time finding a working a/c. But rooms are reasonable, even if they don’t include breakfast or wireless, which seems to be the case in Germany unless you’re staying at a business class hotel.
Should you want something more glamorous than Friedrichshafen, take the ferry (~12€ roundtrip) to Konstanz. It take about 45 mins or so each way. It’s much larger and more cosmopolitan than Friedrichshafen. The shopping area is full of designer stores, but sadly few lakeside dining/drinking options. But those abound in the middle of town. There’s a lovely cathedral and lots of cute buildings too.
Make sure to keep your eye out for the watchmen on his nightly rounds.
But if you prefer a more quaint and picturesque town, stay in Meersburg — smaller than Konstanz but bigger than Friedrichshafen — it was my favorite.
Don’t miss the oldest preserved castle in Germany, Burg Meersburg, which dates to 626 and has housed artists and poets over the years.
They attempt to recreate the castle experience through volunteers who spend their free time showing how people cooked, knitted and did various other crafts in the middle ages. (One gentleman spent his weekends entertaining the tourists and his weeks working for Dow.) There’s also an old wooden water wheel and some gorgeous wineries.
The town is small enough to stroll through in a few hours but has more food and drinking options than the other two towns combined. Despite this, it wasn’t overcrowded.
Even when dining hillside at Aurichs, not a person intruded on my unobstructed lakeview. I dined on the terrace where I enjoyed a very inexpensive Seelachsfilet (coalfish), kartoffelsalat (potato salad) and glass of local white wine for under 12€. (It had a very modern and clean bathroom too!)
Besides being beautiful, the Bodensee is relaxing. It could become a Disney caricature, but it’s not. It has its own charm. Tourists are mostly German looking for a brief escape. No one seemed interested in a scene. Just my idea of a perfect weekend getaway.