Lake Constance: The Fairytale Spot For Every Cyclist

DAY 3 – Distance to cycle: 56km

Ice cream count: 5

The next morning I realised, with surprise, that I felt excited to be reunited with my wheels. I packed lightly and efficiently, having by now learned exactly what I needed; within minutes I was out of the town. This was to be my first proper taster of the German side of Lake Constance, which makes up more than half the shoreline. I passed a sign bearing a black eagle – the German emblem – which later seemed quite fitting: as I made my way further into the country, the sky overhead filled with birds of prey. Falcons and kestrels swooped and soared, unperturbed by the cyclists that kept stopping beneath them.

Distracted by the feathery flight show I suddenly felt a pain in my thighs and realised that I was climbing up a rather steep hill. I kept pedalling, determined not to give up, then I turned a corner and the hill kept ascending. With a flick of the gears and some teamwork between me and my bike, we made it to the top. If at any point we progressed from acquaintances to friends, it was here. On the other side, we hurtled down, moving as one. Towns shot by with unexpected frequency – proving that on this bike trail, you’re never far from help. Or a latte. I decided then that I had plenty of time for a detour to the island of Reichenau. I pedalled along the tree-lined causeway that connects Reichenau to the mainland.

Konstanz – The region’s informal capital is home to some great restaurants and the controversial rotating Imperia – a statue of a courtesan holding a pope and an emperor in her hands.

The causeway was completed in 1838, but the island’s many churches and abbeys were founded much earlier – AD724 to be exact. And, as Reichenau is now as famous for its vegetable growing and wine production as its religious history, it proved a great lunch stop. Leaving the island, I passed a wetland reserve where a cluster of birds fluttered overhead. Soon, however, wingbeats were replaced with the clacketty-clack of trains leading into Konstanz, just a kilometre from the Swiss border, the German university town has a vibrant buzz, especially along its waterfront. Here, as the light faded, I wandered through a jazz festival where people aged from eight to 8o-plus met, drank and danced.

DAY 4 – Distance to cycle: 25km

Ice cream count: 7

After a short 6km ride, my bike and I boarded the ferry at Staad. Though the lake stretches on up to Bodman, that area has been a victim of industry – access and pleasant cycling are an issue, so like most who do the trail, I was cutting it out. If anything defines the northern section of the trail it is the silhouette of the castle in Meersburg that greets the ferry. Built on a steep slope, the whole town is a network of twisting alleys and crooked stairs leading up to a fort at the top; on a clear day it offers views over the southern side of the lake and the serrated Alps beyond. After a couple of hours wandering on foot, I left, passing waterfront parks and fire hydrants painted to look like pirates, en route to the north shore’s capital, Friedrichshafen.

Meersburg – Climb the steep steps up to the fortress in this picturesque town that looks as though it was plucked from the pages of a storybook.

It was here that aircraft manufacturer Ferdinand von Zeppelin was based, and from where the first commercial transatlantic Zeppelin flight took off in 1928. It marked the start of a golden era of German passenger aviation, which came to a tragic end in 1937 with the Hindenburg disaster. Since then the city has relied on tourists, who come to stroll on Friedrichshafen’s promenade and recapture past glories on Zeppelin pleasure flights. When I arrived one of the enormous balloons was hovering overhead while a summer festival was taking place on the lakeshore. I joined the families that were sipping beer from steins, eating bratwurst and pretzels, and enjoying the evening sunshine while brass bands played. All the while I found myself stealing glances over at my bike, eager to crack on with our adventure.

DAY 5 – Distance to cycle: 34km

Ice cream count: too many to admit

I left Friedrichshafen early. At a farm, two llamas looked up at me curiously; a nun waved hello. In the next hamlet, marked by a totem pole of shields, I stopped to watch the lakes waves lap right up to the street. It was a Sunday and it seemed the whole village was either heading to Mass or cycling. Switching it up a gear to pass a crowd of pedallers, I realised my own cycling must have stepped up a level. The scent of apples and cherries punctuated the air as I passed row upon row of orchards before arriving in Lindau, one of the best-preserved medieval towns on the lake. Sitting on an island and guarded by a much-photographed Bavarian lion statue and lighthouse, it’s a beautiful collection of small boutique shops, cobbled squares and ornate buildings.

Zeppelin Museum, Friedrichshafen – Forget the slightly tacky promenade and check out a piece of aviation history in this striking museum.

It was a bittersweet moment when I left the island and found myself crossing the border into Austria. By now the bike and I moved in unison, the pedals felt like an extension of my legs, the handlebars like my own arms – yet soon we would be parted forever. I watched as Pfander Mountain came closer and felt my pace begin to slow; Bregenz was in my sights. “You don’t need to lock it up,” said the woman in the bike rental office. But I pretended not to hear her, tightly clamped the padlock shut and tossed her the key. It may have been a short-lived romance, but it was a special one. My two wheels had enabled me to cross country borders, cover ground at my own pace and still stop to admire any curiosities that caught my eye. This had been an affair to remember.


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