Lake constance bike tour: Cycling by the water's edge

The Lake Constance bike path is one of the most popular in Europe. No surprise there. At least not, for anyone who has stood on the edge of this lake and looked across the glistening water towards the Alps. Anyone who has done so will inevitably understand the charm of this fascinating landscape.

A greeny-blue waterscape spreads out in front of your eyes. Waves slowly ripple along the surface with the light wind. Seagulls circle the sky, whilst you can hear frogs croaking in the grass and bees buzzing around in the sky.

Every May, thousands upon thousands of irises, both bright yellow and blue, bloom in the flat reeds between Eriskirch and Langenargen. It’s exceptionally warm. After all of the snow, the grey clouds and the gloom from the last months, the sun really does give us that feel good feeling. The Lake Constance cycle path runs through Germany, Austria and Switzerland. That’s with one loop right around the lake.    

Vineyards near Lindau

A landscape as if it came from the Garden of Eden

Whilst looking through picture books of Lake Constance, many a photo of a blue lake with a backdrop of green hills and white mountains caught our eyes. Warm colours, the sheer vastness of the landscape and a southern sense of cheeriness captured us straight away. This made for an easy decision in terms of where to cycle to.

The harder decision was where exactly to cycle to as a novice. Once around Lake Constance? Why not! After all we do want to see as much of the beautiful lake as possible. Setting off from Konstanz you can comfortably cycle around Lake Constance, the third largest lake in Europe, within a week. The roughly 270km long route, split up into stages of about 30 and 50km allows enough time for visits to the attractions and of course a few swims in the lake too. You will often find well-kept lakeside beach areas within a minute’s ride from the cycle path or even directly next to the cycle path.

As casual cyclists we were slightly dubious about the thought of cycling for a week. But any worries were quickly blown away. Hardly had we got on our bright red rental bikes and off we rolled in high spirits. Our hair was flying in the wind, whilst our luggage was on its way to Reichenau island and indeed overtaking us meaning that it got to our hotel well before us. Once we were there, we would go and relax at the beach area by the lake. A poplar-lined road leads us across a small dam to the “World heritage site and vegetable island”. Greenhouses shine in the sunlight. Lettuces form a red-green visual axis with the ancient Romanesque churches. Sailing boats sway in the marina gurgling on the water. Just the idea of fresh fish with island vegetables is getting our taste buds excited. And then, all of a sudden the cycle path ends. It was a cul-de-sac. But directly in front of us lies Lake Constance.

A couple of waves gently swashed up onto the quay wall and the seagulls squabbled about the best bollard to sit on in the small port. From afar, we could hear a ship’s horn. A small boat trip across the part of the lake named Untersee took us to the peninsula ‘Höri’.  The calm area between the forest-covered rolling hills and the water gets called the artists’ peninsula.  And it’s true. The light here is soft and atmospheric and the people are quieter – or was that just our mind playing games on us?

The regional information section of the travel documents seems to know everything about the scenery and describes things just as they are. The artists ‘Dix’, ‘Ackermann’ and ‘Heckel’ all set up their easels here. Herrmann Hesse is however the most famous artist to have worked here.

Grandezza in the region of Lake Constance

The Überlinger See area of Lake Constance is both more austere and more scenic than the Übersee area. Steep slopes run along the lakeside with a slight fjord-like resemblance. There is only a tiny gap between the trees and the water’s edge for the railway, roads and bike path to all squeeze into. The promenade in Überling looks like it has simply been made for enjoying a cup of coffee in the sun. Sitting there watching the boats mooring up whilst sipping the frothy milk off of your coffee. Mediterranean easiness with Alemannic dialect.

Behind the delightful old town, the landscape opens up again and makes some space between the neatly located vines for the heaven-seeking pinkish-white pilgrimage church. In Unteruhldingen there is a charming and pretty lakeside beach area. Shoes off, it’s paddling time – at least! Right next to the beach area there are buildings right on the lake’s edge built on stilts dating back to the Celtic times. Diagonally across from here you can see the flower island ‘Mainau’. Swimming surrounded by culture – that’s normal in Lake Constance.

The lake view then becomes longer. Looking at the horizon, the Alps appeared to be hovering above the water’s shimmering surface. Ferries could be seen constantly making their own ways’ across the lake. Then the Meersburg started to be seemingly building itself up like a theatre stage. Alongside the oldest inhabited German castle, the colourful facades of the new castle, the state’s winery and the former theological college all sit enthroned above our heads. Street cafés tempt you to sit down and enjoy the view across the lake. Long-distance, fast riders don’t have it easy near Lake Constance.

White-blue and red-white-red

Shortly after Friedrichshafen the scenery changes once again. The vineyards now make space for hops fields and apple plantations surrounding Eriskirch, Langenargen and Kressbronn. The trio Nonnenhorn, Wasserburg and Lindau form the Bavarian corner next to Lake Constance. The onion domes on the top of baroque churches, cosy beer gardens, barbequed knuckles of pork and steaming pots of “Weißwurst” (veal sausages) are unmistakeable and very distinctive to this area.

We looked out of the hotel room onto the hustle and bustle in Lindau harbour. It really is a postcard perfect view. A beautiful sunset over the Bavarian lions and the lighthouse along with two glasses of local wine. A change in colour, even if it’s from the flags flapping around in the wind. We cycle along the lake’s edge to Austria. Bregenz, the festival city, has very different sides to it. Lots of jokes on the lake’s edge, hectic bustle in the modern lower town – and some strange kind of silence in the streets of the tranquil upper town.

Between Bregenz and the small Swiss seaside town Rorschach on the other side of the alpine Rhine a unique landscape starts to unfurl. Huge reed beds sway to and fro in the wind on totally flat reed meadows. The warm, dry, notorious wind sweeps through the alpine Rhine valley from Bergen to the lake. If its stormy then the water gets driven up so that white foamy crests form on the wild waves. But when the wind is just gentle then this guarantees stable good weather. We really cannot complain about it. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle and city life, then this tour is just what you are looking for.

On the southern part of Lake Constance, the currency is Swiss Francs. The red pen knifes are particularly popular and they match well with our red bikes, which are equally as robust as the pen knifes. Other popular things to purchase here are chocolate, cheese and watches. You also need to try Rivella. For the locals, it is considered normal to carry around two currencies at the same time. The region belongs together – and for this reason the exchange rate does not change much either.

Now it is time to free-wheel on your bike. The well-built bike paths mainly run very close to the edge of the lake and also on pleasantly flat land. Now and again a small town or a pretty village with timber-framed houses invites us to take a break. Farmers offered us apples directly from the tree. Some of them offered us the ‘Most’ (apple wine) straightaway. We have now arrived back to Konstanz – far too fast. From a distance, we can see the famous imperia statue in the port waving at us once more.

An overview of the Lake Constance bike path:

  • Length: about 270km
  • Start point and destination: Konstanz
  • Highlights: cultural diversity, mild, almost Mediterranean like climate and the flat lake side paths looking out across the Alps, significant monasteries, wonderful small parish churches as well as numerous palaces and stately buildings
  • Best time: April to October
Robi on the bike
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