One of the largest lakes in Europe lies at the foot of the Alps connecting Switzerland, Germany and Austria. The Bondesee, known as the Lake of Constance in English, is encircled by a fantastically maintained flat cycling route which also extends down to Rheinfall, one of the most powerful waterfalls on the continent. At a total length between 270 – 310 km, depending on the exact course, it can be covered in anywhere from one day to an entire week. I decided to bikepack the route as a long weekend trip during a visit to Austria and began in Bregenz with a basic mountain bike. Riding in a counter-clockwise direction first to Germany, the goal was to ride 118 kms to Konstanz (Constance) and Reichenau Island over two days using the third to cover 119 kms to Rheinfall (Rhine Falls) with the final day moving through 70 km on the Swiss side back to Bregenz.
After recently completing self designed long distance bikepack trips in Portugal and Spain I was definitely ready to take it easy and follow a very well marked and maintained route in one of the most well-developed areas of the world. Cycling and camping is the most affordable way for me to visit new places and this would be no exception. The budget for four days and three nights of campsites, meals and small admission fees to sites like churches was 100 Euros. Cash is the preferred method of payment in most of Germany so I didn’t bother to bring a credit card and packed a bank card in the case I needed to visit an ATM. Fortunately many shops in Swiss towns along the Rhein segments of this ride accept Euros, so there was no need to keep multiple currencies.
On the northeastern stretch the route passes vineyards, orchards and shoreline with dazzling views of the snow-capped mountains. After just 13 km I stopped on the island of Lindau to make my first break and walk around. Although small, the city has a beautiful old light house, a cathedral and a few other buildings worth checking out. On the shores the atmosphere is a bit carnival like: slow moving crowds, smells of fried food, beer gardens, ice cream shops, fruit stands and little paddle boats for rental. People come here to make holidays and sounds of languages from all over the world float in the air. Lindau is common starting point for cyclists doing the lake because it’s an end point to the Königssee-Bodensee route begins connecting to Upper Bavaria.
In the late afternoon I continued on and passed through Friedtichshafen with a short stop to pick up some dinner items and beer. I was not all that interested in exploring since it felt like just any other modern city. It was badly damaged during World War Two and most buildings are relatively new. During the war it functioned as a major industrial site where slave laborers taken from concentration camps in the region where forced to work while simultaneously being a resort area of sorts for the Nazi Party members.
For accommodation I chose Campingplatz Schloss Kirchberg, one of several similar campsites scattered on the shores. Although it was late June, I simply showed up asking for a tent site for the price of about 12 Euros. There were actually no sites per se but a large field with tents were placed randomly and children running and playing games in the spaces between. A shower cost 2 Euros and a little snack cafe had drinks and small items available outside of quiet hours. The first day’s journey ended just past Immenstaat at 45 km and left my legs feeling completely fresh. Well designed cycling infrastructure allowed me to build up momentum and speed by not halting at each road or intersection. Even when going straight through very crowded tourist towns people respected the cycle lane and didn’t use it for jogging or strolling.
In the morning I packed up and headed out to have coffee a half hour away in Meersburg. The official Bodensee Route passes right into the beautiful old city. After breakfasting in a small cafe in from of the old city gates I took a self-created walking tour of the historical landmarks. Although I’ve visited Germany many times before, never had I stopped in a place with all the typical architecture Americans associate with the country – half-timbered homes, medieval gates, cobbled streets and castles. Meersburg translates to Castle on the Sea and the city centers around the Old Castle built 1,400 years ago – one of the oldest surviving castles in Germany. The historic areas of are really lovely and the different building styles lend it a real personality. I enjoyed a lot of places on this trip but Meersburg was my favorite stop on the north side of the lake.
After a two hour exploration and several dozen photos I picked out lunch items to take along to my next destination. I had all afternoon to cover 60 km on the way to the next campsite just outside of Konstanz. While many visitors chose to use the ferry and avoid the quiet Überlinger Arm of the lake, I wanted to explore ruins scattered in the area. I chose a random sampling to visit, all of different sizes and conditions. My favorite was Burgruine Homburg and my favorite walk into the woods brought me to Ruine Burg Hohenfels. Both sites were empty and the peace of a quiet forest felt great compared to the crowded lakeside. I recommend checking out these small traces of the Middle Ages if you’re into history and culture. An interesting aspect of this bike ride was seeing the different layers of history laid down on top of each other; Millenia old castles and cathedrals are a stones throw away from modern cities with some of the best cycling infrastructure in the world.
By late afternoon I was in Konstanz to see the old town. I spent an hour or so wandering the twisting streets looking at the different architectural styles and walking the medieval bridge over the Rhine. My favorite sites were the striking Imperia statue at the waterfront, the old Schnetztore (city gates) and the massive cathedral. Konstanz is not as clean or new looking as the other cities along the route; due to it’s proximity to Switzerland it largely escaped WWII bombing. Everything is much older than most of what I’d seen over the last few days. I liked the look and feel of everything and seeing a structure several centuries old butted up against a brand new building. It’s a authentic layered look that I’m not used to seeing in Germany.
A long June day allowed enough sunlight to ride to through Reichenau in the evening. It’s lake’s largest island and UNESCO World Heritage site preserving the Reichenau Abbey founded in the 8th century and Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Calm and with a completely different feeling than the other areas of the tour, the island created a nice transition between a fast-paced and long day and a tranquil evening along the shore. Before settling in to my campsite for the night I was treated to a chorus of birds. The calm of the little island was the perfect place to recharge.
Thank you for reading!