Biking around the Bodensee

Biking around the Bodensee

Three countries in three daysBiking around the Bodensee

What do Bergenz, Konstanz, and Lindau have in common?  They’re all beautiful historic towns filled with the classic sights and sounds a savory smells of Western Europe.  Plus, they’re also very common hopping on/off points to biking around the Bodensee (Lake Constance).   The Bodensee is Western Europe’s third largest freshwater lake consisting of three unique bodies of water, all fed by the mighty Rhine River.  It also has the distinction of resting along the borders to three separate countries, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.  Because of the temperate climes, flat topography and very accommodating communities, the bike route around the lake is a trendy destination for many of Europe’s sportive travelers.  This is why it also landed in Ursula’s and my ‘Bucket Lists.’

Drawing from the Bucket-list

Circumnavigating the lake by bike has been a goal since living in Stuttgart three hours to the north.  However, somehow time never found its way into our schedule to make it happen back then, so it was a ‘must do’ during this ‘Year in Vorarlberg’ adventure.  A practiced biker could possibly travel around all three bodies of water in one day, but what would be the point? 

We decided to take our time, enjoy the sights, smells, foods, and beverages and travel around the more substantial body of water in three.  After several weather delays, we kicked off our trip early on Thurs to avoid the weekend crowds (retirement can be a good thing if you play your cards right!).  

A 45-minute train ride in the ‘bike car’ from Feldkirch to the main train station in Bregenz (on the Austrian side of the lake) made this an easy start.  From there, the route is well marked; it’s only really possible to get disoriented if one gets lost in the moment of the excitement.   We made a deliberate decision to push hard on the first day to pass through Switzerland and on to Germany to find a hotel in Konstanz (Constance) as the prices in Switzerland are crazy high. 

A quick route through SwitzerlandBiking around the Bodensee

A few weeks back we mistakenly stopped at a McDonald’s (yes, living vicariously here in Euro!) during an Autobahn bathroom break.  For a simple burger, fries and small drink for each of us, it cost about 46 dollars!  Yeah, insanely crazy!  Having said that, biking through Switzerland was incredible!  Along the way we passed through all of Switzerland’s’ captivating lakeside villages, stopping only long enough for a couple of cups of coffee and a cake (~$23)!  

What I find most alluring about Switzerland is its classic and manicured buildings and cobblestoned streets and diminutive communities that survived unscathed through the last Great War.   Everywhere one look one finds a mixture of old tradition and ultra-modern conveniences intermingled in creative flourishes – it’s the best of all possibilities.  

Onward to Germany

The skies were a quilt-work of rain clouds pierced by the occasional rays of the sun.  In spite of a few short sprinkles it was the perfect day for the 47-mile bike run out of Austria, through Switzerland and across the old, but currently uncontrolled border to the ancient University town of Konstanz in Germany.  

Arriving in Konstanz was joy and pleasure not only because it brought to a successful conclusion our long jaunt along the southern stretch of the lake, but we’d landed in another incredible historic town that we hadn’t previously explored.  After walking our bikes through the old town, under the towers and walls and around the cafes and restaurants, we decided this is where today’s bike adventure ends and our touring and eating adventure begins! 

Ursula has this uncanny nose and intuition for finding just the right hotel and just the right restaurant.  I don’t know how she does it, but I learned long ago not to argue with her choice….she’s usually spot-on!  On this occasion she found an old pension, a block off the main walking street, and ventured in to see if they had a room.  Coming out with a smile, she described the room and the excellent deal she talked her way into and asked if this would work? My usual response is ‘whatever’!  But, recognizing that’s not a nice way to compliment her efforts, I just responded if it has a bed, a toilet and place to lock up the bike, it works for me! 

Bike touring to window touring

We’d stored the bikes, hit the showers, and within 30 minutes we were in more comfortable cloths and back on the street.  It was a good call.  In spite of our soreness and fatigues from the day we energetically walked the breadth and depth of the old city.  Stopping here and there to window shop, and nibble away at treats from the food stands. 

We even quickly bypassed an ‘anti Trump’ demonstration!  How quaint!  I’m pretty sure the White House showed the appropriate level of awareness and concern! 


Konstanze is a town of surprising proportions and gravity.  It’s a lake town, a university town, a Roman Catholic Diocese with the Bishops See for 1,200 years and is home to about 83,000 residents.  As a border (customs and immigration) town it lays astride of an ancient trading route connecting northern Germany with Italy.  The city’s old granaries and storehouse still stand.  Again, I’m a fan of the old architecture, and this town does not disappoint with a selection of renaissance, rococo, Romanesque and Gothic structures from its cathedral to it’s Rathaus (City Hall) and many pensions, hotels, restaurants, cafes, and stores. 

After a few hours of wandering, we hit ‘The Wall’ and slugged our way to a ‘Bio’ restaurant featuring ‘healthy’ food!  One would think after a long exertions of the day we’d want to ‘carb-up’ with a heavy meal of pork & potatoes.  But, I chose again not to argue and went with Ursula’s selection.  And, as usual, she was spot on.  It was probably the best Chicken Salad I’ve ever eaten.  The vegetables were fresh and crisp, the dressing unique and delicious and the curry sautéed kabob was mouthwatering.  After dinner and a few beers (my carbs), off to bed and a tranquil slumber.

Along the German Countryside

The next morning we biked through the northern part of the city to the car ferry that brought us to the equally ancient village of Meersburg. The ferry ride allowed us to bypass the last body of water and 70 hilly kilometers.  

Relationships can be stressed when traveling together and out of one’s habitual environment.  As Ursula and I travel quite a bit together, we’re often stressed together because in some ways we’re very much alike.  Not only do we often fail to adequately communicate our expectations because we ‘assume’ the other knows our minds, but, we’re also both stubborn, obstinate and bullheaded (pick your own adjective, it’ll fit). 

On this morning I had visions of visiting one of the oldest standing castles in the local area and Ursula wanted  go see some ‘buildings on sticks’?  With this anemic and confusing description of her desired destination, I was not really supportive of it.   The sites (Castle Vs. Stick house?) were in opposite directions and the ‘stick building’ was off our path (at least in my mind).  In spite of a cool ferry ride across the lake, our morning was getting off to a Warm and rocky start where we bump heads for a while; and then finally realize the idiocy of it all, and grudgingly compromise. 

The Floating Village

As it turns out we got to see the ‘buildings on sticks’ and the old town and castle.  Equally cool was that the enigmatic ‘buildings on stick’ turned out to be an astonishing find, a visit we’d recommend to everyone visiting that part of Germany.  The ‘buildings on sticks’ Unteruhldingen was an open-air museum featuring a recreation of a really ancient village (Neolithic and Bronze Age)constructed in the lake on top of pilings.  Apparently, this is how the original inhabitants of the area lived with the security of walled-in villages off the land and 50 – 200 feet out into the lake. 

It reminded me of the old Stilt Houses in Thailand.  The pilings, or stilts, held up above the water walkways that lead to elevated platforms where thatched huts were constructed for homes, communal buildings barns and kitchens.  This place was a gem of a find with a really interesting portrayal of history and the living conditions of the original, local inhabitants ages and ages ago.  Again, my girl was spot-on with selecting this as a place to visit.  A few miles back up the road to Meersburg and I got to visit my castle and the old town.  It was pretty interesting, but also fairly common as ‘old towns’ go; the ‘building on sticks’ turned out to be the feature of the week!  



Up the road, we meandered amongst the vineyards and holiday villages filled with bicyclists, walkers, RVs, and travel trailers.   The Bodensee is a very popular attraction during the summer!  We finally decided to push through to the island town of Lindau as nothing in-between looked as inviting as what our imaginations had conjured up as the perfect idyllic waterside village with a romantic hotel on the water.  We had been in Lindau many times, it’s one of our favorite towns to visit with its old harbor with its protective lion statue and light-house tower.  However we’d never stayed overnight and always had to rush away to get home on a convenient train or to avoid the traffic.  So, selecting our second overnight spot of Lindau was a natural choice. 

After wandering around for thirty minutes, Ursula found this hidden door to a small hotel next to the harbor; they had one room left with a balcony overlooking a garden and the marina/harbor.  At night we watched the sunset behind the fabled old light tower, that alone made the stay worthwhile.  Again, after a quick shower and change, we were off to explore the same alleys and streets we’ve wandered up and down many time before.  But this time, we were in no hurry and the leisure of the occasion and the evening lights was magical.  On this night, we found a traditional beer garden restaurant in the middle of town and ‘carbed out’ on steaks and potatoes!  It was another memorable day biking around the Bodensee.

Back to the Rhine

With a quick ‘continental style’ breakfast buffet stuffed down our gullets, we were off to Bregenz, with a short 8.5 miles ride to the other side of the lake and back in Austria.  We arrived where we started two days earlier but too early in the morning to hop the train and ride home.  So, we biked the return route along the Rhine River to Feldkirch, another 25 miles or so. 

Biking up and down the Rhine is surreal.  On either side (both the Austrian and Swiss) of the river lie green fields of flood planes.  On the land side of those planes are tall levees or dikes.  And on top of those levee’s are wonderful cement or hard-packed bike paths.  Actually, I’m sure those ‘paths’ are really roads for emergency vehicles or military vehicles in times of ‘concern.’  But, they serve perfectly as bike paths until such times return to Europe. 

On either side of the levees are the alluring villages of Vorarlberg to the East and Switzerland to the West.  And on the other side of those villages lie the foothills of the Austrian and Swiss Alps.  Riding up and down this valley, surrounded by these majestic mountains has an invigorating feeling as if the hills themselves infused the rider with energy.  Perhaps not, but it is a great ride!

A lighter Bucket List

Finally, by late afternoon we arrived home too pooped to do much but shower and fade into the couch with the TV blaring out the latest evening movie. 

That weekend we knocked off another item on our bucket list, and it was, glorious.  We’ve committed to go back one day and base ourselves back in the town of Konstanz to support our ride around the two smaller lakes that we bypassed on this trip. But, really, if we never make it, it’s OK.  This mini-adventure was worth the wait. 






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