Many Brits head to Italy to spend time at Lakes Garda and Como, but perhaps they are missing a trick when they bypass Central Europe’s third largest lake: Lake Constance, whose natural beauty makes it, without doubt, the Alps’ best-kept secret.
Also known Bodensee in German, what makes Lake Constance so special is that its 270 kilometres of shorelines takes in three countries: Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It is made up with the waters of The Rhine that descend from the Swiss Alps and is also an expansion of Switzerland’s Rhône River.
There are no border controls so you can easily embark on a latter-day mini-Grand Tour and visit four countries – taking in the micro state of Liechtenstein located few miles south of the lake.
Aside from the sensational views over the Swiss Alps from the German segment, here are the ten sights and activities you absolutely must not miss when you visit the Lake Constance area
The largest lake in Germany and Austria, Constance is 65km long, 14km wide and 252m deep. The very photogenic lake is so big that because of the Earth’s curvature, you cannot see one end of it from the other.
The water of Lake Constance is a gorgeous, shimmering, crystalline blue which would not look out of place around a Greek island. The water is an inviting 26° in the summer, and many love bathing in it. It is also a water-sports paradise for visitors, offering everything from paddle-boarding to yachting.
Situated in a charming spot on the edge of the lake, the German city of Constance is freighted with history. Nowhere is that clearer than in the centre. An area where it is not hard to lose yourself in attractive, higgledy-piggledy, winding alleyways, it is crowded with eye-catching medieval buildings which date back as far as 1260 and – unusually for Germany – survived the Second World War. During Allied raids on the area, warplanes mistook it for neutral Switzerland, and the medieval town centre was spared.
Now is a particularly good time to visit the city of Constance because it is celebrating the 600th anniversary of the Council of Constance. In the early 15th century, the Catholic Church had not one, not two, but three popes. So a four-year meeting was called in 1414 at the splendid waterside Council Building (a former goods warehouse) in neutral Constance to resolve the problem. Why was the Council necessary in the first place? Because in the 15th Century, rival European nations were incessantly jockeying for power. There really is nothing new under the sun.
The population of Constance swelled from the normal 5,000 to 25,000 during the four years of the Council. The new residents of the town included as many as 700 prostitutes. To mark that fact, “Imperia”, a towering, 9-metre-high, rotating statue by the local sculptor Peter Lenk was put up at the mouth of Constance Harbour in 1993.
Imperia’s dress is split down the front in a decidedly revealing fashion, and in 1993 the staid town council tried to ban the statue for “outraging public decency.” However, the harbour’s owners tersely informed the council that the statue was staying put. It turned out to be an inspired decision: Imperia is now the city’s most photographed landmark.
There is a corner of Lake Constance that is forever Stone Age. One of many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the region, the lake dwellings of Unteruhldingen in Germany constitute the largest and oldest open-air museum in Europe.
Dating back three millennia, 23 remarkably preserved houses are suspended on stilts above the water of Lake Constance. They give an unrivalled insight into the lives of the farmers, traders and fishermen who lived there over 3000 years ago. It’s an astounding journey back through time.
If you happen to find a spare €700 down the back of the sofa, you can catch a once-in-a-lifetime flight over Lake Constance in a 12-seater Zeppelin flying machine from Bodensee Airport in Friedrichshafen, Germany.
Housed in gigantic lakeside hangers and pioneered in the early 20th century by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who lived in the city of Constance, the airships are a gargantuan 75m long. Like those magnificent men in their flying machines, you can drink in the true majesty of Lake Constance from the air in these awe-inspiring air-ships.