Our day out takes us to the largest lake of Germany, the Lake Constance, in German ‘der Bodensee‘. How large it is is impossible to say, because Austria and Switzerland have a share, too, the border lines run through the water. Our aim is the Isle of Mainau, off the town of Constance (in German Konstanz) on the southern shore with which it is connected by a dam.
We went by car to Meersburg on the northern shore, a town straight out of a book of fairy tales, small, steep, with narrow lanes, half-timbered houses, flowers on all balconies, an old and a new castle, wonderful (and expensive) hotels and restaurants on the lake front, flanked by vineyards.
The climate round the Lake Constance is one of the mildest in Germany and the region north of it very fertile. We passed potato, asparagus, strawberry and hop fields, plantations with apple and cherry trees for miles, in the villages the products of the season are sold in stalls on either side of the road, in June this means asparagus, strawberries and the first potatoes, schnapps made of fruit can be bought all the year round.
In Meersburg we went down to the Hotel Schiff beside which there‘s the mooring of the ferry to the Isle of Mainau, the smallest on the whole lake, it‘s called Fritz, starts at 9.35 am and then does the trip of 20 minutes once every hour at the same time, entrance tickets for the Isle of Mainau can be bought on board. The island is open all the year round, from March to October it opens at 7 am, from October to March at 9 am, it closes at sunset.
Why should anyone pay to visit this island? 1.6 million people do so every year, they can‘t all be mad!
Now I have to tell you some details about the Flower Island as it‘s also called. The first date I‘d like to mention is 1647 when the Isle of Mainau became Swedish for some months after a defeat in the Thirty Years War. It has changed hands a lot during the centuries. Marriages of European noble people and the bequeathing of the island to their heirs resulted in it becoming Swedish again in 1907.
In 1932 the Swedish Prince Lennart Bernadotte made the Mainau his home opening it to the public, improving and modernising it. He had inherited a rose garden, an orangery and a huge park with many exotic trees some of the former owners had had planted already in the 19th century. Today it is the greatest tourist attraction on the Lake Constance.
We had thought of going to the Mainau in early spring to see the typical spring flowers, zillions of tulips all over the island !, but then decided to wait for June, the month of the roses. You can do what you want once you‘re on the island, you can just wander around ready to be surprised at what you find (you can‘t get lost, the island isn‘t too big and there are placards with maps here and there) or you can buy a guide at the entrance and follow the routes systematically, the blue route occupying you for two, the red route for one hour.
The heart of the island is the Baroque Castle where the Bernadotte family live, they don‘t shy away from the public, we didn‘t see them, but they‘re known to mingle with the visitors when there are special occasions like concerts in front of the castle, open air markets, the Swedish Lucia festival and the like.
Beside the castle is a small baroque church, where you can marry if you feel like doing this in a very special and beautiful surroundings, it‘s also used for indoor concerts or exhibitions. Last summer the Isle of Mainau celebrated ‘Oriental Weeks‘ and the church housed the most wonderful exhibition of floral creations I’ve ever seen. I‘d never thought that arranging flowers could be art, now I know that it is!
Behind the church is a big greenhouse with a wonderful amaryllis show, leaving it you get to the rose garden. High hedges surround it with occasional openings through which one can see palm trees, the blue water of the lake and the white sails of passing boats. Definitely a Capri feeling!
Near the Swedish Tower, a remnant of the Thirty Years War, there‘s a path explaining the cultivation of grapevines and the production of wine. You can visit another greenhouse, a house for butterflies, the children can go to a ‘Stroking Zoo‘ where they can stroke rabbits, goats, sheep, donkeys, ponies, they can also ride the latter, because of the ‘Oriental Weeks‘ they could also ride camels last summer!
A pavilion informs the visitors about the supply of energy and how it has become possible to reduce the use of fossil fuel by 50 %, that the use of chemical manure has been drastically reduced and that lawns have been made into meadows in order to attract local plants and butterflies. The several restaurants offer mostly regional food from ecologically run farms.
We had started a bit too late from home (~ 190 km to the north) and so only had two hours on the island, not enough to see everything. We were so enchanted that we decided to come back at the end of summer when the dahlias were blooming.
No big deal for us, but you may say the Mainau is a bit out of your way and you haven‘t got enough money, firstly to get there at all and secondly, to pay the high entrance fees. Well, there is a way around this, you can go there not only free of charge, but will also be pampered exquisitely.
Since 1951 the town of Lindau, also on the northern shore of the lake, organises a meeting in a three year cycle inviting Nobel Prize laureates in chemistry, physics, physiology for a week of meetings and discussions, they always spend a day on the Mainau . . . Well?