Too Little Time on the Bodensee

En route from the Black Forest to Munich for our flight back home, we stopped in Meersburg on the Bodensee on the final day of our recent vacation in Germany. It was a last-minute decision that added time and kilometers onto our journey, but it was one we did not regret. Instead, we wished we could have stayed for at least a few nights to settle in and explore more of not only Meersburg but the larger Bodensee area.

Bordering three countries — Germany, Switzerland and Austria, with Liechtenstein also close by — the Bodensee, or Lake Constance as it is called in English, is the third largest lake in central Europe, measuring 63 kilometers long by 14 kilometers wide and up to 250 meters deep. Unfortunately for us, it was a case of so much to see and do and too little time, our appetite for the area whetted by the tiny, but delicious taste of it that we had in Meersburg.

Tumbling down a steep, vineyard-covered hillside along the northern shore of the Bodensee, small, medieval Meersburg consists of a compact upper and lakeside lower town. After a bit of trouble finding a parking spot — although we had never heard of it, Meersburg was buzzing with European tourists who clearly had — we entered the car-free historic center from the top, winding our way through cobblestone streets lined with colorful half-timbered houses, bustling shops and cozy restaurants.


I would have liked to have visited the town’s two castles — the “old” one a medieval stone fortress conjuring images of knights on horseback and the “new” one an elegant pink and white, baroque-style palace on a spacious, cafe-flanked plaza — but managed only a quick peek at them as we pushed on down the hill in search of lunch.

On the terrace of a weinstube (wine tavern) overlooking the lake, I tried the pan-fried felchen, a white fish fresh from the Bodensee, and a glass of the local pinot, while my husband and daughters dug into large plates of spaetzle and flammenkuchen, two other culinary specialties of the area.

Afterwards, it was time to tackle our second priority of the afternoon: swimming. We’d promised the girls one last swim before wrapping up our vacation, and luckily the weather was cooperating nicely. While we’d woken to cloudy skies in the Black Forest and driven through rain showers on our way here, the sun was shining and the air warm on the Bodensee, a so-called “German Riviera” with a balmy micro climate.

Passing by the ferry landing and continuing southeast along the waterfront we stumbled upon the town lido. For 13 Euro for the four of us, we gained access to an expansive green lawn, two large and immaculate swimming pools, changing facilities and, most importantly, the lake. Looking out toward Austria and Switzerland, the Alps were today mostly obscured by clouds and haze, but I could imagine how stunning the view would be on a clear day. And unlike the rest of the town, this peaceful oasis was surprisingly empty.

Having forgotten it in the car, for the second time on the trip I found myself without a bathing suit and unable to resist the allure of the lake’s sparkling blue water. Fortunately, no one batted an eye at my bra and panties, which truth be told are less revealing than my bikini anyway, and I enjoyed a nice swim with my daughters out to a floating platform some fifty meters offshore.

By the time we dried off, it was 4pm and time to get back on the road to Munich. We retraced our steps to Unterstadstrasse, the lower town’s cheerful main drag, bought a basket of raspberries and a few souvenirs, and reluctantly headed back up the hill to our car.

Meersburg and the Bodensee, the last stop on our trip and an afterthought at that, had been a revelation; our four-hour visit far too short. To quote a former California governor, native of one of the countries sharing the Bodensee, and Terminator; “I’ll be back!” And when I return, in addition to strolling around Meersburg, swimming in the lake, tasting the local wines and perhaps soaking in one of the region’s thermal springs, here are some of the places I would like to visit:

  • Meersburg Old Castle: Founded in the 7th century, the “Altes Schloss” is one of Germany’s oldest castles, featuring a keep, drawbridge, knights’ hall and dungeons.
  • Meersburg New Palace: The baroque “Neues Schloss” sits on a spacious plaza in Meersburg’s upper town, with a garden and lake views.
  • Konstanz: A lively German university city with a well-preserved medieval old town, 30 minutes from Meersburg by ferry.
  • Mainau Island: A small island in the Bodensee famous for its beautiful gardens.
  • Reichenau Island: Another island in the Bodensee that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its medieval monestary and churches.
  • Zeppelin Museum, Friedrichshafen: A museum on the history and technical aspects of zeppelins, featuring a full-scale mock-up of he Hindenburg, the largest zeppelin ever built.
  • Birnau: A splendid baroque church overlooking the Bodensee near Meersburg.
  • Lindau: A 40 minute drive from Meersburg, or a 3 hour ferry ride from Konstanz, Lindau is another pretty German lakefront town close to the Austrian border.