Travel log: Lake Constance, Danube & Allgäu
By our guests Christopher and Thomas
Christopher and Thomas decided to take on the cycling holiday alongside Lake Constance, Danube and into the Allgäu in the summer of 2019. After their return home they took the time to write down all about their time in the German-Swiss region.
I am never sure when a holiday begins. Is it when you arrive at the airport or does it begin when, with bags packed you leave your house? For me it is the moment I exit the plane, taste the air, feel the heat and sense that special airport smell.
After collecting my bags and negotiating security comes that moment of trepidation, when I have to buy train tickets. Wondering if my simple German will be understood, will I end up on the wrong train, in the wrong town or in the wrong country? Resisting the charms of the woman on the information desk, who thought my friend and I looked like we should be travelling 'first class', we purchased ‘second class’ return tickets to Constance.
Borders for me have a certain fascination. Living in Great Britain, where the border is the sea, the crossing of a border into another country is still something special and always a little exciting. Once manned by either customs officials or surly police officers, we now slip effortlessly and unnoticed in and out of countries. Within a few days our route would take us in and out of Switzerland and Germany, with the opportunity of visiting what seems like a particular anomaly, Büsingen am Hochrhein, a little island of Germany happily surrounded by Switzerland.
Arrival in Konstanz
We had been in Germany for less than two hours, and from the moment we alighted the train in Konstanz the reason for returning to this part of Europe was becoming evident. The differences may be prosaic but it is the differences in the ordinary that are so attractive about travel. The traffic flows quietly and smoothly with drivers giving pedestrians and cyclist equal consideration; and always a surprise and a little bit disconcerting, pedestrians waiting patiently for the ‘green man’ before crossing the road, even when there is obviously no traffic to be seen. I was told by a German friend this is because 'pedestrians are traffic'.
Confidently straddling the Rhein with one foot in Switzerland and the other in Germany, Konstanz and its architecture speaks of understated wealth and an influential history that pays quiet tribute to the town’s stability and authority. Leafy suburbs, quiet parks and fashionable promenades. Fountains play in the lake, the Rhein flows and Imperia turns.
Germany – Switzerland – Germany
Over the Rhein and into Switzerland, the cycling is easy and relaxing. Popular with other cyclists our route passes through small neat villages and quiet marinas. Lingering in Stein am Rhein, a town that retains its medieval street plan and painted houses, there we enjoyed the bi-annual street market before picnicking by the river.
Further on, Schaffhausen, devastated in the Thirty Year War, bombed in error by the USAF in 1944, the town is now famous for the nearby Rhein Falls, the largest waterfall in Europe. Though the falls are approached through the less than pretty part of the town, the scale and sound of this massive natural force cannot fail to impress. In the morning we bumped along the cobbled streets of Schaffhausen, a town that discretely exhibits its affluence, we stopped to buy apples and cheese at the market and enjoy the calm.
With the Rhein on our right we retraced the cycle path back in to Germany. Passing a farm where the previous day a London Black Cab was incongruously parked, the wedding party now over and the Black Cab gone, the tables cleared and the barn reinstated to its original use. Then an event to enthral and impress the Pontoniere at Diessenhofen. Set on the dangerously fast flowing Rhein, the oarsmen exhibited considerable skill, confidence and a tough competitive spirit. Cross the beautiful Rheinbrücke Diessenhofen–Gailingen and you are back in Switzerland. At Radolfzell, the threat of a storm was never far away.
The next morning evidence of the storm was all about. Fallen branches, broken trees and a muddy forest tracks that made our cycle through the forest impassable. After becoming mired in mud and unable to move, we dragged our bikes back to the road, washed them in a nearby horse-trough and continued our journey on a less arduous route.
Some hotels can be very anxious about security with staff carefully monitoring your arrival, your entrance to breakfast and the room’s mini-bar. It was therefore surprising that on arriving at one hotel a note was taped to the front door with instruction to phone a mobile number. On making contact, we were told the key was under the mat and to make ourselves comfortable. The only two guests in the hotel, breakfast was quiet.
Danube and Allgäu
After the previous day’s muddy travails the planned route along the side of the Danube was very welcome and did not disappoint. An undulating track cutting through beautiful woods and valleys, the path quietly following the Danube for nearly 50 km, through cool forest tracks and past surprisingly elegant buildings. The change from valleys to pasture is almost imperceptible as neat villages and stylish suburbs lead you away from the Danube into vast pastures and huge open fields where the greens mingle comfortably with flashes of colour. Poppies, an unnatural bright red, contrast vividly against the green meadows. Cycling through pastures sprinkled with wild flowers, the sky populated with buzzards and kites. The track may be undulating and some of the hills tough, but the sight of the Alps is inspiring and worth the effort. Welcomed along the route by spa towns and charming villages the Alps grow larger and the Bodensee begins to appear.
By contrast to the medieval towns and villages, the relatively new town of Friedrichshafen with ist varied and interesting history, sits confidently on the waters edge. Art Deco-style buildings contrast with the elegant promenade and modern glass structures. Anticipating a relaxing crossing on this busy waterway, unwinding in street cafes, we delight in watching the modern airships sail effortlessly, high above the Bodensee.
Catamaran: Friedrichshafen – Konstanz
With the efficiency of a train service, the catamaran zips us effortlessly back to Konstanz. There strolling among the lanes and cafes we savour one final beer before crossing back into Switzerland and onwards to Zürich and home.
When does a holiday finish? For some it is when, with bags packed, you leave the hotel. For others, it is boarding the aircraft. For me, it never quite ends.