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Published: September 27th 2016
A cycle around Lake Constance (Bodensee)
I've been talking to some of our cycling friends about our recent trip to Lake Constance, and they suggested that I should write a few notes that might be of interest or help to anyone thinking of taking on the trip in the future.
We had to do a bit of research about how to get there, the nearest airports, direct flights from Ireland, transport from the airport to the town of Constance and the start of our trail, planning a route, and finding accommodation where we thought we might stay during the journey. We intended to bring panniers, small enough for cabin-baggage, rent touring bikes in Constance, then hit the road.
Lake Constance has borders with Switzerland, Germany and Austria, and is one of the biggest lakes in Europe. We were attracted to it by reports of the well mapped and signposted cycle route that encircles the lake, by its location near the Swiss Alps and by the beautiful countryside and ancient towns and villages that we'd be cycling through on our way.....and of course by the legendary German beer, schnitzels, bratwurst and pork shanks!
A lot of our cycling friends were also enthused by the fact that there are a few hills, but generally it's pretty flat.
This is how our itinerary worked out:
Dublin - Zurich Airport (Flughafen) Swiss International Airlines, LX401 8 September
(Return-Zurich Airport - Dublin, LX406) 17 September
Zurich Airport to Constance, Swiss Rail SBB (www.sbb.com, bookable on-line)
Constance Cycle Rental - Kultur-Rädle (http://www.kultur-rädle.de, beside the train station in Constance)
Since we would be arriving late afternoon in Constance, we decided to pre-book our first 2 nights accommodation. That would give us a night to settle in and get our bearings, a cycle on our second day around the Untersee, then back to Constance for the second night, with the start of our journey around the Bodensee lake on the 3rd day. Through Airbnb we found a great centrally located room, with our very helpful and friendly host Heike. We also booked accommodation with Heike for our return to Constance, about a week later,for the night before our departure home, from Zurich Airport.
We decided to "wing-it" for the rest of the journey, to give
ourselves more flexibility about where to stay. On hindsight though, and because we happened to be there on the last weekend of the German School summer holidays (10/11th Sept) we should have pre-booked accommodation for that weekend, as we had to scrape around for somewhere to stay. After all the kids went back to school, it got quieter, and accommodation easy to find. Winging-it turned out to our advantage though, as we discovered some fantastic and beautiful places we would otherwise have missed. We stayed in a "Bette und Bike " hotel in Bodman, which we discovered is a chain of German hotels which provide specialist facilities for cyclists, such as laundry room, garage, kitchen, and an amazing breakfast! In Hard, which is close to Bregenz we stayed in a very up market youth hostel, double room with ensuite, breakfast provided and restaurant attached. This gave us an opportunity to explore the Rhine delta. We also chanced upon a wine festival in Meersburg. It would have been worth checking this out in advance since accommodation at this time was scarce!
After the first two nights, our overnights were Bodman, Meersburg, Bregenz, Hard and back to Constance, cycling
clockwise around the lake. For most of the journey you will be within sight of the lake, on a mixture of bike trails, alongside main roads, railway tracks, through open countryside and woodland. The surface is mostly very good, but you will also find unfinished trail, more suited to the hybrids we rented, than to pure road bikes. All our accommodation was in Germany or Austria. We made a few excursions through Switzerland, but no overnights, scared off by the much higher prices there. We still had plenty of time to explore the Swiss countryside, without overnights. We were lucky with the weather - sunshine every day 27/28C.
The total distance around the Bodensee is about 170 miles. A days cycling, if you take on the annual challenge, but more realistically for a leisurely cycling holiday, I would allow for about 5 or 6 days on the road, with a day or two on either end to get orientated, and spend some time in the beautiful and historic city of Constance.
The lake is criss-crossed by dozens of ferries, so it is feasible to take on a shorter cycling route around the lake, say
as far as Meersburg, then get the regular ferry from Meersburg back to Constance.
Our costs each, were about £110 return for flights, £40 return for the train journey, about £8.50 a day bike rental, about £30 - £40 a night hotel room or BandB. Food and drink prices are probably generally cheaper than at home, and seem so much tastier when you're dining in warm sunshine in a beer-garden overlooking the lake. It's tempting to stay for another pint at lunchtime, drinking excellent German beer at €3.50 a time. You'd expect to pay the same or less for your day-to-day expenses, as you'd pay at home. Cycle tour companies will organise a guided tour for groups, about £100 a day from Constance, and excluding flights and transfers. It'll work out a lot more expensive, and limits your freedom to explore. It's easy to organise on your own trip anyway.
For maps, check out https://www.bikemap.net/en/route/103214-bodensee-radweg/#/z10/47.64093,9.30543/terrain. They also have an App you can download. We also used the Bikeline Bodensee Guide, which is a ring bound handbook with detailed maps and guides of the route sections, but it's in German!
I hope that this information has been useful to you. Bodensee was one of our best-ever cycle trips, safe cycling, courteous drivers, stunning scenery, and perfect for a leisurely cycling holiday. Avoid the route during the height of the summer, in July and August, as it is a very busy tourist destination. Outside of those months, it's much quieter, with much less traffic, and accommodation probably cheaper and easier to find.
Another useful tip! Be sure to observe the rules of the road while you're there. They maintain a harmonious relationship between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians by creating safe, exclusive routes, and by enforcing the law. Spot fines if you're cycling on a road exclusive to drivers, or a path exclusive to pedestrians! Keep an eye out for the road signs.
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Very comprehensive and informative blog. Thanks to both of you. I will definitely do this next year, hopefully May.
Thanks Seamus. You'll enjoy this trip. A spectacular route, quiet roads, courteous drivers, great beer gardens. What more can I say?