Danielle Mustarde pedals her way to inner peace along the shores of Europe’s postcard-perfect Lake Constance
WORDS AND IMAGES BY DANIELLE MUSTARDE
Here’s the thing. I love living in London, but I’m a northerner at heart and, every once in a while, the horn-blaring, underground-rumbling, fume-filled capital can get a little… much. I mean, was it really any surprise I’d been left craving a little “me time”?
Enter Lake Constance, a 270km, lakeshore cycling route passing through Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Could a solo cycling trip help me find the inner quiet I craved? In spring 2019, I was lucky enough to find out for myself…
Arriving into Zurich by plane followed by a seamless train transfer to Konstanz, Germany, first on the agenda is to find Simon Mink of Radweg-Reisen bicycle hire. There, he sets me up with my loyal steed – a big-boned, crayon-red bicycle – as well as a map, small cycle-repair kit and two big thumbs up. Ja!
With no time like the present, it was off we go! Well, kind of… I immediately get lost in the residential backstreets of Konstanz, completely missing the (I’m sure, wonderful) forest trail I’m meant to be following. I eventually turn up 45 minutes late to meet my (oh-so-patient) guide Lisa at the entrance of the sunset-lit Mainau Island, aka “Flower Island.”
Visiting the still earthy, soon-to-bloom Rhododendron Slope, famous Italian Rose Garden and humid but inner-child satisfying butterfly house, I manage a short but sweet glimpse of the island – a veritable paradise during the summer, I’m assured – before saying, “Danke very much” and cycling the 20 minutes further to my first hotel of the trip, Hotel Ko’Ono (koono.de).
The next morning, it’s a short, sunny ride into Konstanz city centre where I lock my bike at the busy Marktstätte bicycle rack, grab a filter “kaffee” and take a leisurely walk around before cruising to the ferry terminal and sailing across the lake to my next stop, the medieval town of Meersberg.
With steep, winding stone streets, wooden-framed, overhanging buildings and its very own medieval castle, Meersberg is quite the contrast to sprawling London. I stop for lunch at Schlosscafé and slowly but surely begin to sink into the slower pace of #lakesidelife.
That afternoon, I follow my map to Friedrichshafen, dipping into the Zeppelin Museum and then stopping to scoff an ice cream at Café Aika while watching a pair of real life, tourist-filled zeppelin aircraft silently circumnavigate the lake. Museum breaks and snacks complete, I continue on to the small island town of Lindau.
The ride feels long and my legs ache after a day’s cycling but I’m duly rewarded with a sky-swallowing sunset on arrival. Once checked in, I explore Lindau by night.
Covering barely 70 hectares there’s not much to explore, but its cobbled streets and smiling residents mean it’s charming as heck. Cafe/bar Großstadt provides that evening’s meal and, scoring a spot by the window, I treat myself to an Alkoholfrei beer and “salad” consisting of an entire camembert, mountainous side salad and half a loaf of bread. (Now, that’s my kind of salad, Germany).
In the morning, I walk around terracotta-roofed Lindau in the sun. Its harbour, which I missed the inky dark of the night before, is something of a showstopper. Guarded by a pair of Lord Of The Rings-worthy monuments – a seated Bavarian lion to the left, and a lighthouse to the right – both are silhouetted against the blues of the sky and lake. (Instagramming, commence).
After whiling away an hour, it’s back on two-wheels as I leave for my stop: Bregenz, Austria. I don’t notice arriving into Austria at first. There’s no big song and dance as you cross one of Europe’s many invisible (read: made up) borders. It’s only after taking the Pfänderbahn cable car to the top of the Pfänder mountain that I register the distance I’ve travelled.
Standing at 1,064m, Pfänder overlooks the eastern end of Lake Constance. I can clearly see the outline of Lindau jutting out into the turquoise water. Tracing the edges of the lake for as far back as I can see, I give my brain a chance to compute our real-world route before gliding back down the mountainside over the dark, green tree tops and still-thick snow for lunch.
Batteries re-charged in the sun, it’s time to set off on the longest section of the trip: The Rhine Valley route from Bregenz to Feldkirch. There are plenty of spots to swim, picnic and barbecue along the way, though I stop only to take the odd photograph of the blue river or, panning out, take in the awe-spiring Alpine mountains towering over the horizon ahead.
Most of all though, I make a conscious effort to soak up the most notable thing about this stretch – the quiet. It’s here that my usually busy brain works out the last of its internal chatter, the “outside quiet” making its way inside. And that, dear reader, is the gold to be found while cycling solo along the banks of the Rhine. I arrive at my hotel, just as the light begins to fade…
The next morning, I unpack and carefully repack my backpack and cross the border into this tiny principality and its capital, Vaduz. My guide for the morning, the lovely Paula, a Brazilian-born-Liechensteinian, gives me the “Liechtenstein For Dummies” introduction to this compact, double-landlocked nation.
We visit the tiny, trinket-filled “Treasure Chamber” museum, accidentally interrupt Sunday service at the golden-hued St Florin Cathedral and send a postcard from the satisfyingly stamp-sized Postmuseum before stopping for a bite to eat at Balu Bäckerei Konditorei. Though I’ve only spent a morning in the sixth smallest country in the world, I soak up what I can of lovely, little Liechtenstein before leaving for Switzerland over the river, where it all began…
Managing to cycle some of the Heart Route from Altstätten to Rorschach (there’s a train if, like me, your knee stops working halfway), I arrive at Hotel Schloss Wartegg. An ivy-clad castle overlooking the south side of the lake, I spend my penultimate evening on the hotel veranda taking advantage of a rare opportunity to read under late afternoon sun – phone left in my hotel room. Bliss.
The next morning, it’s a short, easy-does-it kind of ride to Romanshorn before the final stretch of my Lake Constance trip leaves me in the historic town of Stein am Rhein in north-eastern Switzerland.
Surrounded by rolling hills, Stein am Rhein is something straight out of a (Swiss) German fairytale: all wooden-framed buildings painted with intricate, colourful histories and twisting, cobbled streets. One last lakeside lunch and it’s time to say goodbye to Stein am Rhein, Lake Constance – and my loyal steed, Big Red II. As she’s officially been named (by me).
Waking up in London the next morning, it looks as if the fair weather’s made its way over from the mainland – even if the quiet hasn’t. The all-too-familiar city-wide cacophony of honking horns, distant sirens and the rumbling underground come back into focus. Except… it sounds different. Muffled even?
That ever-present “background noise” that had, before my trip to Lake Constance, begun to get under my skin suddenly doesn’t seem quite so loud… Peddling along the almost-silent shores of Lake Constance seems to have worked a little magic.
Who knew cycling over 150km through four countries could leave you feeling quite so… r e s t e d?
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