Three countries, two wheels and one week

Being a keen swimmer, in order to get on a bike for a week I was always going to need to be close to the water at the same time. Lake Constance on the borders of Switzerland, Germany and Austria in the heart of Europe was the perfect location for my first cycling holiday.

My mum and I opted for a 7 day self guided cycling trip that included 5 days cycling of between 30-55km a day. The trip started and ended in the beautiful town of Kontanz, technically in Germany, but with the Swiss border running right along its edges.

Konstanz is very easy to reach by train and is a small town, mostly pedestrianised so perfect to explore on foot.

Day 1 was our arrival day and as it was a beautiful summers day we decided to walk the 3km along the lake to pick up our bikes. Our timing was perfect as every year in late June/early July, one of Europe’s largest flea markets is held along the shores of Lake Konstanz. Stretching out for kilometres from the city centre, on both sides of the river are families and individuals selling a huge variety of wares – it was a great start to the trip, especially as we didn’t have to carry our own luggage!

On reaching the bike warehouse we met the most helpful German man who ensured that our bikes were all ready to go and perfectly adjusted to fit us for the week. With our bikes, panniers and locks; we set off back along the lake to our hotel.

Day 2 and we are up early for a delicious breakfast before setting off on our first day of cycling. We had excellent maps and route guides to take with us so headed off in the direction of Reichenau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its many examples of early medieval monastic architecture. From Reichenau, we took a boat trip across to Gaienhofen. The boats are very well set up to take both bikes and riders with the front of the boat reserved for bikes which the crew expertly stack for you.

With the afternoon free once we reached Gaienhofen, we spent it relaxing and swimming by the lake. The best swimming spots along the lakefront are usually set up in a similar way to swimming pool facilities, ie. You pay a small entrance fee and the grounds are very well landscaped, there is often a swimming pool in addition to easy lake access, a café and excellent change/shower facilities.

Day 3 and it is off to Stein am Rhein, across the border into Switzerland. This was possibly the prettiest town we visited; beautifully preserved architecture and the perfect place for our first morning coffee break with fresh pastries. Heading out of Stein am Rhein we followed the shoreline back to Kontanz where we crossed the lake by ferry to Uberlingen. It was here that we discovered what would become our favourite café, a German café chain called aran. With excellent coffee, fresh breads and all sorts of other delicacies; with often the best locations; we also found one in Friedrichshafen and back in Konstanz at the end of our trip. The morning we were leaving this charming little town, there was a farmers’ market operating so we picked up plenty of fresh fruit to take with us for the day.

Schloss SalemDay 4 offered plenty of architectural delights along the way; first stopping at the Baroque Church at Birnau then onwards to Schloss Salem, first founded as a Cistercian monastery in 1134, the immense estate known as Schloss Salem was once the largest and richest of its kind in southern Germany. Here you can visit the hedge maze, gardens and extravagant rococo apartments dripping with stucco.

From here we cycled onwards to Friedrichshafen, the home of the Zeppelin. With a Zeppelin almost permanently in the air above this town its easily identifiable from almost any aspect on the lake.

Day 5 started perfectly as we enjoyed another restful night’s sleep in our small family run hotel. We set off towards Lindau and found the centre of this town is on a tiny island connected to the mainland. Mostly pedestrianized with a variety of lakefront cafes and shops, this was a beautiful place to explore on foot. Later on today we crossed the border into Austria and the lakefront town of Bregenz. Today happened to be when the flower market was on and every summer Bregenz holds a month long festival with the main stage set out onto the lake. Well worth timing your trip to coincide with.

Day 5 and we continue on through the Rhine Delta and back into Switzerland for our last night before we returned to Konstanz. It was a balmy summer’s evening, so after an afternoon swim we bought a few local delicacies from the supermarket and sat on the lake’s edge whilst watching the sun go down.

Day 6 and it is our last day of cycling. Today’s ride takes us onwards through the Swiss canton of Thurgau and back into Konstanz. Back to the hotel that we started our trip from, this time we could leave our bikes here for collection by the bike company the following morning. With an excellent range of local cafes and restaurants in Konstanz we enjoyed another delicious meal.

Day 7 and for our last day in Konstanz we took the local bus across to the island of Mainau, just 8km north of the town. Jutting out over the lake and bursting with flowers, the lusciously green islet of Mainau is a 45-hectare Mediterranean garden dreamed up by the Bernadotte family, relatives of the royal house of Sweden. Around two million visitors flock here every year to admire sparkly lake and mountain views from the baroque castle, and wander sequoia-shaded avenues and hothouses bristling with palms and orchids. Crowd-pullers include the Butterfly House, where hundreds of vivid butterflies flit amid the dewy foliage, an Italian Cascade integrating patterned flowers with waterfalls, and a petting zoo. Tulips and rhododendrons bloom in spring, hibiscus and roses in summer.

A very picturesque end to a fabulous trip through central Europe.

Things I learnt about Self Guided Cycle Holidays:

  • Great to start and finish at the same hotel (you can leave any excess luggage)
  • Travelling with just a day pack was excellent (our luggage was moved from hotel to hotel)
  • I was surprised at how much free time we had to explore the different towns, relax, sunbathe and swim in the lake
  • Cycling on dedicated cycle paths rather than roads or footpaths was perfect – safe, easy and incredibly scenic
  • The notes, documentation and recommendations were fantastic and the hotels were carefully chosen for their location, great breakfasts and helpful staff