Lake Constance (Bodensee in German) is Germany’s largest lake, although it also laps against Austria and Switzerland. Despite its size it is ridiculously easy to get around, with trains shuffling along the shore and ferries criss-crossing the lake.
A logical starting point is the town from which the lake derives its (English) name, an enclave on the Swiss shore. Constance’s well-preserved old town includes the partly-timbered Konzil building dating back to the 14th century, but its serene waterfront location belies its history; this was once the scene of tempestuous episodes in the history of the Catholic Church.
The nearby island of Mainau is largely given over to gardens, carpeted in extravagant floral display from the appearance of the first snowdrops in late winter. Working clockwise around the lake, the next major port of call is the medieval town of Meersburg. It rises steeply from the shore and is watched over by not one but two castles, the older of which dates back to the 7th Century.
Moving west, the large town of Friedrichshafen announces itself with a gleaming white Art Deco building. This is the Zeppelin Museum, recording the town’s key role in the ill-fated history of airships.
Finally, just before the Austrian border is Lindau, on an island joined to the lake shore by a causeway. The entrance to its idyllic harbor is guarded by a lighthouse and a pedestal-mounted lion. Once ashore, a medieval street plan reveals a stunning ensemble of historic buildings. Their careful restoration is the product of justifiable civic pride. For much of its existence, Lindau was an independent city within the Holy Roman Empire.
But these are just the main centers: just about any spot you care to alight on the shores of Lake Constance is likely to reward exploration.