The article below was published in Pinnable’s newsletter in .

Mainau Island

A Sea of Flowers in Lake Constance

Lake Constance, or Bodensee in German, consists of two parts; the larger Upper Lake (473 km²) & the smaller Lower Lake (63 km²) are connected by the Rhine river, which flows through the lake & the city of Constance. The mild climate of the Alpine Foreland is good for people & plants alike: the region is noted for its vineyards on the lakeside slopes, and for growing fruit & veg. For garden lovers there is Mainau Island, a horticultural paradise in the Upper Lake. Mainau is open to visitors the year round, but of course the island is at its best when the flowers are in bloom, from mid-April, when the orchards blossom & over a million tulips covering the slope alongside Spring Avenue bloom luxuriantly, until sometime in September, when autumn kicks in and slowly ruins everything.

The baroque palace at Mainau Island
Palm trees in front of St Mary’s Church on Mainau Island

By virtue of its Italian cascade & rose garden, the Mediterranean terrace and the historic citrus collection, Mainau perfectly reflects a Goethean longing for ‘Das Land wo die Zitronen blühn’. Besides the outstanding floral display, the island features a palm house & a butterfly house with some 120 species of tropical butterflies. The baroque Palace of the Teutonic Order & its church next door, both built by Johann Caspar Bagnato, are nothing out of the ordinary, but they offer a pleasant sanctuary from the riotous floweriness. Located 3½ km from Constance’s ferry terminal in Staad, it takes 45 minutes to walk to Mainau. The bus is five times faster, but the waiting time in Allmannsdorf for the connecting service can take up to almost half an hour if you’re unlucky.

Reader comments


Lake Constance’s other island is the Monastic Island of Reichenau in the Lower Lake, which is utterly boring, despite being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Reichenau is on the list because of the religious & cultural role of the Benedictine monastery here in the early Middle Ages, but with the monastery gone it’s mainly crops of lettuce that remain to be seen. Of the island’s three churches, only St George with its 10th-century frescoes is well worth a visit, but please note that the church is closed to visitors during the high season in order to preserve the wall paintings.


Another place of interest on Reichenau Island is the herb garden with the 23 flowers & herbs from the 444-hexameter lyrical poem De cultura hortorum by Walafrid Strabo, a 9th-century monk from Reichenau. The garden can be found near the Minster of Sts Mary & Mark; Walafrid’s poem Hortulus in a manuscript at the Vatican Library, Reg. lat. 469, f. 29v–39r. (Incidentally, Lindau is an island as well.)


Three other gardens near Lake Constance that are worth visiting are, in the Swiss canton of Thurgau, those of Arenenberg Castle in Salenstein & the Carthusian Monastery in Warth, and, to the north of the lake, Salem Monastery & Palace.


Recommended winegrowers around Lake Constance are, on the German side, the wineries of the Margrave of Baden and the State of Baden-Württemberg, in Salem and Meersburg respectively, and, on the Swiss side, the Bachtobel Estate in Weinfelden.