This is the time of the year when we fall in love with Christmas markets and hot mulled wine and no one does festive markets quite like the German-speaking population.
This winter, you can enjoy a holiday with a difference by visiting Lake Constance and experience four countries in one region: Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Liechtenstein and a whole plethora of seasonal, independent markets.
Being one of the largest lakes in Central Europe, you might be baffled as to where to start your journey. There are two options: you can either start your journey from the German side by flying into Bodensee Airport Friedrichshafen or the Swiss side via Zurich, either way, it is extremely convenient to reach this magical location.
We started our adventure by visiting the affluent city of Konstanz, which has been prospering from the significant number of Swiss visitors descending onto the town due to the comparatively low taxes in this German town. Here you will find one of the most stunning hotels on the lake, Steigenberger Inselhotel, a former Dominican monastery on its own private island. This is where six-star luxury meets rich German history, from a secretary to the Pope being buried on site as well as the birthplace of airship designer Graf von Zeppelin.
Konstanz has one of the largest Christmas markets in the region stretching along the beautiful waterfront and into the heart of the old town. Whilst there, you must catch the signature Imperia statue on the waterfront, which is of a demimondaine with a naked Pope Martin V and Emperor Sigismund on either side. They have an extensive selection of items at the market, including intricate wooden sculptures of nativity scenes and multicoloured chandeliers that resemble stars.
Next, we headed to the historic Swiss city of St Gallen with their famous abbey district which is a UNESCO world heritage site. The magnificent abbey library has a collection of over 170,000 handwritten documents with some over a thousand years old. Food is also a strong part of the St Gallen society; here you can sample authentic Swiss fondue by checking out specialist restaurants like Fondue Beizli. They are many local products here which you can try out at restaurants such as Gaststuben zum Schlössli with their strong focus on regional cuisine. They use items like the St Gallen blue potato in their menus and currently, they are offering a “City of Stars” menu in association with the theme of their festive lights. Their festive market whilst isn't quite as picturesque as the others do have plenty of products on offer and an indoor section which is ideal with the unpredictable weather.
The next leg of our journey took us to Bregenz in Austria, where the world-famous Bregenzer Festspiele takes place in the summer, it is the largest floating stage in the world and the opera coming up in the next two years will be Rigoletto. Since 2013, the Kornmarktplatz has been turned into a thriving hub of social life and is where their annual Christmas market takes place and you can sample local Austrian delights such as Heiße Maroni (hot, roasted chestnuts). We discovered one of the best artisan chocolate shops in the region, Xocolat, who not only produce secret recipe creations but run workshops to share the secrets with you.
The pearl of Lake Constance is the picturesque island of Lindau. There might be plenty of tourists in this medieval town, but you can see why from the historic harbour entry to the countless quaint buildings that adorn the seafront. The highlight is the facade of the old town hall with its detailed depiction of the many historic events from Lindau's past. The best hotel to stay on the island is Hotel Bayerischer Hof, which is right next to the train station and has commanding views of the famous Lindau lighthouse and the harbour promenade where the Christmas market takes place. There are plenty of unique Christmas gift ideas from the traditional to the more modern with one entrepreneur selling specially designed wooden and bamboo ‘saxophones' alongside other musical instruments.
You might fear an assault of bratwurst and lederhosen when dining out in the region, but there have some surprisingly innovative restaurants and none more so than restaurant Valentin in Lindau. You could be excused for thinking you are in London with smart-sounding dishes like deer in the herb crust with truffle noodles and kale and rice pudding souffle with Armagnac orange.
Our final stop was at another medieval town: Ravensburg. The name might be familiar to a lot of people because the city is home to Ravensburger which is European market leader in jigsaw puzzles. You can visit their famed museum and discover many antique board games from bygone eras. Their Christmas market offering is particularly interesting as they offer 2 options: the traditional “Christmarkt” and the “Reischmann Christmas market”. The former has a delightful marquee this year offering bakery classes whilst the latter contains independent artists picked by the local shopping tycoon (the Richard Branson of Ravensburg) who he is keen on supporting.
Here, we also came across the roundtable concept, which is an association of young, professional men who volunteer their time to prompt higher ethical standards within the community; so we came across doctors who gave their free time to sell glühwein with profits supporting local charities. During this trip, we discovered the popularity of white glühwein which I've not seen in the UK before.
Our mini-Lake Constance adventure ended with a short train ride to Friedrichshafen where we boarded the Bodensee Catamaran back to Konstanz and onwards to Zurich. Lake Constance is a more than just a lake but a region bordering 4 countries with countless historic buildings and popular Christmas markets that make this an ideal location to consider for a winter break this season.
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