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Friday, July 22, 2016

A Picture-Perfect Town in Germany: Meersburg, Lake Constance

As you may have been able to tell by all the ultra-saturated pictures that have been popping up on my Instagram feed lately, I went on a little pre-birthday trip to South Germany a few weeks ago and left with a whole new appreciation for my home country. When I was first bitten by the travel bug as a teenager dreaming of becoming a travel writer, I never really thought of Germany as an interesting travel destination. Germany seemed too familiar to excite the same travel fantasies in me that volcanoes in Iceland, busy streets in Japan, rugged mountains in Chile or lonely islands in the Pacific managed to evoke and so I never really bothered to make an effort to see more of the country.

But the more I have seen of the world, the more I have begun to realize that there are actually quite a few places that are well worth a visit in Germany as well – and when a few unexpected free days suddenly popped up on my calendar earlier this year, I decided to resist the urge to hop on a plane abroad in favor of finally exploring more of my home country.

I decided to start my foray into traveling in Germany by visiting Schloss Neuschwanstein – arguably the most cliché travel destination in all of Germany – but also added a day at Lake Constance to my itinerary because of its convenient location between Freiburg where I would start my trip and Bavaria’s Allgäu region where it would end.

Saddling the border between Austria, Germany and Switzerland, Lake Constance is one of the largest lakes in Europe and an especially popular holiday destination for Germans who flock to the area in droves during the summer to cycle around the lake, enjoy wine from the local vineyards, explore the little towns along the lake’s shore and just generally take advantage of the usually pleasant weather. Lake Constance isn’t the kind of place that you visit because of its raunchy nightlife or urban charm: Grocery stores close early, two of the main tourist demographics seem to be families and seniors and streets start to empty during a time when other holiday destinations are only getting started. Instead, Lake Constance is a place that you visit to relax and unwind – and that’s exactly what makes this region attractive.

My trip started in Meersburg, a small town in the northwest of the lake that is quite possibly the most picture-perfect town I have ever visited. If you close your eyes for a second right now and imagine a quintessential German town that fulfills all the clichés that you can possibly think of, it probably kind of looks like Meersburg. With colorful and sometimes half-timbered houses, quaint little streets and an old castle, I felt like I was stumbling through a real life picture book from the moment I first stepped off of my bus and entered the Old Town and wanting to take advantage of the quiet morning streets, I decided to go on an aimless picture-taking walk.

I soon found a quiet viewpoint next to Meersburg’s state winery and took in the sublime view over the lake for the first time. With an Old Town located on a hillside and a Lower Town that lies right by the lake shore, Meerburg’s unique geography was perfect for enjoying a sweeping view over Lake Constance and while I had long missed the perfect morning light for photography, the water and the sky seemed to seamlessly transition into one another and created a scenery so expansive that it wasn’t hard to understand why locals sometimes refer to Lake Constance as the Swabian Sea.

In all its picture book beauty, Meersburg almost didn’t feel like a town where people actually lived in, but more like a sort of open air museum that sought to let its visitors escape to a vision of Germany two hundred years ago, but in a town this pretty this felt strangely appropriate - and so I let authenticity be authenticity and kept on walking through the streets marveling at the architecture and thanking the weather gods for the bright blue sky that the day was blessed with.

Meersburg is the kind of town that was simply made for wandering, but if you do want to add a little bit of culture to your day, I whole-heartedly recommend a visit to the town’s old castle. Perched over the town and overlooking Lake Constance, Meersburg Castle has a incredibly romantic location and even though I have visited many castles over the course of my life already, I feel confident in saying that you would be hard-pressed to find another castle that corresponds to the image of a perfect medieval castle equally.

Immediately upon entering the ancient gatehouse ornated with fainting old paintings, I texted my boyfriend – quite possibly the biggest castle enthusiast I know – to let him know that I had found the most castle-y castle I had ever seen and even now I still can’t think of better adjective to describe this castle. I hope the pictures can convey what I mean by this silly term, though, because it really was one of the most impressive castles I have ever visited.

The castle is still privately owned and lived in today, but the gardens and many of the historic rooms, including a furnished apartment that German poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff used to live in, are open to the public and offer a more immersive look into life at a castle than ruins could ever provide. A few times a day, you can also climb up the castle’s tower and enjoy an extra special and unique view over both the lake and the town and I particularly cherished the opportunity to take a few interesting shots of the town that I couldn’t have taken from any other vantage point.

After visiting the castle, I headed down to Meersburg’s Lower Town to finally get a closer look at the lake. Passing plenty of kitschy tourist shops, I eventually found myself at a buzzling pedestrian walkway right by the lake shore filled with busy restaurants and cafes and strolled along the water in the shade of the plane trees. The sun of midday was burning blazingly and so there was an almost Mediterranean vibe in the air that was only increased by the countless Italian ice cream parlors in town and the bright colors of the buildings formed a stark contrast with the deep blue of the water. Like all of Meersburg, it was a scene that could have been taken straight from a postcard and that truly did deserve to be called picturesque.

High above me, the stately buildings of the Old Town were overlooking the hustle and bustle on the pier and I couldn't help thinking that my trip couldn't have started in a better way or - for that matter - in a more beautiful place. I wouldn’t have minded spending more time by the water exploring Meersburg’s Lower Town, but a quick glance at the time soon reminded me that I had the bus to my next destination to catch.

Despite the fact that the town sometimes looked almost too perfect to be true, Meersburg was a delight to visit. There were many tourists, but it was easy enough to escape the crowds and interestingly enough in the few hours that I spent in town it seemed like international tourism was the exception rather than the rule. If you ever find yourself at Lake Constance and are curious to experience a quintessential German setting that even puts the towns and villages in the Rhine Valley to shame, don't look further than Meersburg - I can almost guarantee that you will feel like you have stepped straight into a story book as well!

Have you been to Lake Constance before?


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