Mainau - Germany's Garden Island
Mainau is Germany's garden island, hording seven kilometers worth of space from the Bodensee. Bursting with radiant color and exotic fragrance, this little oasis on the lake beckons anyone looking for quiet tranquility. Although only royalty live on this isle, all are welcome to visit for the day.
Easily reached from Meersburg, Germany or other ferry ports along the Bodensee (also called Lake Constance), Mainau is a relaxing thrill. Each visit offers beautifully manicured gardens that beg to be leisurely strolled through, the Palm House which protects the tropical trees from the elements while little chirping birds hide in the coarse leaves, every imaginable – and unimaginable - species of roses, and a view of the stately castle that overlooks the grounds. The castle itself cannot be toured but its adjoining chapel is accessible to the public. It's even possible to enjoy live musical performances among the serenely perfect surroundings.
Mainau's one of the highlighted destinations in my book. Here's an excerpt—
“Get lost in the gardens to truly appreciate every single detail waiting patiently to be discovered. Explore the Butterfly House, a simulated paradise for hundreds of silent winged bugs in all stages of life. With its high temperatures, almost stifling humidity, waterfalls, brilliant flowers and exotic plants – step through a curtain of bamboo and you are immediately transported into a rainforest! Study the hanging cocoons where caterpillars await their rebirth or sneak up on a six-inch butterfly feasting on a dish of plump orange slices. Slip behind a waterfall for a cool break from the humidity or rest on a bench and wait for something to land nearby!”
Since it's not possible to stay at Mainau overnight (there are no hotels!), I recommend Meersburg. Meersburg is an adorable old town, complete with medieval castle and lakeside promenade. The old castle is worth the tour but I found that the newer castle to be much less interesting. It's used as a museum for an eclectic collection of modern art (which I’m not really into) but the grand staircase is impressive (I bought a ticket just to see the staircase). The town itself is fascinating just to walk through. Take the 20-30 minute ferry from Meersburg to Mainau and you'll get dropped off at the entrance (those 20-30 minutes can either be spent on deck enjoying the view or inside enjoying a cup of something warm!). Once there, simply purchase your ticket and wander wherever your heart takes you!
Couple misc points of interest:
• This is one of the few places I've been in Germany that's incredibly accommodating to handicapped guests – smooth walkways, gentle slopes, wheelchairs at the entrance, etc.
• There's only one ATM on the entire island – it's in the Gatehouse.
• The sit-down restaurants are insanely expensive. I normally eat at the cafe in the Butterfly House which is much cheaper.
• Playgrounds, petting zoo, and pony rides! This is a fabulous place for kids of all ages. There are also plenty of benches for the parents to collapse within eyeshot.
• There are gorgeous flowers and bulbs at the shops near the entrance. Remember that you can't ship these items back to the states (my husband worked in Customs for six years so I got these rules drilled into my head :) It might be possible for the shop to ship them directly on your behalf, though (some places can).
• www.mainau.de – Mainau's official website (click on 'english'). View pictures and get information such as prices, times, and concert information. You can even take a virtual tour here!
• www.bsb-online.com – ferry times and prices
• www.hotel.seehof.mdo.de – Hotel Seehof website. It's RIGHT on the water, right next door to the pier, and the perfect location for exploring the pedestrian zone. Only one hangup – you have to park your car at the garage at the other end of the pedestrian zone (about a 5-10 minute walk). You are allowed to drive up to the hotel to load/off-load but you can’t park on their premises.
• www.wilder-mann-meersburg.de – Another hotel in Meersburg (and on the water). It's nicer and pricier than Seehof but it's right next to a parking lot.
• www.meersburg.de – Meersburg's official website (click on the UK flag).