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Mainau – Island of Flowers

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Mainau is the jewel in Lake Constance’s beautiful crown. This Rhineland lake, the third largest in Europe, boasts several islands. At 45 hectares, Mainau is one of the biggest. Situated towards the lake’s southern shore, it is known both for its spectacular botanical displays and its Baroque palace. Meanwhile, the exceptional environmental management techniques implemented on the island have been widely lauded, and subsequently copied elsewhere. 

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© joachim10 / Fotolia

How to get there
causeway, accessible from Constance and open all year round, connects Mainau with the mainland. Neither cars nor bicycles can be taken onto the island, but there is parking near the causeway. For those coming to Constance without a car, the number 4 bus connects Constance’s railway station with the causeway. In high season, it is also possible to go by boat. From the north side of the lake, the Bodensee Schiffsbetriebe (BSB), has services leaving from both Meersburg and Unteruhldingen. The journey to the island takes around 25 minutes. 

What to see
The island’s semitropical climate supports a wealth of botanical life. Oaks and cedars are the linchpins of the landscape, while the main flower season gets underway in spring, with a spectacular display of 1,200 flowering orchids in the palm house. Outside, around a million tulips bloom between March and May. Snowdrops, hyacinths, bluebells and other flowering bulbs accompany them. Next come the rhododendrons, in all shades of scarlet, pink and white. By mid-summer, around 350,000 flowers of different species are blooming. Autumn is the time for dahlias and, even in winter, the palm house and arboretum have plenty for visitors to enjoy, including profuse displays of bougainvillea and other tropical specimens, such as palm and banana trees. An Italian rose garden, with more than 400 varieties planted among pergolas, fountains and statues, and a butterfly house, home to over 1,000 specimens, offer further enticements for lingering. Keen gardeners, botanists and butterfly-lovers will want to plan on spending an entire day on the island. 

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Baroque palace, still kept in pristine condition, and with its own nineteenth century-styled ornamental garden draws many visitors, as does the church of St. Marien. The palace is used regularly for balls, concerts, and civil weddings, while the church is popular for religious wedding ceremonies. 

Castle Mainau © Sasa Komlen / Fotolia

Mainau caters well for its youngest visitors. A dedicated children’s park and playground give youngsters somewhere to let off steam if wandering around gardens begins to lose their attraction. There is also a garden railway to take in those gardens from a different viewpoint, pony rides, and a petting zoo. The intricate displays of floral birds and animals, including a peacock, created from planting seedlings over wire netting, are popular with visitors of all ages.

When is the best time of year to visit?
The island is open every day of the year, between sunrise and sunset. In the summer season (mid-March until mid-October), day passes are approximately double the price of those in the winter. Season tickets are available for entry all year round. 

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Regular visitors all have their favourite season. In the springtime, the incredible displays of tulips draw visitors in their thousands, particularly over the Easter weekend. Crowds come again to the island to witness the dahlias bloom in the autumn. However, even in the busiest, most hectic months, the island tends to be relatively quiet towards sunrise and sunset. Winter is the quietest season in which to visit, but can be just as spectacular as any other time of year, particularly in the snow. The most delicate plants and shrubs, including all the citrus specimens, are moved inside during the coldest months, giving visitors the excuse to warm up whilst admiring them. In the tropical environment of the butterfly house, for example, the temperature is a steady 26C throughout the year.

Food and drink
The island has several options. Restaurant Schwedenschenke offers both quick lunches and, in the evening, fine dining. After 6pm, patrons with evening reservations are permitted to drive across the causeway and park by the restaurant. The harbour area is home to another restaurant, a bakery, a beer garden, and an ice cream parlour. For beer and sausages, Würstle Grill is the place to go, while the Schlosscafé caters for those who prefer cakes, ice cream, tea and coffee. Rothaus-Seeterrassen is a self-service restaurant, with fabulous lakeside views. Some of these establishments are open only in high season.

Wine-tasting, on the first and third Fridays of the month, during high season only, gives visitors a 30 minute opportunity to sample Mainau’s own wine.

Mainau has no accommodation of its own for visitors. However, nearby Constance, Meersburg and Überlingen offer plenty of options.

Other useful information
A great deal of thought and care has gone into making the island, and its beautiful displays, as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. Most of the island is wheelchair-friendly, and some of the flowerbeds are raised. There are also plenty of benches, providing welcome resting spots for older people or those with limited mobility. Braille signs assist the visually impaired. Dogs, whether guide dogs or not, are permitted on Mainau, but must be kept leashed at all times.