Lake Constance, nestled between Germany, Austria and Switzerland, encapsulates the contrast between the rugged landscape of the Alps and the gentle serenity of the lake waters. It is truly area of stunning natural beauty and I consider myself privileged to have lived there for nine years.
However, over the last two years, the region has been subject to some of the most brutal covid restrictions in Europe, leading me to spend much of that time away from home. Those restrictions ended in Switzerland several weeks ago and on June 1, Austria finally let go of one of the last hangovers of the covid panic, the mask mandate for public transport and everyday shopping.
I decided to fly down from my temporary base in Stockholm to see how fully this new found freedom was being embraced. I was pleasantly surprised.
My trip started with a flight to Zürich on Swiss, which no longer forces passengers to wear a mask. The airport in Zürich was also mask free, as was the 80-minute train journey to my home in Bregenz, Austria.
During my visit, I checked out the situation in all three countries bordering the lake, beginning with a walk along the Austrian shoreline, from Bregenz to Lochau.
This section is one of the more picturesque walks in the region and hugs the shoreline for several kilometres.
The rigours of the last two years seemed a lifetime away.
My next stop was the Swiss lakeside town of Rorschach, an easy 35 minute train journey away. The journey was entirely mask free and there were no formalities required to enter Switzerland.
Rorschach was exactly as I remembered it from the pre-covid days.
I then headed off to visit my former workplace in Lindau, Germany. This is a relaxing one-hour cruise on one of the famous Lake Constance ships, which ply many routes around the lake to ports in all three countries.
Lindau was as charming as ever, with the rigours of the last two years seemingly forgotten.
Technically, the Bavarian mask mandate still applies to the first five minutes or so of the train journey back to Austria, but I observed only around 50% compliance and zero enforcement by the Austrian train crew.
On my last day of the trip, with one of the infamous Lake Constance thunderstorms rolling in, I headed off on the excellent new Swiss InterCity train to spend the day in Zürich before my flight back to Stockholm.
Overall, this was a successful and enjoyable trip. Switzerland has been restriction free for several weeks now and has returned entirely to pre-covid normality. Austria has now returned to every day normality and Germany seems not to be far behind.
However, it remains to be seen how long the new found freedom in this region will last.
Switzerland has generally been the least restricted of the three countries throughout the pandemic, and I am now reasonably confident that they, at least, have finally emerged from the panic and will not slip back into the restrictions.
Austria and Germany, however, have been somewhat stricter throughout and witnessing first hand how fully the restrictions were accepted and even embraced on a societal level was unsettling, to say the least. With that said, there seems, at least currently, little appetite in the general populations for a return to those restrictions. I remain optimistic, at least for the summer months.
In conclusion, I would highly recommend a visit to this stunning region, to which no written account can do full justice. Unfortunately, I did not have time on this short trip to enjoy the many other delightful areas of the lakeside, such as the pretty sailing town of Langenargen, the castle and wine region around Meersburg and the eponymous historical town of Konstanz. Hopefully I can cover those areas later in the summer.