Lindau is an island, yet not surrounded by ocean. A harbour town at least 460 kilometres from the sea, and graced with landlocked Bavaria's only lighthouse. Yachts sail here under mountains, and those mountains aren't even German, since Lindau borrows its backdrop from Austria and Switzerland. Yet although Lindau sounds confused, it isn't. This is a history-dense, confident, proud little place that has done well for itself for 800 years, and is one of Germany's most attractive towns.
Lindau's greatest asset is its setting. It occupies an island that bulges into Lake Constance and is tethered to the shore by two bridges. That gives it the flower-studded lakeshore promenades and chatter-filled waterside cafés you'd expect to find in neighbouring alpine nations. And although Lindau isn't quite alpine itself, it has an opera-box position looking out on a superb aria of distant snow peaks. In the evenings, as the sun declines over the harbour, the lake is like a blue mirror and the Alps an illuminated backdrop.
The harbour has the best outlooks, and the town's three distinctive landmarks. Its entrance is bookended by a lighthouse and huge Bavarian lion on a pillar on the ends of fortified piers. On the shore is the 12th-century Mang Tower, grim as a defensive tower should be, but sporting a cheerful witch-hat roof of zigzag yellow and green tiles. If you see Rapunzel's hair hanging down from a window, there are rollicking adults-only fairy tales being told by guides inside.
Lindau's old town is small but impressive. This was a self-ruling free imperial city, not subject to any local lord or bishop but only to the Holy Roman Emperor himself. That gave it gravitas, while trade with Italy gave it wealth. Its main shopping street, Maximilianstrasse, is an extravagance of gabled and dormered merchants' mansions. Marktplatz has baroque updates and an Italianate fountain topped by Neptune. Markets are still held here every Saturday.
There are pleasures everywhere, though. The Gothic former town hall is huge and adorned with frescoes (added in the 19th century) of biblical and local life. St Peter's Church has Renaissance frescoes by Hans Holbein the Elder. Towers pop up unexpectedly at the ends of alleys. In 1806 Lindau was absorbed into Bavaria but continued to thrive as the summer retreat of choice for Bavarian royals and aristocrats whose villas line the lakeshore beyond the old town.
Bavarian liveliness fills this town of beer halls and cafés and pebbly little beaches from which the hardy take dips in the chilly lake. Hire a kayak or a paddleboard, or hop on the lake steamers that ply back and forth between Germany, Austria and Switzerland in order to explore more of the bewitching Lake Constance shoreline. Be back at sundown for a glass of wine at a harbour-front bar, from which you can enjoy superb alpine vistas. It's possibly the best view in Germany, even though it isn't actually Germany you're admiring.
Adara Boutique-Hotel is a stylish designer hotel with a good restaurant in Lindau's old town. Rooms from $240 per night. See adara-lindau.de
The very entertaining and informative cheese sommelier Michael Bode offers local cheese tastings in his old-town house and degustation walks among the lakeshore vineyards. See genusswerkstatt-lindau.de
Brian Johnston travelled courtesy of the Tourist Board of Lake Constance, see bodensee.eu