Mainau – a flowering island in Lake Constance

Since last autumn I’ve been thinking about going to the Mainau Island, but because of the season and my allergy of pollen, I postponed the trip again and again. This year, my friend visited the island in May and sent me some pictures of the Butterfly House and I couldn’t wait anymore. In fact, it turns out you do not necessarily need to visit it in the spring or summer because in different seasons there are different blossoms and you can check them live online. Every spring and early summer I suffer from allergy of pollen and yet, I paid a visit to the flowering island. You can imagine how beautiful it must be to have given me such courage. Just a reminder, if you have the same problem as I do, wear a mask when you are about to enter the island or just wear one on a sunny day in general. In this way, you can’t really smell the fragrances of the flowers (in particular the amazing roses) but you won’t suffer from sneezing or swelling later at night either.

In general, Mainau is a drop-shaped island in Lake Constance close to the German city Constance bordering Switzerland. In 1853 it was purchased by Grand Duke Frederick I of Baden as his personal property, who used the palace as summer palace. When his son, Grand Duke Frederick II, died childless in 1928, the island passed to Frederick II’s sister Victoria of Baden, wife of King Gustaf V of Sweden. Two years later, upon her death she bequeathed the island to her second son Prince Wilhelm, Duke of Södermanland and his descendants. In 1932 Prince Wilhem gave Mainau to his only child Lennart Bernadotte who owned it until 1974 when he transferred the island to a foundation. Count Bernadotte formed Enterprise Mainau GmbH in 1991 as a private enterprise to manage the island for the benefit of the Lennart Bernadotte-Stiftung. The Count remained active in managing Mainau until his death in 2004 but had appointed his second wife Sonja co-manager in 2001. Since January 2007, the eldest daughter of Lennart and Sonja, Bettina Bernadotte, directs the Mainau GmbH as current manager, and since 2011 her brother Björn Bernadotte has joined her. As we can see, Count Lennart Bernadotte played an important role in maintaining and developing the island and he also published a memoir called “Mainau min medelpunkt” (1995). He described the famous destination as follows:

“She is a coquettish little lady, Mainau Island, who constantly demands much attention, even more love and ceaselessly new clothes.”

What is there to see on the island? First and foremost, you need to remember that it is not just a small botanical garden, so make sure you leave enough time for your visit. The centerpiece of Mainau is the Arboretum, created by Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden, with its different types of rare and valuable trees. From March to May you can see several types of flowers in full bloom, such as tulips, daffodils, primroses, forget-me-nots and hyacinths, especially on the so-called “Frühlingsallee” (Spring Alley). From September to October, you will see approximately 20,000 dahlia bushes of 250 varieties gleaming in the Dahlia Garden on the southern end. The most eye-catching buildings on the island are probably the “Deutschordenschloss” (Baroque Palace), which was built on the stables of the old castle destroyed in the 18th century and the “Schlosskirche” (Palace Church of St. Maria), which was constructed between 1732 and 1739. In front of them, you will see the amazing Italian Rose Garden, which is strictly geometric and consists of pergolas, sculptures and fountains. Commissioned by Grand Duke Frederick I, it exhibits more than 1200 kinds of roses. Another absolute highlight of Mainau, which was also the main reason for my visit, is the “Schmetterlingshaus” (Butterfly House). It’s open all year round and with about 1,000 square meters, the second biggest of its kind in Germany. Inside the house, whose humidity is kept at approximately 90% and temperature between 25 and 30°C, around 120 different kinds of tropical butterflies from Africa, Asia, Central and South America fly freely among the visitors. Sometimes, there are special events, in which you can see some really rare and fabulous species. Besides the attractions I mentioned above, there are many more that you can visit on Mainau such as the Herb Garden, the Farm and Petting Zoo, Children’s Land, Wild and Bush Rose Promenade, Insect Garden, Palm House, Mediterranean Terrace and Roof Garden. In short, there are many things to see on the island and after providing you with some practical information, I’ll give you a detailed introduction to them.

1. Practical information

1.1 Opening hours

The island is open 365 days a year from sunrise to sunset, including all holidays.

Butterfly House
  • winter season: daily from 10:00 to 17:00
  • summer season: daily from 10:00 to 19:00
Mainau Castle (Baroque Palace)
  • daily from from 10:00 to 17:00
Palm House
  • winter season: daily from 9:00 to 17:00
  • summer season: daily from 9:00 to 21:00

Please note:

  • on the day of your visit, you can click here to check the live opening hours of the island
  • as for the year 2018, winter season refers to the days from 23rd October 2017 to 15th March 2018 and summer season refers to the days from 16th March 2018 to 21st October 2018.

1.2 Admission fees

winter season (23rd October 2017 – 15th March 2018):

  • adults: 10 €
  • students (Student ID required): 6 €
  • children (0-12 years old): free
  • groups (10 or more people): 8 €

summer season (16th March 2018 to 21st October 2018):

  • adults: 21 €
  • students (Student ID required): 12 €
  • children (0-12 years old): free
  • groups (10 or more people): 16.5 €
  • family ticket (2 adults + their children under 15 years old): 42.5 €
  • late entry ticket (after 17:00): half price

Please note:

  • dogs are allowed on the island and are free of charge
  • for more information about parking charge, special prices for visitors with disability and annal tickets please click here.

1.3 How to get here

From Constance, you can come to the island by bus, ship or car. The fastest way is probably by car but remember, you can only park outside the island and need to enter it through a pedestrian bridge. If you want to take public transport, you can either take a boat or a bus. Taking a bus is in general cheaper and faster and you can take line 4/13 directly from the Constance train station. Please pay attention to the bus number before boarding because when you come back from Mainau Island you need to take 13/4, which indicates the other direction and can be a bit confusing. The best way to avoid confusion is probably just to ask the driver “nach Mainau?” which means “going to Mainau?” and “ja” mean “yes” and “nein” means “no”. As for the ticket, you can either buy it from the ticket machine (at the bus stop) or from the driver directly. If you are interested in adding a ship cruise to your visit to Mainau, you can choose the second option. It’s slower and a bit more expensive but on the way, you have the opportunity to visit another town in Germany which is called Meersburg. In fact, at the tourism office, you can even buy the combined ticket which includes the ship trip and the admission to the island. If you are visiting Mainau in high season, this could be a good way to avoid the long line at the ticket office. The bus runs frequently and if you wanna know about the schedule of the ship, please consult the tourism office directly, which is located conveniently inside the train station.

Above, I provided some practical information and now I’d like to share with you some useful tips and suggestions based on my experiences. At the ticket office, you will get a small brochure which (even available in Chinese!) gives you a brief introduction to the island and informs you of what the blossoms and special events are in different months of the year. However, I strongly recommend you obtaining a comparatively larger brochure called “Inselplan – Informationen & Veranstaltungstipps” (Island Plan – Information & Event Tipps) because in it you can not only see a big and detailed map of the island but also learn about the current events and special exhibitions (in German, French and English). What’s more, you will find the opening hours of various restaurants (there are quite some of them on the island ranging from “fancy” restaurants to self-service fast-food bars so don’t be worried that you might get hungry). Trust me, the map is very important because as I mentioned above, the island is not just a simple botanical garden. It has a Petting Zoo, a Children’s Adventure Park, an Arboretum, a Palace, a Church, a Butterfly House and many parks and gardens, so don’t expect to finish admiring its beauty in one or two hours. If you have a map, it’s much easier to plan your route so that you don’t need to walk back. Remember, if you want to visit all the attractions here, there will be quite some walking. I feel the itinerary that I took was rather efficient and below I’ll introduce to you the highlights of Mainau in the order that I visited them. (Please note, before the attractions I will add numbers which are in accordance with the ones on the map, so that it’s easier for you to find them). If you wanna ask how much time you should spend here, I would say it depends on how you wanna visit it. If you want to have a rather relaxing trip with some meals, coffee breaks and photo shooting, I would recommend at least 5 hours but if you wanna visit all the important attractions in a hurry, I would say 2-3 hours should be enough. Just a reminder, the official website is very well-designed and if wanna read about the attractions please click here. If you wanna check the upcoming events please click here and if you wanna know about the current blossoms please click here. Now, please follow my itinerary and I’ll show you the unmissable stops on the way.

2. Mainau Island

2.1 (11) Herb Garden & (12) Children’s Land

Because I took the bus, I entered the island from the bridge, but if you take the ship, you will enter it from the harbor at the other end. The first major attraction I passed was Children’s Land, which makes the island an ideal location for family gatherings with small kids. It is very big and consists of the Blumis Lakeside World, Water World, Miniature Railway, the Flower Animal Figures and so on. By crossing the hanging bridges, the little ones can get from one house to another easily. There are also driftwood, climb nets, balance beams and a beaver’s lodge, which are better for the adventurous spirits. Considering I’m not a kid anymore, the most interesting part of this park for me was the Flower Animal Figures. I mean I’ve seen many of this kind of attractions in the zoos or gardens before but here, there are really cute. It’s a very nice spot for taking some photos as souvenirs. Next to the Children’s Land, you will find the Herb Garden, in which you can see many common herbs that we use while cooking. During my visit, camomile was blossoming and the German and Roman species are believed to have medical uses such as anti-anxiety and anti-inflammation etc. Another interesting plant I saw here was ginger. To be honest, I only knew how its root looks like (because that’s the part we normally use in our daily life) but not its leaves above the ground. Anyway, it’s never too late to learn.

2.2 (16) Wild and Bush Rose Promenade & (23) Swedish Tower and Mainau Vineyard

The Wild and Bush Rose Promenade is surely one of the most beautiful promenades on Mainau and make sure not to miss it. Even though I was wearing a mask, I could still smell the fragrance. The best seasons for this aromatic feast is May and June but if you arrive at other times, you can still experience it, but probably not at its best. The rose collection here consists of more than 400 varieties and many of them are rare wild roses which decorated the oriental gardens thousands of years ago. The first blossoms appear at the beginning of May and they are mostly the wild species. However, there are also many repeat-flowering and non-stop-flowering hybrid roses which are planted among the wild ones and will make sure that your walk will be romantic and unforgettable in different seasons of the year.

While you are strolling along the promenade, on the east you should see the Mainau Vineyard and the Swedish Tower. Standing on the island’s south-western slope, the tower, which looks like the one from the Disney movie “Tangled”, is one of Mainau’s landmarks. The name comes from Sweden’s two-year occupation of Mainau but it was actually built at the time when the Teutonic Order owned the island, which can be testified by the date, 1558, and the coat of arms of the order above the entrance door. When you walk along the “Spring Alley”, you can take a detour to reach its front door (as you can see in the 3rd picture above) but unfortunately, the inside is not accessible to the public. Imagine how amazing the view would be from the top of it. Just a reminder, on the west of the Rose Promenade is the Mainau Farmyard and you can see some domestic breeds such as alpacas (different from llamas), rabbits, hens, goats, Shetland ponies, donkeys, sheep, cats, a cow and her calf. More interestingly, there is a Petting Zoo and Pony Riding Arena (closed during winter season), where little kids can become friends with these friendly animals.

2.3 (14) Pond with Sunbathing Area

If you already feel a bit tired, there is a space with a big pond and fountain for you to relax and enjoy the sun. Please note that on the map there are some stops marked with a special sign which indicates special exhibitions are held there. During my visit, the special exhibitions were about Africa, and it was the first time that I saw real papayas growing in a tree. It was an interesting experience seeing unfamiliar plants from a distant continent.

2.4 (44) Herbaceous Garden & (38) Dahlia Garden

A walk through the Herbaceous Garden and the Dahlia Garden is a must on Mainau because the bright and lively colors will take you into a world of magic. In late-April, May and early-June, an ocean of spring flowers like late tulips, Allium, Iceland poppy and forget-me-nots will certainly take your breath away and make you linger. Does the poppy field in the 1st and 2nd pictures in the gallery above remind you of the “Poppies” by Claude Monet, the founder of French Impressionist painting?

Solely in the Herbaceous Garden, more than 20,000 plants of over 700 different varieties can be seen. For example, carefully-planted Delphinium, Helenium, Persicaria amplexicaulis, Echinops, Verbena bonariensis, Rudbeckia fulgida, Echinacea, Papaver orientale, Paeonia as well as Hemerocallis blossom in different seasons of the year, so whenever you come here, you will be amazed by the charm of nature.

Sadly, Dahlia only blossom in autumn so I wasn’t lucky enough to see the “firework of colors”. The Dahlia Garden is more of an autumn attraction and from the end of August to mid-October, more than 12,000 plants of different colors such as Cactus and Semi-cactus Dahlia, Collarette Dahlia, Single Dahlia, Starfish Dahlia  Pompon and Ball Dahlia, Anemone Dahlia, as well as Peony Dahlia will blossom here, covering an entire area of 2,400 square meters. Imported from Mexico, the small plants are about 40 cm tall while the big ones can reach up to 2 meters. The flowers range from 4 cm in diameter to 25 cm.

2.5 (37) Italian Floral-Water-Cascade

The Italian Floral-Water-Cascade is made from Ticino granite and it connects the Mediterranean Terrace with the shore of Lake Constance. The cascade was built in the style of Italian Renaissance gardens and is flanked by Mediterranean cypresses, which look like pillars of classical architecture. In the spring and summer, the flowers on display will be changed from time to time. Next to the cascade, Mainau gardeners have created a Peony Garden in which many Tree peonies along with other perennials have been planted. The best month to visit it is May. As you can see from the picture above, there is an observation deck in the middle and on top of the cascade respectively. They, particularly the top one, might seem a bit too high to reach but trust me, the view from them is amazing. Actually, on our way back to the bridge, through which we entered the island, we will pass the (34) Lime Tree “Viktoria”, which is located very close to the top viewing platform. If you don’t wanna do too much extra exercise, I suggest you visit it later.

2.6 (41) Linné-Style Floral Clock

If we keep walking, we will soon arrive at the Lakeside Garden at the south-eastern corner of the island. Mainau’s first Primeval Redwood stands here, which came from Kew Gardens in Richmond, England, in 1952. You can also find in this garden a flowerbed on a slope shaped like Lake Constance, on which the flowers tell you the geography of this area. Particularly noteworthy here, at least in my opinion, is the Floral Clock hypothesized by Carl Linnaeus, also known after his ennoblement as Carl von Linné. His design is based on the principle that several plants open or close their flowers at particular times of the day and their “actions” can accurately indicate the time. He proposed the concept in his 1751 publication “Philosophia Botanica”, calling it the Horologium Florae (“flower clock”), but it is said he never implemented it. This idea was attempted by several botanical gardens in the early 19th century and the clock here was planted in 2008. To be honest, I’m not really positive about the accuracy of such a clock because of weather and seasonal effects but if you are curious, why not testing it out by yourself?

2.7 (48) Roof Garden

Before reaching the Baroque Palace, let’s explore the Roof Garden, which is on top of the Comturey restaurant. Besides shrubs and perennials, the highlight of plantation here is the 50 different varieties of Hydrangea macrophylla with ball-shaped blossoms. However, for me, the panoramic view across Lake Constance is even more amazing. On a sunny day, you can even see as far as the Alps.

2.8 (30) Mainau Castle (Baroque Palace) and Palace Church of St. Maria

The Mainau Castle is the heart of the island and Count Björn Bernadotte and his wife Countess Sandra Bernadotte still live here. Depending on whether the family is at home or not, the comital flag will be lifted or lowered on the castle’s roof. Designed by Johann Caspar Bagnato and built under his supervision from 1739 to 1746, it’s a well-proportioned symmetrical building with three wings (as you can see from the 1st picture above). Together with the Palace Church, it’s a unique example of Southern German Baroque architecture. The palace’s heart is the former audience hall, whose current appearance dates back to 1883. It is also called the “White Hall” because of its decorative colors of white and gold. Unfortunately, it is only open to the public for concerts or special events. Are there any rooms that we can visit in the palace? Normally we can visit the Heraldic Hall, which is open to the public for various exhibitions. For example, during my visit, the exhibition was about photography of orchids. Also, we can visit Countess Diana Bernadotte’s Hat Studio, the souvenir shop as well as the Palace Café, through which we will enter the Palm House. The most impressive part of the palace for me is actually its view towards Lake Constance. How can there be a better start of the day than being waken up by warm morning sunshine and cosy lake breeze? Imagine the moment when you open the curtains, you see nothing but the shiny blue water tapping the wall and perhaps a few boats trying adding a bit liveliness to the lake.

The Palace Church of St. Maria was built between 1732 and 1739 also by Johann Caspar Bagnato. The high alter, side alters, pulpit and statues were made by Joseph Anton Feuchtmeyer, who was an important Rococo sculptor and was active in southern Germany and Switzerland. The ceiling frescoes as well as the high alter painting were created by Franz Joseph Spiegler, depicting the life of Virgin Mary. What’s also worth mentioning here is the church bell, which is one of the few bells at Lake Constance that were made before the time of the Thirty Years’ War. It was cast in Lindau in 1505 and has a diameter of 54 cm and weighs 150 kg.

2.9 (32) Palm House

As I mentioned above, by going through the Palace Café, you will arrive at the Palm House. During my visit, it was being prepared for a wedding banquet. Imagine how magical it would feel to have a wedding in the Palace Church and then have a lunch or dinner party surrounded by these exotic plants. Made of glass and steel, this house is home to more than 20 kinds of palms as well as many citrus trees and it provides shelter and warmth for them all year round. Particularly noteworthy here is a Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis), which was planted in 1888 and is now more than 15 meters tall.

2.10 (33) Italian Rose Garden

Even if you have limited time to spend on the island, the Italian Rose Garden is a must-visit. After exiting the Palm House and before going down the grand staircase, you can get an overview of it. Commissioned by Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden, the rose garden is strictly geometric and consists of pergolas, sculptures and fountains. The protagonist here is of course the queen of flowers, roses, and once you step on their land, they will allure you with their beautiful colors, figures and sweet fragrances and make you wander around, linger and forget about the outside world. Besides classic roses, there are also hybrid tea roses and climbing roses on trellises. As I learnt form the official website, in total, more than 1,200 varieties can be found here. During my visit, most of the climbing roses were already blossoming but the classic ones were not ready yet. If you want to enjoy this sensual experience at its best, I recommend you coming here either in mid-June or August, which are the roses’ first and second flowering peak respectively.

At one end of the Rose Garden, you will find the huge Lime Tree “Viktoria”. It was planted by Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden, in 1862 on the occasion of the birth of his daughterVictoria of Baden, who later became the Queen of Sweden by her marriage to King Gustaf V. As I mentioned in section 2.5, if you want to enjoy the fabulous view from the top observation deck of the Italian Floral-Water-Cascade but don’t want to climb that many steps, you can easily reach it from here.

2.11 Mediterranean Terrace

This terrace is featured with tropical and subtropical plants such as palms, agaves, bougainvilleas and passion flowers at the backdrop of chestnut trees and various cypress species, provoking a Mediterranean feeling. In July, a large old Chinese trumpet vine with its bright orange-red flowers is particularly breath-taking. However, what I liked the most here was the fountain highlighted by two swans kissing each other and forming a lovely heart. Isn’t here the best setting for the “love birds” to take their selfies? Just a reminder, from here you have a fabulous view of the Italian water cascade, Dahlia Garden and Lake Constance.

2.12 (25) Arboretum

While walking along the “Spring Alley” from south to north, you will find the Arboretum on your right. The word “arboretum” stems from the Latin word “arbor” (which means “tree” in English), and usually refers to a botanical garden devoted to trees. I visited the island in late May and there was not much to see on the “Spring Alley”. Therefore, by taking a small detour, I walked through the Arboretum and explored it a little bit. In fact, I found more peace and tranquillity in this area than any other place on the island because there were only a few people wandering around. Admittedly, to most people, trees are not as beautiful as flowers but they form an indispensable part of the island. Grand Duke Frederick I of Baden acquired the island as his summer residence in 1853 and created the Arboretum in 1864. Little by little, he managed to bring here exotic trees from almost all the continents in the world and they formed the base of the present-day Arboretum. Unlike many other arboretums in the world which are maintained and expanded for scientific research and studies, this one was created and enlarged for aesthetic reasons and a passion for botany. It currently consists of approximately 250 different species of trees and shrubs and while walking around, you will see info boards standing in front of them with introductions available in German, English and French. What impressed me most was the Giant fir tree (Abies grandis), which is native to the Pacific Northwest and Northern California of North America and can reach a height of up to 90 meters, and the Mammoth tree (Sequoiadendron giganteum), which is among the oldest living things on earth. It is said the oldest known Mammoth tree based on ring count is already 3,500 years old.

2.13 (19) Schmetterlingshaus (Butterfly House)

The Butterfly House is the last stop of my visit to Mainau but ironically, it is in my opinion the top one attraction on the island. As the second biggest butterfly house in Germany, it is planted with unique vegetation and will surely give you an exotic feeling while you wander around in it. The protagonist here is of course the butterflies and for housing these incredible creatures as well as the non-native plants, the house’s humidity is kept at approximately 90% and temperature between 25 and 30°C. To be honest, the general condition here concerning the humidity and temperature wasn’t really very pleasant but I’m sure you’ll forget about it when you become obsessed with the beauties and can’t help chasing and staring at their marvelous colors and patterns. I still remember the reaction on the faces of all the visitors, both children and adults, when they first entered the house and said simultaneously “Wow!”. Indeed! If you haven’t been to any butterfly house before, imagine how you would react when you enter a new world where numerous butterflies of different colors and sizes just fly freely along the plants or right in front of you. For me, it was absolutely magical and exciting. The most impressive specimen during my visit was a large butterfly with wings which are on one side shiny silk blue and on the other decorated with curious patterns like big eyes. They flied so fast like blue lightning and never rested with their wings open, so sadly I couldn’t show you the fabulous color. Nevertheless, I did manage to capture the other side of the wings (as you can see in the 1st and 2nd pictures above) while they were eating or taking a rest.

I was a bit upset when I read in the brochure that the butterflies are only here from 10th May to 17th June 2018 but it turns out I made a mistake because this time span was dedicated to a special exhibition of “African Butterflies” and many other butterflies from Africa, Asia, Central and South America live here all the year round. In fact, roughly 700 to 1,000 colorful butterflies of 80 different kinds, some of which even have a wingspan of up to 30 cm, can be seen whenever you decide to pay the Butterfly House a visit. 70% of the butterflies come directly from special breeding farms such as the Costa Rican, English and Dutch ones and they arrive every week on Mainau Island as chrysalises. The other 30% reproduce in a natural way, breeding and laying eggs on their respective plants in the Butterfly House. The entire lifecycle from egg to caterpillar and chrysalis to adult butterfly can be observed here.

Just to make your visit to the Butterfly House more convenient and memorable, I’d like to give you a few tips. Firstly, follow the signs in the house which say “Rundgang” so that you will visit every corner of it without getting lost. Secondly, try not wearing too many clothes inside the house because it’s rather hot and really humid. If you come in summer, it shouldn’t be a big problem because you will already be in t-shirt and shorts but if you come in winter, I’d say it’s a better idea to put your winter jacket in a locker or take it off and hold it in your hand before entering the house because otherwise, you are not gonna survive the “tropical summer”. Thirdly, if you are a photography lover, you will be able to take some really nice butterflies pictures here. However, according to my experience, you need to be patient. Some of the butterflies are really good at hiding and disguising, so you need to have a sharp eye and search for them among the leaves of the plants. Some of the flowers are particularly attractive to certain species so if you wait close to the blossoms for a moment, the butterflies will come to you by themselves. If you want to capture these beautiful creatures in motion, I suggest you switch on the Sports Mode of your camera because they fly really fast. Anyway, patience is the key. Fourthly, please do NOT try catching the butterflies or picking them up. I saw some people doing that and can you imagine if every visitor here does it to these lovely creatures, how many of them could survive? Remember, they are the real hosts and hostesses of the house and we are just their guests.

By now I have finished my introduction to Mainau Island and personally I would say that the absolutely unmissable attractions are the (19) Schmetterlingshaus (Butterfly House), (33) Italian Rose Garden, (44) Herbaceous Garden & (38) Dahlia Garden, and the (16) Wild and Bush Rose Promenade. There are some other sites that I didn’t mention in the post such as the Metasequoia Avenue, Insect Garden, Bird Trail, Seasonal Gardens, Rhododendron Slope, Intercultural Education Garden and Hydrangea Path because I think they were less impressive than the ones that I emphasized above. However, it’s probably because I visited them during the wrong season. One big advantage of the Mainau Island is that it offers different activities, exhibitions, events and of course blossoms throughout the year so that whenever you come here, you will be entertained and charmed. This is a destination that you can visit again and again but every time you come here, you will be amazed in a different way.

Mainau – a flowering island in Lake Constance was last modified: July 10th, 2018 by Dong

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