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Mainau: German island bursting with natural beauty

By WARREN PEACE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 14, 2010

A botanical ark rises from the blue-green waters of Lake Constance, and for a price you can get a boarding pass to experience what nature lovers have spent more than 150 years collecting.

The island of Mainau is just off the northwest shore of the lake that covers an area where Germany, Austria and Switzerland meet in the Rhine valley, and is a perfect getaway for the summer. The flowering plants are beautiful, and so are the grounds of the small island’s 110 acres. The property is meticulously manicured to the point where groundskeepers seem to constantly be polishing areas that would already make the Garden of Eden jealous.

Romans settled in the area in the first century B.C., giving it a castle, shipyard and a naval base. The small island changed hands many times, passed among nobles and nations until Grand Duke Friedrich I of Baden purchased it for his personal property.

He brought trees, many of them exotic, that he had collected during his travels and used them to establish an arboretum in 1853. It now contains 500 species of trees, many exotic and valuable, including fine specimens of sequoia trees. The redwoods there may not be as big as the ones in California, from where they were imported, since they are just infants compared with their thousands-of-years-old kin.

The island has a variety of other plants, including seasonal displays in the large covered Palm House. It features not only palm trees but also tropical flowering plants.

Other displays include orchids, tulips, dahlias and roses — the island’s management boasts more than 1,000 rose varieties and hundreds of other flowers from across the globe.

Attractions aren’t limited to plants. A small farm with Shetland ponies, donkeys, chickens, sheep, goats and small cattle is near the southern coast. A tropical butterfly house is home to countless butterfly and moth varieties from Africa, Asia and Central and South America and plants from the caterpillars’ native lands. There are also exhibits promoting energy conservation.

Food is almost as ample as plants. There is a range of eateries from wurst stands to cafes to formal resturants with a wine cellar featuring local vintages.

A large playground surrounded by benches seems to be a good place for parents to relax while their kids burn off some of the sugar from the multiple ice cream and snack stands scattered around the grounds.

Directions: Driving to Mainau from Stuttgart is pretty simple. Go south on Autobahn 81 for about 80 miles and take exit 40-Kreuz Hegau to B33 toward Constance for about 20 miles. From there you will see many signs directing you to the island. You’ll know you are close if you see a large zeppelin floating in the sky. Leave your car at the parking lot and take the pedestrian bridge leading directly to the island.

Times: The grounds are open sunrise to sunset March 21 to Oct. 24 and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year.

Costs: Tickets cost 15.90 euros for adults, 8.50 euros for students 13 and older (with ID) and are free for ages 12 and younger. Family tickets, group rates and season passes are also available. Parking costs 4 euros.

Food: Restaurants include snack bars, a palace cafe, self-service cafeteria, country-style inn with beer garden and a formal restaurant. Prices range from a few euros for snacks to 10 euros for a full lunch to 50 euros for the most expensive dinners. Rooms can be reserved for large groups.

Information: For more on Mainau’s history, attractions, directions and  tours, see the website www.mainau.de. For specific details, including group tours, call 07531-3030

Covered in thousands of species of flowers, the island of Mainau is referred to as the 'flower island' by the locals.
WARREN PEACE/STARS AND STRIPES

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