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Story by Janet Webb Farnsworth    Photos by Bernadette Heath   February 1, 2011

  Germany’s Mainau (prounced “My-now”) Island is an unexpected, semi-tropical destination with a decidedly Mediterranean flair. Located near the border of Germany and Switzerland, Mainau is nicknamed “The Flower Island” and is a wonderful place to spend the day wandering among the flower gardens, watching the kids at the playgrounds, butterfly house or enjoying the island’s other attractions along with its baroque church and castle.   Flower peacock on Mainau Island  
The peacock of Mainau (the flower) Island

Mainau, a small island on Lake Constance (a.k.a. the Bodensee) is just 3 miles from the city of Konstanz. The 45 hectare (111 acre) island is the most popular tourist destination in the region, drawing over a million visitors a year. To roam the paved paths lined with thousands of blossoms, shrubs, and trees is a treat for the senses. To me it’s a natural tranquilizer. Worries seem to recede when I’m surrounded by such beauty. Children have fun at “Water World,” “Blumi’s Lakeside World” and “Dwarf Village” playgrounds and the whole family can enjoy any of the eight places to eat or visit the gift shop.

It seems strange to find citrus fruit growing not far from the Alps. This is possible because Lake Constance, Europe’s third largest lake, keeps the air cooler so plants bloom later in the spring. In the fall the lake releases heat extending the growing season. In winter, the citrus and other tender plants are moved into the palm house and green house.

In the early 1827 Prince Nikolaus von Esterházy created a botanical garden that was later expanded in 1871 by Grand Duke Friedrich I to include an arboretum and an Italian rose garden. Some of the trees are over 150 years old. In the 1930’s, Swedish Prince Lennart Bernadotte I, the great grandson of Grand Duke Friedrich I, bought the island from his father, Prince Wilhelm. The young prince, who renounced his Swedish royal lineage when he married a commoner, Karin Nissvandt and had 4 children with her, devoted the rest of his life to the privately-operated park. For his work, he was awarded the title of Count Bernadotte af Wisborg, by Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxemburg. In 1972, Count Lennart remarried to Countess Sonja Bernadotte and had 5 more children. He developed the island into a “miniature garden paradise” that has benefitted the area.

  Mainau walk along Lake Constance  

Count Lennart had other interests besides flowers. He loved photography and film. In 1951, he received an Oscar for the film “Kon-Tiki” which he helped produce. His unique macro photographs were the center of an exhibition “Optical Dreams” that was shown in countries throughout the world.

After Count Lennart's death in 2004, Countess Sonja continued to operate the business until her death in 2008. Today the island is owned by a charitable trust managed by Count Lennart’s daughter, Countess Bettina Bernadotte, and his son, Count Björn Bernadotte. The wings of the cream and salmon-pink colored castle serve as home to the family and contain the trust’s offices.

Mainau walk along Lake Constance

Mainau is open the year around. The orchids, over 3,000 of them, kick off the Flower Year with their spectacular blooms followed closely by fragrant hyacinths, snowdrops, bluebells and other colorful blooms. The stars of spring are the million tulips that bloom against a backdrop of snow covered Alpine peaks. In late May, rhododendrons in shades of red, white and salmon-colored blanket the slopes.

June and July are peak months for over 20,000 roses that bloom in the Italian Rose Garden. With 1200 varieties from which to choose, the choice is difficult, but each year visitors pick one variety to be the “Rose Queen.” Summer is prime blooming season and flowers of every kind and color line the paths and are displayed in skillfully designed beds. Children love the “Begonia Duck” and the “Flowers Peacock.” Gardeners create these fantasy birds from thousands of flowers planted on a netting wire base.


Dahlias are showcased in fall – 12,000 of them bloom in every variety of color. Originally brought to Spain from the Americas in the 18th century, these plants swathe the side hill in brilliant hues. Planted in beds by color, fire-engine red flowers are banked by delicate peach hued ones. Rock steps lead from one level to the next as the flower spectacular extends towards to the lake. I keep walking from one bed to another enthralled by the display. I finally decide that a brilliant yellow with reddish streaks is my favorite.

Flowers are not the only color in autumn. The trees turn shades of red and gold while a sweeper is busy keeping the paths clear of leaves. From the number of trees, I think he’s going to be at it for quite a while.

  Rows of dahilas on Mainau Island  
Rows of dahilas on the Flower Island, Mainau Island, Germany

Winter is quiet. Tender plants have been moved inside and snow blankets the island. Some visitors claim winter is their favorite time to visit because of the peace and tranquility. The Rothaus-Seeterrassen, the self-service restaurant, is open as well as the Butterfly Bistro and the Palace Café.

The Butterfly House is a favorite winter destination. Inside it is warm – 26 degrees Celsius year around-with high humidity. Hundreds of butterflies, as colorful as the summer flowers, flutter and glide through the tropical jungle like foliage. A waterfall splashes cheerily over rocks and visitors cross a small pond on an arched bridge.

  The fountain on Mainau Island, Germamny  

The castle church St. Marien, is a popular wedding spot year around. The Church, now neither Protestant nor Catholic, was built in 1732 when Teutonic Knights lived on Mainau. In southern German baroque style, its interior is stucco with a brightly polished marble-like surface. The Teutonic Knights were so pleased with the church design created by Johann Caspar Bagnato, architect of the Teutonic Order, they commissioned him to build the castle seven years later. The two buildings complement each other and art displays, balls, concerts and other festivals are held either in the buildings or in the impressive courtyard.

Count Björn Bernadotte and his bride, Sandra Angerer exchanged vows in St. Marien in 2009, but they were far from the first. The first officially recorded wedding took place in 1284. Now, rooms in the castle are available for civil weddings and all the restaurants are available to cater the wedding parties.

Children love to play at Mainau’s playgrounds. They ride The Garden railway through a miniature Alpine world, transverse the bridges and cable ferries in Water World or pet the animals at the Farm.

Of course, a boat ride is the perfect way to reach Mainau Island, but you can come on foot or by bus over the bridge. I was glad I had worn comfortable shoes because I kept walking just a bit farther to see “just one more flower.” A whole day can easily be spent enjoying the Flower Island. The park has resting benches and is partially handicapped accessible with raised flower beds. The visually handicapped can find their way around with information panels printed in Braille.

The fountain on Mainou Island
  For more information: Telephone-+49 (0) 7531/303-0; Internet - ; E-Mail-  
    Mainau Island chapel    
The chapel on Mainau Island
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