Mild climate and plentiful sunshine make Lake Constance (Bodensee in German) a top vacation spot for lovers of sun and sand, as well as for sightseers and spa-goers. The hillsides that slope to the water's edge are covered with vineyards and orchards and are dotted with colorful hamlets and busy tourist centers. Cruise ships and ferries link every major center around the lake. Although the lake's 260km (160-mile) shoreline is shared by three nations -- Austria, Germany, and Switzerland -- the area around the lake is united in a common cultural and historical heritage.
Lake Constance is actually divided into three lakes, although the name is frequently applied only to the largest of these, the Obersee. The western end of the Obersee separates into two distinct branches: the Überlingersee is a long fjord, while the Untersee is more irregular, jutting in and out of marshland and low-lying woodland. The two branches are connected by a narrow channel -- which is actually the upper Rhine.