The steamer took only 20 minutes to cross the lake from Lindau, and nobody bothered to check my passport; but as you disembark in Bregenz you can tell at once that you’ve entered a different country. It’s not just the shopfronts and the street signs; it’s the pace of life. Everything is slightly slower here. It’s hard to believe that Lindau is less than 8km away.

Bregenz is the Bodensee’s undisputed capital of contemporary culture. It’s a bit too big and ragged to be truly beautiful (it lacks Lindau’s souvenir vistas, and the railway bisects the waterfront) but its position is inspiring: spread out along a wide bay, with the German coast to the north and the Swiss coast to the south. The first thing that hits you is its astonishing, avant-garde art

museum, the Kunsthaus Bregenz. An enormous, glass cube, it looks like an alien spaceship that has crash-landed beside the lake. Built in 1997, it’s a bold symbol of the city’s progressive intent. Most Bodensee resorts do their best to preserve the past; Bregenz, uniquely, seems impatient for the future.

The gallery houses visiting exhibitions rather than a permanent collection, so you have to take pot luck with whichever show is in town, but previous exhibitors have included Jeff Koons and Gilbert and George; and if you’re keen on futuristic architecture, the building is an exhibit in itself. However, Bregenz is more famous for music than art. Each summer it stages an outdoor opera festival in the most spectacular setting imaginable. Every night for four weeks, more than 5,000 spectators crowd onto a massive open grandstand beside the lake to see operatic classics and musicals being performed on a floating stage (the largest of its kind in the world).

The old town is hidden away up a steep, cobbled track. Defended by great gated battlements, it looks like something out of Robin Hood. In the most romantic corner of this citadel is one of Austria’s culinary treats. Deuring Schlossle is a 13th-century castle that was converted into a manor house in the 17th century. Since 1989 it has been the hotel and restaurant of Bernadette and Heino Huber. Bernadette runs the cavernous wine cellar. Heino has previously won Austria’s Chef of the Year award, and it’s easy to see why. His menu is modern Austrian with subtle Mediterranean and Asian flavours. The

Clockwise from above left a view from Constance, on the lake’s southern shore; a beer garden in Constance; the medieval monastery on Reichenau island, a World Heritage site; the main square in Constance and its 11 th-century cathedralmeal I had there – delicately flavoured, beautifully presented and supremely satisfying – was one of the best I’ve ever eaten.

What to see This year’s Bregenz Festival runs from 21 July to 22 August, and includes West Side Story and Weill’s The Protagonist and Royal Palace. Contact 00 43 5574 4070; Tickets from ‚6 Where to eat A five-course meal at the fairy-tale fortress of Deuring Schlossle costs ‚68 without wine. Or if you fancy playing Sleeping Beauty, for ‚320 you can book a double room with Champagne breakfast, plus a five-course

dinner and a bottle of wine. Ehre Guta Platz 4 (00 43 5574 47800;

Where to stay Hotel Germania is an upbeat modern hotel with a prestigious restaurant It’s just down the road from the Pfander cable car, which takes you up 1,062 metres into the foothills for a panoramic view over the lake.

Am Steinenbach 9 (00 43 5574 427660; fax: 427664; Doubles from ‚140

What to see Small boats chug around the headland and up the Rhine to the sleepy Swiss border town of Rheineck, connecting with the mountain railway to Walzenhausen. From there you can go on a bracing walk across the hills to Heiden. Schifffahrtsbetrieb Rorschach (00 41 71 846 6060;

Where to eat If you need a respite from Germanic food, La Onda is an airy, cheerful Italian restaurant right beside the lake. Churerstrasse 26 (00 41 71 841 5566). Open daily until midnight Where to stay Schloss Wartegg, Von Blarer Weg 1, Rorschacherberg (00 41 71 858 6262; Doubles from SF170, about £75

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