When Hortense de Beauharnais, former Queen of Holland and “Première Dame de France”, came to Arenenberg in 1816 for the first time and fell head over heels in love with the estate, she probably did not know that this castle steeped in tradition was one of the oldest in the region of Lake Constance.
Although most visitors today are interested in the days of the Bonaparte family, back in the 15th to 18th centuries, the estate known as “Narrenberg“ or “fool’s hill“ cultivated a flourishing horticultural tradition; even today in the 21st century, traces of this period can still be found. Unfortunately, only little is known of the ideas of the owners in the Late Middle Ages and the early Modern Age and their connections, but what evidence we have points clearly to Italy and France in the Renaissance. This is hardly surprising, as Constance and the Canton of Thurgau together with the entire region of Lake Constance were at the heart of Europe!
A direct line can therefore be traced spreading at least 600 years and culminating from 1816/17 onwards in the horticultural creations of the de Beauharnais and Bonaparte families. Great names are linked to them and to Arenenberg Castle: The Frenchmen Louis-Martin Berthault (who created the parks of Malmaison and St. Leu near Paris), Aimé Bonpland and Pierre-Joseph Redouté, whose “Description des plantes rares cultivées à Malmaison et à Navarre“ (“Description of rare plants grown at Malmaison and at Navarre“) was also applied here on the Lower Lake.
The Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt and the garden architects Hermann von Pückler-Muskau and Peter Joseph Lenné were friends of the imperial family as was Karl Friedrich Schinkel, who visited Arenenberg at the beginning of the 1830s. Another guest was the Bavarian landscape architect Friedrich Ludwig von Sckell, who worked for Eugène de Beauharnais, Queen Hortense’s brother, and probably designed the park at Eugensberg Castle, which is also situated on this part of Lake Constance (in private ownership and not open to the public).
Much like a seed that grows into a plant with new seeds, Arenenberg in the 19th century was a nucleus for a development that started on the Untersee and later spread to the entire region. All around the imperial domain, stately parks of various sizes modelled on Arenenberg sprang up, some of which still exist today. The most famous is surely the “Flower Island“ of Mainau, the origins of which can be traced back to Prince Nikolaus von Esterházy, who bought the island in 1827 and immediately set about constructing a landscaped park.
Not without reason is the stretch of shore between Constance and Arenenberg or Stein am Rhein still known today as the “Côte Napoléon“, or “Napoleonic Coast“. A horticultural network developed that gradually spread, not only around Lake Constance, but also throughout Europe and the world as it was known then. Plants and botanical information were swapped and ties established. Of course, the Bonapartes resorted to much older connections through their dynastic allegiances from the days of the empire (see “The Bonapartes as Horticulturists“).
Arenenberg remained in family hands until 1906. The castle and its park were therefore under the influence of the Bonapartes for longer than any other property in the world. Thanks to its 600-year horticultural tradition, its paths and installations that have been lovingly restored true to the original, and the famous names linked to it, Arenenberg is a gem, not only here on the lake, but is also one the most significant landscaped parks in Europe. With its 12 hectares, it gives the deceptive impression of being small. For Emperor Napoleon III, however, the park not only encompassed the actual premises, but embraced the entire region of Lake Constance from the Alps to the Rhine Falls.
Its unique position gives it a grandeur and beauty that even received enthusiastic comments from the fastidious Prince von Pückler-Muskau: “I found the place even more beautiful than I had expected, and the view of Constance,
the three arms of the lake, the number of surrounding villages in the valley, and the distant countryside covered with vineyards and white flowering orchards captivating beyond all description. [...] Just a small encouragement from human hand and the most beautiful English garden might be created, that one might travel hundreds of miles just to see, as only very few people now know of the existence of this exquisite region.“