Wild swimming is swimming in rivers, lakes, lagoons, reservoirs — anywhere outdoors, basically! Here are some of the best places across Europe to take the plunge
What is the best swimming spot in the world? Everyone has their own, and it depends on what you’re looking for: clear waters, sure, but warm? Suffused with mineral goodness? Shockingly cold perhaps, to really get the blood flowing? Well, we’ve got some of each, with destinations in the mountains, in the city, and in national parks across Europe. Come on in, the water’s lovely!
Lago di Fiastra, Italy
Located east of the ancient city of Perugia in the Monti Sibillini National Park, this gorgeous blue lake is rumored to contain a submerged village, so remember to pack your snorkel before you go! If you can’t find the village, you’ll still find plenty of things to keep you occupied: the beach of San Lorenzo al Lago, a bar with sun loungers and parasols, the Adventure Park containing an archery range and the starting place for boat tours of the lake, and pedal boat, canoe and mountain bike rentals.
You might want to visit Perugia as well, seeing as you’re nearby. The capital of Umbria dates from the Etruscan period, so pre-dates the Roman Empire. It’s built on a ridge of hills, affording views for miles over the surrounding countryside, and is home to such sites as the huge Etruscan Arch, scores of Roman and medieval buildings, and the maze-like underground streets of the Rocca Paolina, an abandoned fortress.
A touch chillier, this one. This 7.69-square-kilometer (2.97 sq. mi.) lake is set in beauty, backed by mountains and pine forests, but even on the sunniest of days, it can be pretty polar. The town of Voss is known as Norway’s capital of outdoor sports — skydiving, mountain biking, hiking, etc. — and of water sports. As well as swimming, you can kayak, canoe, kiteboard, paddleboard, or cross the water in any other way you can think of.
The lake is located on the west side of the country, not far from Bergen, and the area has a cultural history that can be explored as well, with buildings like the Vangskyrkja — a church dating from 1277, and the Finnesloftet — a medieval banqueting hall. You could also get your strength back after your swim by trying the traditional local delicacy, smalahove. It’s a sheep’s head. You’re welcome.
Pamukkale and Hierapolis, Turkey
Okay, this pick is just outside of Europe, but we couldn’t not tell you about it. A sight like nowhere else greets you when you get to Pamukkale in Turkey’s Denizli Province: stunning terraces of white rock with shockingly blue thermal pools in them, the water running gently over the sides and downwards. The waters are rich in minerals, and people have been fascinated with the area since ancient times, and the ruins of the Roman town of Hierapolis are nearby.
You have to pay a small fee (around ₺35/€1.90) to access the area, and to preserve the rocks you have to walk barefoot through the pools — no great hardship! From there you can find places to swim or bathe in the warm, healthy waters. Hierapolis is worth your time as well, as in its heyday it was home to 500,000 people, and ruins include those of gateways, tombs, temples, a large necropolis, and a mighty amphitheater. You can also visit Cleopatra’s Pool where, according to legend, Cleopatra got engaged to Mark Antony. The marble columns and mineral water make this a popular spot as well, and you can visit for two hours for around ₺33/€1.80.
Hampstead Ponds, UK
London is a very watery place, with the Thames slicing it in half and many other rivers, canals and lakes winding their way through, under and around the city. However, you’d have to be stark raving mad to swim in the Thames (and you’d probably get arrested as well). So where to go?
To Hampstead Heath, in the northwest of the city. It’s a beautiful sprawl of fields, woods and paths, and it’s also where you’ll find places for a bracing outdoor swim. There are three ponds: the Mixed Bathing Pond on the west side of Parliament Hill, and the Highgate Men’s and Kenwood Ladies’ Ponds to the east. These two are open year-round, while the Mixed Pond is accessible from May to September. You’ll have to pay £2 whichever option you choose, but the Mixed Pond has the added bonus of a small lawn for sunning yourself, if the fickle British weather allows it.
Lake Bohinj, Slovenia
While most people would head to Lake Bled (by far the most well-known lake in Slovenia), Lake Bohinj is only half an hour or so by car from Bled, and suffers far less from tourist-trap fever. Like everywhere else in the Triglav National Park, modern development is severely limited, leaving only mountains, forests, and fresh, clear water.
To find your perfect swimming spot, take the 12-kilometer forest path that encircles the lake. You can find exactly what you’re looking for — be it the nicest view, the quietest corner, the deepest (or shallowest) water, or the best bank on which to sunbathe. The water warms up to 24°C in the summer, making for a less bracing experience than some other places on this list, and the picturesque Church of St. John the Baptist and the nearby Church of the Holy Spirit add a little more variety to the scenery.
Loriga River Beach, Portugal
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Smack in the middle of Portugal is Serra da Estrela, the country’s highest mountain range and the site of the country’s first national park. For all its rugged slopes and parched beauty, you’ll also find rivers and streams wending their way through the hills, some with waterfalls crashing to lakes below, and you’ll almost certainly be able to find a deserted spot for your wild swim.
What you must do, however, is make your way to Loriga River Beach. It’s made up of water that has sliced itself into a glacial valley, meaning it’s cold, but it also affords amazing views of the surrounding countryside. It’s not exactly the back of beyond (there’s a snack bar, for goodness’ sake), but if you’re looking for wonderful vistas without the effort of trekking all the way up into the hills, this is the place to come.
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