Even though the idea of al fresco dips in the ocean, rivers and lakes is as old as the hills, wild swimming has become a bit of a buzzword. And it's not hard to see why. What could be better than immersing yourself in nature by plunging into fresh and shimmering waters in secluded locations?
Whether you’d prefer a bracing adventure through glacial lakes in Norway or a summer swim in a Provençal lake, here are the dreamiest spots in Europe for a revitalising wild swim.
Lac de Castillon, France
Castillon is a glacial reservoir in the sun-baked, mountainous region of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence
The drive towards Lac de Castillon cuts through the fissured southern-French rocky landscape, with a series of hairpin bends winding around canyons and gorges until you catch sight of the lake’s milky blue-green water peeping through the pine trees. Castillon is a glacially derived reservoir that stretches for 8 kilometres between the sunbaked towns of Castellane and Saint-André-les-Alpes, located in the region of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.
Drive around the lake to find a quiet sunbathing spot on one of the many pebbly coves along the shore. Or head to the main – albeit small – lifeguarded sandy beach, from where you can hire pedalos, canoes and paddleboards to explore this beautiful expanse of water. Further immerse yourself in nature by pitching a tent at the edge of the forest at Camping La Ferme de Castellane.
Fjærlandsfjorden's water is so clear and smooth that you’ll feel like you’re swimming through silk
Norway is a wild swimming utopia, with snow-capped mountains and glacial fjords so clear and smooth that you’ll feel like you’re swimming through silk. One of the best spots for an al fresco dip is Fjærland, a small village near Bergen where wooden cabins line the shores of Fjærlandsfjorden. Dive in for a swim at the foot of steep rock faces that climb up towards the Flatbreen glacier. Do be prepared for a refreshing – some might say too refreshing – dip because even in the height of summer, the water is icy cold. Stay right on the edge of the fjord at Fjærland Fjordstue Hotel.
Loch Lomond, Scotland
Take a dip in beautiful Loch Lomond, enveloped by the Trossachs National Park
With its mirrored surface covering 21 square miles of southern Scotland and located just north of Glasgow, Loch Lomond is one of the country’s largest bodies of water. It’s also enveloped by the Trossachs National Park, where Munros (the Scottish word for mountains) are tinted mauve with heather and red deer dart around oak trees in the wooded glens, or valleys. The loch is so perfect for wild swimming that it is the location for the annual Great Scottish Swim. And although this open water extravaganza was – to the dismay of many – cancelled due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), it doesn't stop drawing visitors who want to dive into its boundless beauty.
Hike one of the trails that criss-cross the stony slopes of the peak, Ben Lomond, before taking a dip in the loch to cool off. There are entry points all around the shore, from the town of Balloch at the foot of the lake to the stone village of Luss or Milarrochy Bay. Check into the highly rated Alderdale B&B in the centre of Luss.
Lake Thun, Switzerland
The town of Thun sits aside Thunersee, an alpine lake backed by the Bernese Alps
Thunersee is an alpine lake located amid quintessentially Swiss scenery and surrounded by the almighty mountains of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. The lakeshore is dotted with towns where Romanesque church spires peek above tiled rooftops. In summer, the blue-green water glints in the sun, inviting swimmers to dive in.
Enjoy the lake like the locals do and rent rubber dinghies to float from the lakeside town of Thun down the River Aare. You could even ride the current all the way down to the postcard-pretty Swiss capital of Bern. Stay at the Boutique Hotel Schlossberg, perched on a hill with some of the best views of Thun and enjoy the on-site sauna, steam bath and hot tub.
Poland's Masurian Lake District feels blissfully remote
The region of Masuria in northern Poland is strewn with over 2,000 lakes that are ideal for wild swimming, with many of them connected by narrow waterways. One of the best places to use as a base for exploring the area is Giżycko, a town on the shores of Lake Niegocin. The Masurian Lake District is just a few hours out of Poland’s capital city, Warsaw. Hire a car and ride out through the blissfully remote countryside, with nothing but mature forest, rolling meadows and tiny towns lining your path towards these vast bodies of water. The lakes are also famous for watersports, so you can rent a kayak or canoe and navigate the network of canals and rivers. And once you’ve worked up an appetite, you can stop off for picnics on one of the many forested islets or sandy beaches. Check into Apartament Waterside in the centre of Giżycko.