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Europe’s best wild swimming walks

Updated: Nov 2, 2020

From a Greek gorge hike ending at a spring-fed pool to a summer stroll and river swim through the heart of the Swiss capital, Europe has wild swimming walks to suit every level.

Slipping into a cool river or wading into the depths of a distant lake is the ideal way to round off a long hike on a hot summer’s day.

Europe’s options for watery walks are myriad. There are spectacular city-based jaunts that don’t require packing maps or endless route planning. Whether you’re a seasoned wild swimmer or just fancy an adventure that goes beyond the average tramp through the countryside, you’re guaranteed to find the perfect wild swimming walk in Europe. Here’s our guide to the very best.

1. Vikos Gorge, Greece

Distance: 8 miles

Carved deep within the Pindus Mountains of the Zagori region of northern Greece, the Vikos Gorge offers peaceful hiking and relentless views. This is a corner of Europe that remains criminally under visited, even in summer, meaning it’s possible to hike the eight miles from the village of Monodendri to Vikos village and not encounter another living soul.

The steep descent to the riverbed follows a path which locals claim dates back some 2,900 years, before cleaving close to the limestone cliffs. Gaps in the dense woodland afford views across to the gorge’s

rim, 1,100 metres high. The hike ends at Voidomatis Springs, where a series of chilly pools make for the perfect place to cool off. The spring-fed water struggles to get into double figures, even in summer.

2. Pont du Gard, France

Distance: 11 miles

While it’s possible to park close to this UNESCO–protected Roman aqueduct, it’s best approached on foot. The walk from the village of Colliers, 11 miles west along the banks of the River Gardon, follows quiet country lanes and slips through olive groves and vineyards before emerging at this iconic sight, built by the Romans in the first century AD to carry water to Nimes, 30 miles away. There are stony beaches on either side of the triple–tiered structure, with the water running deep and rapid as it flows beneath the arches. Take heed of the 'no swimming' signs and stick to the shallower water on either side. There are handy slabs of rock for drying off after a dip.

3. Schlactensee, Berlin, Germany

Distance: 4 miles

Just half an hour on the S–Bahn from central Berlin, Schlactensee is blessed with well-maintained paths that dip close to the banks, making the four-mile loop around its edges ideal for languid dips and midsummer picnics. Stroll out of Schlactensee station, cross the road and turn right, following the path through stands of elm trees and keeping an eye out for red squirrels. The walking here may be easy, but the water can be cold, even in summer. This glacial lake, formed 15,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, is 8.5 metres deep in places. In high summer, it can get overrun, but as the days shorten, the water holds its temperature, meaning autumnal swims are every bit as good as those in hot weather.

4. Esk Falls, Lake District, England

Distance: 5.5 miles

Don’t be fooled by the seemingly short distance. This is a steep ascent of England’s highest mountain, taking the remote path up Eskdale from the village of Boot. Definitely a route for summer, when visibility and the weather should be on your side, it follows the burbling River Esk as it tumbles its way down from the fells. Keep an eye out for the series of alluring pools to the left when climbing up, all the better to keep you excited while tackling the knee-jerking descent. Tongue Pot is perhaps the most famous of these watery oases, requiring bold swimmers to jump into the fresh mountain water. However, there are plenty of less daunting spots for anyone in need of a cool down after a long hike.

5. River Aare, Bern, Switzerland

Distance: 3 miles

The Swiss capital might seem an unlikely place for a wild swimming walk. But the clean and clear water of the River Aare, which flows straight off the surrounding Alps, is a haven for outdoor swimmers once summer arrives. Take an easy riverside stroll from Barengraben to Elfenaupark – despite being in the heart of the city, the surrounding trees and wildlife ensure a truly outdoorsy feel – before slipping into the river and letting the current take you back to Freibad Marzili. The latter is one of Bern’s most popular outdoor pools, with handy sun loungers for drying off and easing out the kinks after your workout. The water hits the low 20s in summer, making it perfect for a leisurely dip.

6. Gorg de Santa Margarida, North Cataluna, Spain

Distance: 2 miles

This is a short walk with a major reward at the end: a stunning waterfall that tumbles down into a vast green pool in the heart of the Gorg de Santa Margarida. The route, starting in the village of Les Planes d’Hostoles, follows the well–signposted Carrilet Greenway 2, a bike path on a former railway track that heads to nearby Girona, before dropping down some steep steps to the water. Even in summer, it can be chilly once you wade in. Bring a picnic or pack a bigger bag and a decent map to follow the trails deeper into the gorge for the chance to explore more hidden pools on a longer walk.

7. Korana River, Croatia

Distance: 3 miles

The hugely popular Plitvice National Park has some of the most alluring water in Europe. But no matter how tempting it looks, a strictly enforced swimming ban means there’s no chance of cooling off when it all gets a bit too much. Fortunately, a stroll north along the Korana River, which is fed by the national park’s lakes, offers ample opportunity for a refreshing plunge. With water temperatures reaching a barely believable 28ºC in summer, the turquoise pools around Korana village make for easy swimming, with the chance to hike between waterholes. A succession of beaches and plunge pools make it the ultimate spot for a lazy day.

If you want to learn more about the mental and physical health benefits related to open water swimming and cold exposure, feel free to join our ICEWIM Facebook group.

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