Even though the idea of al fresco dips in the ocean, rivers and lakes is as old as the hills, wild swimming has recently 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 flawless waters in secluded locations?
Whether you’d prefer a bracing adventure through glacial waters 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 glacially derived reservoir in the sun-baked, mountainous region of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence
The drive towards South East France’s Lac de Castillon cuts through the fissured, 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 8km between the little towns of Castellane and Saint-André-les-Alpes in the sun-baked, mountainous 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 paddle boards to explore this beautiful expanse of water. 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 beauty spots for an al fresco dip is Fjærland, a small village where wooden cabins line the shores of Fjærlandsfjorden with wooden porches that extend over the water. Dive in for a swim at the foot of steep rock faces that climb up towards the Flatbreen glacier, which feeds the fjord – do be prepared for a refreshing (some might say bracing) dip because – even in the height of summer – the water is freezing. 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 (just north of Glasgow), Loch Lomond is one of the country’s biggest 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 (valleys). The loch is so perfect for wild swimming, in fact, that it was the location for the annual Great Scottish Swim. And although this open water extravaganza was – to the dismay of many – cancelled in 2019, it has since been replaced with Go Swim Loch Lomond, an event set to take place in September. Hike one of the trails that criss-cross the stony slopes of 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 in the midst of quintessentially Swiss scenery – the almighty mountains of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau can be seen in the distance and the shore 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 via the various platforms built around the edge of the lake. Or you can copy locals who take rubber dinghies and float all the way from the lakeside town of Thun down the River Aare to the infinitely pretty and poised Swiss capital of Bern. Stay at the Boutique Hotel Schlossberg 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, many of them being connected by smaller waterways. One of the best places to base yourself to explore the area is Giżycko, a town on the shores of Lake Niegocin. Despite being only a few hours’ north of the capital, Warsaw, the Masurian Lake District feels blissfully remote, with nothing but deciduous forest, meadows, tiny towns and the odd organic farm separating its vast bodies of water. It’s also particularly popular for watersports, so you can hire a kayak or canoe and navigate the network of canals and rivers, stopping off for picnics on forested islets or sandy beaches. Check into Apartament Waterside in the centre of Giżycko.