There are some wonderful places to wild swim in the south of France, among the rocks and canyons, and in the most amazing waters. If you’re lucky, most people will head to the beaches in the summer and you’ll have stretches of river all to yourself. Here are our top picks of where to go and what to do.
The thing to remember about wild swimming is that it’s unsupervised and you are at your own risk. Be sensible; never go alone, always take a phone and always have water and snacks to hand, as well as a towel and a spare change of clothes in a waterproof bag. Remember that wild swimming places are off the beaten track so you’ll need practical footwear. Sometimes hiring a kayak is the best way to go, because it lets you travel fast to the best spots, you can carry your stuff in them and more people generally use the same route. Wild swimming is a wonderful way to see parts of France that (most) other people don’t see but be prepared to walk a little and make a little more effort to get the wonderful rewards. Enjoy!
Pont du Gard, near Avignon
The Romans built the Pont-du-Gard acqueduct around 19 BC to carry water from a river in Uzès to Nîmes and it’s worth visiting, but the best part is being able to swim in the river directly below it (or kayak). It can get very crowded in summer (there’s a well-hidden campsite adjacent) and you’ll need to pay for parking unless you want to walk for about an hour. It is well worth the effort though. The water isn’t very deep so it’s perfect for kids or for just floating on your back and watching the kayaks come past. There isn’t much in the way of conveniences nearby, so take everything you’ll need with you, including lots of water and snacks. It’s stunning on lazy summer days with a picnic and a towel.
The Gorges du Verdon
The river canyon of Verdon is famous for its beautiful turquoise colour and is immensely popular for everyone who lives in the surrounding area. It’s 700 metres deep and 25 kilometres long and flows out into the wonderful man-made Lake of Sainte-Croix (which was created when a dam was built to provide electricity to the local population in the 1970s). You can kayak down the river through the winding ravines or park up at any side of the huge lake (it’s 22 kilometres squared). Either go it alone — and pick a spot without many other people around — or choose the main area at the exit of the gorges (where there is an ice cream truck and you can hire pedaloes with slides, which are great fun). Head to the nearby town of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie for dinner, which is built into the side of the mountain and shouldn’t be missed either.
Head to the small town of Sillans-la-Cascade and follow La Bresque stream downriver to the waterfall. The pool is technically closed because there is a risk of rock falls but locals swim here all the time (as is often the case with many wild swimming spots). There’s a lookout directly above it to take pictures and you can walk down to more waterfalls further downstream, where you are allowed to swim. Park in the village and take supplies. Wonderful.
La Sorgue, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse
The river of La Sorgue is a great spot for swimming. Park in the beautiful town of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse (be warned, parking is difficult) and walk up the river to the chasm at the top. It’s a beautiful spot to swim, if you’re feeling brave (the locals do) but it’s deep and a little exposed to people taking photos. Or, one of the best ways to swim is to go further downstream of the town. Park at one of the kayak rental spots and take a kayak downstream; you can stop whenever and wherever you want to swim (they pick you up at the bottom and take you back to your car). It’s a wonderful afternoon, with a few minor rapids that are suitable for first time kayakers or families, as the river never really gets very deep, although parts are deep enough to swim in. Take a few snacks and some water. Amazing.