We love a heated pool as much as the next swimmer, but nothing beats that whole-body sense of freedom you get from jumping into a wild body of water. Something about paddling around in a tree-lined lake or river, misty mountains looming in the distance, can’t be matched by your local lido. If you’re eager to plunge into the unknown, try one of these untamed swimming spots across the continent.
Reykjadalur Geothermal River, Reykjavík
The famous Blue Lagoon may get all the glory, but Reykjavík actually has a staggering 17 bathing spots – including the incredible Reykjadalur Geothermal River, a thermal stream that snakes through a valley to the southeast of the city. Slipping into this naturally-heated river is like slipping into a warm bath, only with a much better backdrop: the rolling mountains that surround it all make for a perfect snapshot of Iceland’s mysterious landscape. To reach Reykjadalur’s inviting waters, you'll need to drive to the hiking path that leads to the river – it starts near the town of Hveragerði and takes about 45 minutes.
Lower Letten River Pool, Zurich
Switzerland is famed for its crystal-clear waters – so clean you can practically gulp them down – but none are as lively as this little slice of the Limmat in Zurich. Smack dab in the city centre, this 400m swimming channel is the centre of Zurich’s social scene, residents congregating under the shady pergolas that line the river, gossiping, lounging, and sometimes breaking to play boule. When it’s time to cool off, do as the Zurichers do and just float about, letting the chilled current carry you downstream.
Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye
Imagine glimmering rock pools filled with crystalline spring water, fed by a tangle of gushing waterfalls, and you’ve got this otherworldly swimming spot. Its beauty is typical of the Isle of Skye, a remote rock off the west coast of Scotland that is so naturally stunning it’s almost rude, with a patchwork of mist-shrouded moors and rocky mountains. You’ll have to walk along a gravel path near the village of Carbost to access the pools, but you’ll be glad for it as you take in the beautiful jagged peaks of the Cuillin range. Just remember to pack your wetsuit: the waters can be a bit icy.
Purcaraccia Canyon, Corsica
Splashing around in these incandescent pools of emerald green mountain water carved into white marble feels a bit like swimming on the moon, only they’re on a balmy French island in the Med. You’ll need to traverse a slightly hairy forest path to find them, but once you do, you’ll never want to leave this little piece of heaven at the foot of the Bavella mountains. The smooth marble that surrounds the pools forms natural slides, and you’ll often catch people slip-sliding down into the bracing waters on rubber rings. If you’re after an even bigger adrenaline rush, there are lots of companies that offer canyoning and abseiling in the area – try Adrenaline Hunter.
Lake Walchen, Bavarian Alps
One of Germany’s deepest and longest lakes – with a total area of 16.4 square km – this Alpine jewel is surrounded by majestic slopes and lofty pine trees. Its glimmering turquoise waters are oh-so-inviting on languid late summer days, and the lake’s relative quiet makes it an ideal spot to kick back for a weekend. If you’re in the area, be sure to visit the fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle – a stunning 19th-century Romanesque Revival fortress perched atop a craggy hill that inspired Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle. Buses and trains run several times a day from Munich and take around three hours.
Jamaica Beach, Lombardy
A love child between Italy’s white beaches and mighty lakes, Jamaica Beach – on the southern end of Lake Garda – can rival any stretch of sand on the Amalfi coast. Only here, instead of a Mediterranean horizon, you get a heart-stopping sweep of Dolomite mountains and calm freshwater perfect for paddling around in. The smooth beach is an ideal place to lay your towel, and if the lake level is low, Lido delle Bionde is just a short stroll away, where you’ll find a bar and a lawn dotted with olive trees. To get here, you’ll have to walk along a cliffside trail from the old centre of Sirmione, wading through water at times.
Achen Lake, Tyrol
The largest lake in Austria’s Tyrol region, Achen Lake is almost as vast as the Alpine peaks that line its shores. This is a place where nature dominates, dwarfing swimmers, boats, and birds into tiny specks. One dip in its calm, blinding-blue waters and you’ll get why it’s often called the “Fjord of the Alps” – its cool mountain streams make it a bracing swim. Achen is surrounded by several idyllic villages, each one worth exploring for their typical Alpine architecture and superb views of the lake. Parents with kids (or young-at-heart adults) should climb aboard the old-school cog train that departs from nearby Jenbach and rattles 440m vertically up to Achen Lake. From there, you can transfer onto a boat to explore the region further.