swimming swimming



swimming swimming
Discover the most beautiful rivers,
lakes and waterfalls of France
Daniel Start
Wild Swimming France
Discover the most beautiful rivers, lakes
and waterfalls of France
First edition published in the United
Kingdom in 2012 by
Wild Things Publishing Ltd
Bath, United Kingdom.
Copyright © 2012 Daniel Start
Series concept © 2007 - 2012
Daniel Start / Wild Swimming Ltd
The moral rights of the author have been
All rights reserved. No part of this
publication may be reproduced, stored
in a retrieval system, used in any form
of advertising, sales promotion or
publicity, or transmitted in any form or
by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise,
without prior permission in writing from
the publishers.
A catalogue record of this book is
available from the British Library.
ISBN-13: 978-0-9571573-0-9
ISBN-10: 0957157304
Swims by Region
Getting Started
Swims at a Glance
Central Alps
Haut Var and Verdon
Vaucluse and Haute Provence
Corbières and Roussillon
Lot, Célé and Aveyron
To Tania,
With heartfelt thanks for your love and
support over the last two years
Loire and Normandy
Staying Safe and Legal
Swims by
Corbières and Roussillon
Swim map and highlights
Cascades du Hérisson & des Combes 19
Haut Vaucluse
121-123 The Orbieu & Nielle
Lac d’Ilay & the Upper Ain 23
Haute Provence & Digne
124-126 Verdouble & the coast
Lac de Vouglans & the Valserine 25
Lower Vaucluse & the coast
127-128 Rennes-les-Bains & hot springs
The Lison & the Loue 29
129-130 Pyrénées Catalanes
Central Alps
Swim map and highlights
Swim map and highlights
Lower Ardèche
Swim map and highlights
Lac d’Annecy & nearby 35
Mid-Ardèche & Beaume
131-133 Pyrénées-Atlantiques
Parc National des Écrins & the Durance 39
The Chassezac
134-138 Hautes Pyrénées
Lac de Serre-Ponçon & du Sautet 43
Haut Ardèche – Lignon & Bourges
139-141 Ariège
Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors 45
Haut Ardèche – Loire & Allier
Drôme & Roanne 47
Lot, Célé and Aveyron
Swim map and highlights
Swim map and highlights
142-144 Lower Lot
Swim map and highlights
Lower Gard
145-147 Célé & Middle Lot
Clues of the Esteron 53
Haut Gardon
148-150 Upper Lot
Near Grasse & Cannes 57
The Cèze
151-153 Truyère & Aveyron
Around Sospel 61
The Hérault
Vesubie to the mountains 65
The Vis
River Var to the mountains
101-103 The Orb
Swim map and highlights
154-155 Vézère and Dronne
156-158 Middle Dordogne
Swim map and highlights
Swim map and highlights
159-160 Upper Dordogne
Corte & the north
104-108 Middle Tarn
161-163 Ouysse & Le Mont-Dore
South & east of Corte 77
109-111 Upper Tarn
Col de Bavella 81
Tarn & Jonte
Porto & Galéria
Mont Aigoual
Swim map and highlights
Vaucluse and Haute Provence
Swim map and highlights
119-120 Bonheur and Dourbie
Haut Var and Verdon
Loire and Normandy
Swim map and highlights
164-166 Cher & Loir
167-169 Indre & Indrois
Swim map and highlights
170-172 Vienne, Louet & Sarthe
Haut Var & the Argens
173-176 Normandy
Lac de Ste-Croix & lower Verdon
Canyon du Verdon
Wild swimming is the traditional art of swimming in natural
bathing pools, such as rivers, lakes and waterfalls, and France,
which has them in abundance, is the wild swimmer’s paradise.
With some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes,
as well as the cleanest waters in Europe, taking a dip is the
essential way to stay cool in summer, and the highlight of any
French holiday.
French river sports
Swimming, scrambling and abseiling down
narrow canyons and waterfalls with helmet
and wetsuit
Swimming down white-water rapids with the
aid of a float and helmet
Aqua randonnée
A popular family pastime of simply exploring
a river, part-swimming, part-scrambling, with
aqua sandals and a waterproof daypack
One of the most popular outdoor pastimes
for French family holidays and a wonderful
way to scout out the best places for a picnic
and swim
The benefits of wild swimming are well documented – it’s great
fun, it’s good for your health and it re-establishes our connection
with nature. In rural France, people have always swum in rivers
and there are over 1300 ‘official’ river beaches. Unlike the UK,
most of France is just too far from the coast, and even if it wasn’t
the options are limited. The Atlantic coast has a dangerous swell
– great for surfing but not for swimming – and the Côte d’Azur is
heavily developed along almost its whole length.
If you haven’t done much travelling in France or ventured off
the beaten track, then you are in for a real treat. Its rivers are
so numerous that French départements are named after them
and three major sets of mountains ensure a plentiful supply of
crystal-clear water to keep them flowing, even in the hot regions
of the South. On their journey down from the mountains, the
rivers often carve beautiful gorges, pools and waterfalls, which
make perfect swimming holes and beaches. Countless tracks
lead to exquisite stretches of riverside, and with four times as
much land area per person compared to the UK, this is a place
where everyone can find their little bit of wilderness.
Wild Swimming France focuses on the really spectacular
parts of the country, with the majority of swims located in the
southern half, where most people go on holiday. We begin our
journey in the hills of the Jura and then head south, exploring
waterfall country and the great lakes of the Alps. Moving into
the wild hills around Nice we enter into the land of ‘clues’ –
white limestone canyons with giant jade-green plunge pools
and tumbling waterfalls, and while some require canyoning
equipment many of the best can be reached on foot. From here,
rugged Corsica is just a short hop on the boat, and with plunge
pools and soaring mountain spires every bit as beautiful as its
legendary beaches, this must count as one of the most beautiful
wild-swimming locations in France, if not on earth.
Heading into Provence proper, the Verdon is the largest canyon
in Europe and its lakes are perhaps the deepest shade of blue in
the whole of France, while the waterfalls of Sillans-la-Cascade
bring to mind the kind of tropical oases you might expect to find
in Costa Rica rather than Europe. Towards Avignon, the land
becomes more arid, but magical blue pools still remain, fed by
underground springs, if you know where to look.
Both the gorges of the Ardèche, which boasts the Pont d’Arc,
and the river Gard, with its Roman aqueduct, are justly famous
for canoeing and swimming. Yet few venture into their upper
reaches and tributaries, where volcanic activity has produced a
landscape of extraordinary arches and basalt columns.
The Cévennes, where Robert Louis Stevenson travelled with
his donkey and wolves still roam, is one of the wildest regions.
Further south, the Languedoc and Corbières are hot, dry, winemaking regions that are well watered by the Hérault and Vis.
These rivers gush out of great cave openings into enchanted
fern-hung grottoes that conjure up scenes from legend and
folklore. The Pyrenees are famous for their hot springs – of
which only a few remain undeveloped – and for tranquil
mountain tarns with rocky ledges for diving and islets to swim
out to. Turning northwards, the valleys of the Aveyron, Lot and
Dordogne, and their many beautiful tributaries, offer stunning
cliff-side villages to swim beneath and plenty of delicious places
for long lunches. Finally, the great Loire, with its fairytale castles
and woodland lakes, is a surprisingly wild river – wide, empty,
undeveloped and magnificent.
French swimming
Est-ce qu’il y a un beau lieu de baignade en
rivière ou lac près d’ici? Can you recommend
a good river or lake swimming spot near here?
Nager to swim
Plonger/sauter to dive/jump
Baignade au milieu naturel/ Baignade en
pleine nature swimming in a natural setting/
swimming outdoors
Baignade sauvage wild swimming
Baignade en rivière river swimming
Lieu de baignade swimming place
Eau doux fresh water
Marmite deeply eroded ‘pot’ or tub in rock
(filled with water)
Resurgence where water or a river emerges
from underground
Vasque/basin large pool or basin of water
Cascade/saut waterfall
Getting started
Ten ways to be
wild and safe
If you swim downstream of dams with
hydroelectric plants, be aware of
changing water levels.
Don’t explore narrow gorges if
thunderstorms are expected.
Don’t swim in canals, urban rivers or
stagnant lakes. Keep cuts and wounds
covered with waterproof plasters if you
are concerned about water quality.
Never swim in flooded rivers and be
cautious of water quality during droughts.
Never swim alone and keep a constant
watch on weak swimmers.
Never jump into water you have not
thoroughly checked for depth and
Always make sure you know how you will
get out before you get in.
Don’t get cold – warm up with exercise
before a swim and put on warm clothes
straight after.
9. Wear suitable footwear.
10.Wear sunscreen and don’t swim in the
middle of the day – it’s easy to forget how
strong the sun is when you’re in the water.
Turn to pages 252–253 for more detailed
France has fantastic water quality and great summer
temperatures. A hot day is the perfect time to swim, but it
can be exciting on rainy days, too. In the north of France, it
can sometimes be wet and mild, and rivers near towns and
dairy farms may not be reliably clean. In the south, especially
in the national parks, weather and water quality tend to be
Kit for families: You’ll feel more confident about exploring
rivers if everyone is equipped with adequate footwear (old
trainers, jelly shoes etc) and goggles –the basic equipment
of aqua randonnée (see p.6). A regular surfing wetsuit or a
sleeveless wetsuit top will help small children keep warm if
you swim in colder water, such as mountain tarns or streams.
Always pack towels (or simple sarongs), suntan lotion, sunhats
and plastic bags for all your wet kit, and insect repellent is
useful in woodland or for evening swims. Inflatables are fun
for children but make sure they don’t drift away. A buoyancy
aid (about £40) is a safer bet.
Skinny-dipping: If you come across a magical pool on a walk
it’s quite possible to swim without any kit. Wear your undies
or go naked if it is secluded. If you have no towel, wipe most
of the water off with your hands then sacrifice one item
of clothing to dry yourself with, or travel with a small, light
cotton sarong.
Wild camping: Remember that this is illegal in France, and open
fires are very dangerous during dry summers. If you do decide
to camp out by the water, be discreet and invisible. Pitch late
and take your tent down early. Leave absolutely no trace.
finding your way
There are over 400 swimming locations in this book and each
can be located using the overview maps, the directions and
the 10-point latitude and longitude grid reference. Walk-in
times are given, together with symbols to indicate campsites,
places to eat, canoe or boat hire and telephone numbers.
Abbreviations are given for: left and right (L and R); north, east
south and west (N, E, S, W); dir and opp stand for direction and
opposite. The grid reference is the simplest and most reliable
way to find the place. Type it into Google or Bing maps – on
your computer or phone – to zoom straight to the place and
view aerial photography and road maps. Or enter it direct
into your SatNav and be guided to the vicinity automatically.
For those places far from a road you will also need to refer
to the French Institut Géographique National (IGN) 1:25,000
topographical maps. You can view and print sections for free
at Geoportail.fr.
To find your own locations: If you are using detailed maps,
look for bends in rivers, which create beaches and deeper
sections; or head for areas above or below weirs (barrage),
where pools can form. Any lake you find in a state forest
(forêt domainiale marked as green with tree symbols in the
Michelin road atlases) is likely to be accessible. Waterfalls are
often marked with a straight black line on the IGN maps. You
could also explore the main canoeing rivers of France. Where
the water is deep enough for canoes it is often deep enough
for swimming, too. The map Canoe-kayak en France: carte
touristique (IGN, 2007) is an excellent resource.
Swims at a Glance
Waterside food
Close to an auberge or recommended place to eat or
buy picnic supplies
7c lac genin
146 marcilhac
20 chute de la druise
153b manjo café
41b the manganello
161 gouffre de st-sauveur
48b delta du fango
162 lac pavin
52 bauduen plage
155b moulin-de-rocherel
83a st-julien-des-chazes,
166c l avardin
Canoeing and Boating
Hire a canoe, pedalo or punt, to help you explore
and to carry the picnics
Superb sites set by the water with simple facilities and
a laid-back attitude
29 lac de st-cassien
48b delta du fango
50 vallon sourn, argens
54 rue d’eau de st-maurin
68 pont d’arc
84 pont du gard
85 pont de collias
4a lac de narlay
9b ornans
14 la roche-de-rame
18 lac du sautet
37 gorges de la restonica
43a pont de gaglioli
68b the grand gour
69a les grottes
94 pont du diable
94a lac du salagou
108 la malène
143b bouziès
154 les tours
168d bréhémont
171 st-aubin-de-luigne
72 balazuc
78 gouffre de l’enfer
89d salendrinque
93 gorges de la cèze
95 st-etienne d’issensac
102d vieussan
106 les fayards
146c espagnac
Great for kids
Mainly shallow and perfect for family fun
Dramatic cascades and wonderful natural jacuzzis
2a gorges de l’abîme
4 lac d’ilay
11b angon plage annecy
22a ste-croix
24b clue de pierrefeu
29 lac de st-cassien
50 vallon sourn, argens
1 cascades du hérisson
3b cascade de vulvoz
20 chute de la druise
24 clue d’aiglun
30 ruisseau de planfaé
32a cascade de piera
36 cascade de la lance
52 bauduen plage
57 lower toulourenc
58 upper toulourenc
85 pont de collias
92 bord de cèze
117 tarnon at florac
170b candes-st-martin
41 49 51 90 98 103 130 cascade des anglais
châteaudouble gorge
cascade du sautadet
cirque de navacelles
gorges d’héric
gorges du llech
Châteaux and history
Wild camping
Swim beneath great castles and enjoy the history of France
from the water
Wonderful and wild locations for sleeping out by the water
10 miroir de scey
33b lac des merveilles
94 pont du diable
95 st-etienne d’issensac
16 42 87 lac de vouglans
lac de serre-ponçon
cavu & ste-lucie
la baume, sanilhac
95 st-etienne d’issensac
136 les laquettes
159a le port
160d floirac
Blue pools
Remote and beautiful locations where you’ll be tempted
to swim au naturel
The most azure, emerald or aquamarine waters you’ll find this side of
the Seychelles
6 lac de vouglans
7 pont de confort, semine
11 roc de chère, annecy
16 lac de serre-ponçon
24b clue de pierrefeu
30 ruisseau de planfaé
31b gorge de carleva
38 gorges du tavignano
13 24 25 26 43 44 45 gorges de la vacca
51 châteaudouble gorge
69 plage des templiers
81 freyssenet
87 la baume, sanilhac
116 cascade de tapoul
118 l’hort-de-dieu
134a l ac des hauts
ravin du couleau
clue d’aiglun
clue du riolan
pont de la cerise
gorges de fiumicelle
cascades de purcaraccia
49 sillans-la-cascade
58 upper toulourenc
98a moulin de la foux
111 le-pont-de-montvert
127 fontaine des amours
161 gouffre de st-sauveur
Canyons, arches and formations
Deep pools with great leaps. Take care!
Dramatic rock shapes and gorges that will leave you awe-struck
11 roc de chère, annecy
26 pont de la cerise
28 clue de st-auban
30b ravine de redebraus
52a le défens
52b la grande gorge
61 gorges de la méouge
126 gorges de galamus
125b cascades de ribaute
160 lacave
164 chenonceaux
68 78 80 90 98 118 124 pont d’arc
gouffre de l’enfer
jaujac, lignon
cascade du sautadet
cirque de navacelles
gouffre de l’oeil doux
8a 24 25 26 28 32 51 55 source de la loue
clue d’aiglun
clue du riolan
pont de la cerise
clue de st-auban
l’infernet, le suquet
châteaudouble gorge
le styx
56 le point sublime
56e haut jabron
57 lower toulourenc
68 pont d’arc
112 les détroits
114 rocher de champignon
121 ribaute, orbieu
131 gorges de kakuetta
Safety and Access
streams, the water can be bracing. Swimming in cold
water saps body heat fast so don’t stay in too long (20
minutes is ample). Shivering and teeth-chattering are
the first stages of mild hypothermia, so get out of the
water and warm up with a combination of warm, dry
clothes and activity.
Like cycling, hill-walking, canoeing and many
other outdoor activities, wild swimming has some
inherent risks and dangers but with the right
preparation and information you can stay very safe,
without losing the sense of adventure.
Main risks
Non-swimmers and children Take special care with
children and non-swimmers near water. Even shallow
water can suddenly deepen. If you, your children or
your friends cannot swim, make sure you scout out
the extent of the shallows, set clear boundaries and
maintain constant supervision. Remember that even
shallow sections of fast-flowing water can knock
you off your feet. Be careful with inflatables: they
can create a false sense of security and float off into
deep sections or burst. Swimmers lacking confidence
should always stay close to the shore.
Slips, trips and falls It sounds obvious but this is the
most likely hazard while clambering around in rivers
and waterfalls. Never run or rush and wear plimsolls
or jelly shoes with a rubber sole. If you enjoy more
serious scrambling and climbing along rivers why not
join an aqua randonnée or canyoning course?
Cold water Summer swimming in southern France is
rarely cold, but out of season, or in mountain lakes or
Jumping and diving Always check the depth of the
water, even if you visit the same spot regularly.
Depths can vary and new underwater obstructions
– sand, rocks, branches and rubbish –may have been
brought downstream. Never judge water depth by just
looking. A broken neck from a diving accident could
paralyse you for life.
Cramps and solo-swimming Swimming cramp can
occur in the calf or foot and tends to be caused by
over-exertion, over-stretching and tiredness. Cramp,
contrary to popular belief, is not more likely to happen
after eating but being dehydrated, or a poor diet in
general, can make you especially prone. If you get a
leg cramp, shout for help, lie on your back and paddle
back to shore with your arms. For these reasons
swimming alone in deep water isn’t a great idea but, if
you must, trail a float behind you on a cord.
Weeds In slow, warm lowland rivers and lakes, weeds
are quite easy to see. While one or two don’t present
a problem, a spaghetti-like forest could entangle a
swimmer’s legs, especially if they start thrashing
about. Try to avoid weedy areas, but if you encounter
some, don’t panic, just glide through them using your
arms to paddle.
Blue–green algae In lowland lakes polluted with
fertilizers, algae can multiply after warm, wet weather,
usually in late summer. This results in a powdery, green
surface scum (the blooms) on the downwind side of a
lake. It’s presence is obvious and bathing in it can bring
on a skin rash, irritate your eyes, and make you sick if
you swallow the water. Find a part of the lake without
blooms, or if there isn’t one, don’t swim.
Currents Swimming with or against a current can
be fun, just like swimming in seaside surf, but losing
control and being carried downstream can be
dangerous. In fast-flowing water always think about
where you will be able to get out if you lose your
footing. Identify your emergency exits before getting
in and scout around for any downstream hazards
(obstructions, waterfalls or weirs). In canyons, bear
in mind that as the gorge narrows the water will
deepen and increase in flow. Always explore canyons
from the bottom up, so you can ensure there is a safe
route back down again. Never enter a canyon if a
thunderstorm is expected upstream.
Flooding and dam releases France has a large number
of hydroelectric dams. These need to vary their
release rates in order to meet changing electricity
demands and you will see very clear yellow EDF
(Électricité de France) signs along the river where
this is the case. In reality, flow rates are generally
constant during the summer when electricity demand
is highly predictable and many local people swim
without concern. Changes in flow rates are usually
pre-planned and canoe companies are often notified
so have more information. Even if EDF do need to
increase flow, changes are not tsunami-like – water
levels will usually increase up to about 30cm over
15 minutes. The main advice is to avoid picnicking
on river islands that could be cut off, and keep an
eye on children playing close to the shore. For more
information see Haut Var and Verdon, page 102
Baignade non surveillée Authorities recognise
that people swim here, but trust them to bathe
responsibly. Often they will sample water quality
regularly and you can find details of over a thousand
formally monitored sites such as these at Baignades.
Baignade interdite Swimming is prohibited by local
councils in these areas but the ban is cheerfully
ignored by local people and the sign tends to indicate
that a good swimming place is nearby! As in the UK,
with the rise in the litigation culture many councils
have been forced to post these signs in all traditional
swimming places to indemnify themselves against
the risk of a claim for damages.
Access and private property Public footpaths and
rights of way tend to be marked by yellow or red
waymarks. If you can access the bank no one is likely to
stop you from swimming, apart from a grumpy angler.
The general rule of thumb is that fisherman have
access before 10am and after 6pm, and that canoeists
and swimmers use the river during the daytime. Most
national forest (forêt domainiale) is predominantly
open access and in other areas you will find countless
unmade, off-road dust tracks that are accessible by
car or bike and which branch off through fields and
woodlands to remote corners. Although the land is
private to either side, there is generally an informal
right of way along these routes. Note that wild camping
– although tempting – is illegal. That said, it happens
a lot more than in the UK. If you do want to camp wild,
avoid farmland, never light fires, pitch late, rise early
and take absolutely everything away with you.
Official signs Bathing designations seem to fall into
one of three categories in France, though the vast
majority of places have no designation at all.
Baignade surveillée At these sites, lifeguards are
provided and you can swim only when they are
supervising the water. There are a wide number of
artificial lakes and water sports centres (plans d’eau)
which fall into this category, with amenities, car
parking and areas marked out for sailing, swimming,
canoeing etc. A handful feature in this book.
Wild Swimming France
Discover the most beautiful
rivers, lakes and waterfalls
of France
Words and photos:
Daniel Start
Design and layout:
Oliver Mann
Anna Kruger
Additional artwork:
Owen Davis
Marcus Freeman
Candida Frith-Macdonald
Daniel Start
The Farley Partnership
Published by:
Wild Things Publishing Ltd
Bath, United Kingdom
Series concept:
Wild Swimming Ltd
Bath, United Kingdom
All photographs © Daniel Start except Lac Salagou (Serge Sayn) and Lac de la
Vène (Irving Bastin)
Thanks go to those travelled across France in mutual pursuit of the perfect
plunge pool: Tania Pascoe, Ciaran Mundy, Petra Kjell, Fiona Smith, Jo Tinsley,
Xavier Keeling, Retta Bowen, Jack Thurston, Ruby Wright, Nell Boase, Rachel
Bright, the Ades family, Gemma Gottelier, Clelia Mingoia, Frances Hutchings,
Jeremy Light and Tony, Marijka and Ivan Pascoe. Special thanks to Oliver Mann
and Anna Kruger for production support. Thanks to Jonathan Knight and Punk
Publishing Ltd (publishers of the first editions of Wild Swimming and Wild
Swimming Coast) for their support to the Wild Swimming project.
Further reading
The following books and websites informed the field research and are highly
White Water Massif Central: Fluffy’s guide to the friendly rivers of Southern
France (Peter Knowles, 2002)
Corse Paradis du Canyoning (Hubert Ayasse and Philippe Dubreuil, 2005)
Randonnées le plus beaux lacs des Pyrénées (Jacques Jolfre, 2008)
Gorges et Cascades: un plasir pour les yeux (Patrick Chollot, 2007)
Canoe-kayak en France: carte touristique (IGN, 2007)
Any copy of this book, issued by the publisher as a paperback, is sold subject
to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold,
hired out or otherwise circulated, without the publisher’s prior consent, in any
form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without
a similar condition including these words being imposed on the subsequent
Distributed by:
Central Books Ltd
99 Wallis Road,
London , E9 5LN
Tel 44 (0)845 458 9911
[email protected]
Wild Things Publishing Ltd
[email protected]
Health, Safety and Responsibility. Like any water-based or outdoor activity,
wild-swimming has risks and can be dangerous. These are described more
fully on pages 254–255. The locations featured in this book may be prone to
flood, drought and other changes and while the author and publisher have
gone to great lengths to ensure the accuracy of the information herein they
will not be held legally or financially responsible for any accident, injury, loss
or inconvenience sustained as a result of the information or advice contained
in this book. Swimming, jumping, diving or any other activities at any of these
locations is entirely at your own risk. If you are doubt about any information in
this book, please seek further independent advice.

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