If swimming outdoors has never crossed your mind, it will once you see these fantastic photos of France's best wild swimming destinations, all easily reached by train.
This week we've been daydreaming, thanks to Daniel Start's book Wild Swimming in France. It's filled with photos and suggestions to tempt those who've enjoyed outdoor swimming before and inspire those who haven't.
The book showcases our continental neighbour's best wild water destinations and as usual we wanted to know which ones we could reach by train. We've organised our favourites by region and worked out how to get there. So get your swimming kit, hop on a train and explore the beautiful rivers and lakes France has to offer!
Dive into Ardéche by rail
The Ardèche boasts several glorious swimming spots, with natural pools, gorges and sandy beaches dotted throughout the region. Pont Du Diable at Thueyts, Ardéche, is just one of many, but its spectacular geology makes it stand out from the crowd. The natural arch at the Devil's Bridge is so named because our superstitious ancestors thought the rock formations were the devil's work. If you're feeling brave try dipping your toes in Gouffre de l'Enfer - Hell's Abyss, or forget the devil all together and swim over heart shaped pebbles.
Make a splash in Jura
Lac D'ilay is the largest and shallowest of the lakes in Jura region, close to Switzerland. The shallow water makes it perfect for kids, or adults who want a warm outdoor swimming experience. Grassy shores surround the lake making it an ideal place to relax and meditate in astonishing natural beauty. There are more lakes at the nearby village of Ilay, and a campsite at Lac de Narlay with a small cliff for jumping and diving.
Wild swimming in Languedoc
Same name, different place, another Devil's Bridge! This time in Languedoc near the famous medieval village of St Jean de Fos. This huge pool has bridges overhead and deep gorges for long swims and high dives. If you're a lover of caves check out the stalactites of the Grotte de Clamous, which can be reached by a subterranean river.
Skinny dipping in Annecy
A little bay with cliffs, this is the place to go if you like snorkelling, leaping off cliffs or skinny dipping! Lac d'Annecy is located in the Central Alps which has beautiful white-water rivers and lakes surrounded by alpine meadows and mountains. Lac d'Annecy is France's most famous swimming lake due to the beautiful turquoise hue and warmth of the water, but for these same reasons it can get busy.
Rope swinging in Corbières
Cut into the hard white limestone by the Verdouble river, the Gorges de Gouleyrous near Corbières is a great place for easy canyoning, swimming or bobbing along in a dinghy. You also have the opportunity to channel your inner Tarzan (or Jane) and enjoy a rope swing!
There are waterfalls above you and a sinkhole below - the "bottomless" lake is connected by deep subterranean tunnels to the sea north of Narbonne. Cave lovers and historians among you should visit the caves at nearby Gorges De Gouleyrous, as these were once home to a Prehistoric man (a 450,000 year old skull was found nearby).
If you have time, take a trip on the scenic Red train between Rivesaltes and Axat.
Gorges De Gouleyrous, Corbières. Nearest train station: Perpignan | Search for trains to Perpignan
Plunge pool at Vaucluse
Most of the rivers and lakes in Vaucluse and Haute Provence dry up during summer. But at Gorges du Toulourenc, you'll find a deep plunge pool, and a series of smaller shallow pools to take a dip. The surrounding limestone has been carved into beautiful slopes by the flow of the river, and the emerald waters make this one of the most appealing wild swimming destinations in France.
Be brave and head over to southern Valucluse where the water falls from the mountains down into the subterranean cave systems. Be warned, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse at the foot of the cliff is 315 metres deep and very cold.
Canyon swimming at Var Verdon
The Canyon du Verdon, famous for its bright green water and crystal clear pools, is the highlight of most people's visit to Var Verdon. When the water is at its lowest it's possible to swim to Le Styx (pictured) through a canyon as the river flows towards a cave. The rock formations become more dramatic the further you venture into the canyon. Haut Jabron is accessible via underground chutes, ladders and walkways which makes it great for canyoning. But follow safety advice carefully as the flow of water along the Verdon varies, as it is controlled by the EDF (Electrictie de France) in response to the demand for electricity.
All images reproduced with thanks by Daniel Start, all rights reserved 2012.
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