Italy is famed for its great cities full of art, architecture and food. But there's much more to this beautiful country, particularly in summer.
The Italian countryside is full of rivers, lakes and plunge pools, perfect for wild swimming. And thanks to extensive rail connections, travelling in Italy by train is an excellent way explore places to cool off this summer.
When the temperature soars, make like the locals and get out of town with these tips for refreshing dips without a car, recommended by Michele Tameni, author of Wild Swimming Italy.
Torrente Fer, Piedmont
Leap from large boulders into emerald green water at Torrente Fer, Piedmont in northern Italy. At the foot of the Alps and in the shade of the nearby forest of Cignas, this is a popular spot for day trippers from Turin - 1 hour 30 mins away by regional train.
The first couple of pools are often busy, but keep going to find more secluded, quieter areas to swim. You'll find picnic benches scattered throughout the area, many of which have permanent barbecues so take some firelighters and food to feast in the forest! There's also a small café and toilet block near the car park.
Find Torrente Fer on Google Maps | Nearest train station: Donnaz | Torrente Fer is walking distance (1.4km) from the station.
La Grotta Urlante, Emilia Romagna
The impressive ‘Howling Cave’ - so called because of the loud rumble created by the plunging waterfall - presents lots of opportunities for dipping and diving. Above the pools, an old stone bridge crosses the river as the water falls into a deep chasm, creating the most incredible sound!
The caves below have pools deep enough to dive into from the rocks that surround them. Beyond those is an even deeper pool where the more adventurous can dive in from the terrace that overlooks it.
Find La Grotta Urlante on Google Maps | Nearest train station: Forli | Take bus #129 onwards (takes 1 hour 50 mins)
Spiaggia Giamaica, Lombardy - Lake Garda
Every summer as the water level drops, smooth white slabs of sandstone emerge from Lake Garda. The receding lake creates clear shallow pools around the edge of the largest of Italy's lakes that are perfect for basking on a hot day.
Take a look round the famous Grotte di Catullo, a Roman villa located just back from the water, then dive into the lake to cool off. Or, if the lake level allows, walk around to Lido di Bionde - a glorious beach with a pier, small bar and magnificent lawn shaded by olive trees.
Swimming in Lake Garda is a good option for a day trip from Verona, found less than 30 minutes to either of the recommended railway stations.
Terme dei Papi - Viterbo, Lazio
Halfway between Perugia and Rome is the medieval walled hill-town of Viterbo, Lazio. On the outskirts, around 2.5km on foot from the town is the natural hot springs of Bullicame, called Terme di Bullicame.
This hot spring flows out from an underground crater at 58ºC and feeds two pools through channels carved into the rock. It even gets a mention in Dante's Divine Comedy, so the water really must be hellishly hot!
The smallest pool is not for the lighthearted (very hot), but the larger one is a much more pleasing temperature. There are no facilities at the springs so make sure to bring plenty of refreshments and an umbrella since there isn't much shade. Though free to enter, the gates to the Terme are closed at night so sadly no chance to have a cheeky midnight dip!
For a less "wild" swimming experience, visit the nearby spa complex at Terme dei Papi (Spa of the Popes) - apparently once popular with Popes on the run from Rome!
Find Terme del Bullicame on Google Maps | Nearest train station: Viterbo Porta Fiorentina | Take local transport or walk. Alternatively, it's 10 minutes walk from "Terme di Papi". Bus No. 2 from centre of Viterbo old city.
Dive in at Parco del Lavino
Among the gorgeous willows and poplar trees of this protected forest area, are beautiful blue lagoons and sulphur springs. It's ideal for walking and if you follow the river, you'll find small pools where you can swim in the depths of the forest. Near an old mill upstream you'll find a popular diving spot.
Torrente Lavino | Nearest train station: Scafa-S. Valentino-Caramanico Terme|Around 5km on foot from Scarfa to Parco del Lavino
Wild swimming in the forests of Ascoli Piceno
Close to the coast of San Benedetto del Tronto is little-known Ascoli Piceno, yet another of Italy's beautiful small towns. A river runs through the nearby lush forest which has many nice spots to swim that can be easily reached on foot.
With cool water and secluded beaches, this beautiful spot has a wonderful collection of natural pools and waterfalls, with an easy access path. The water is clear and shallow so can get nice and warm and there's plenty of dense greenery to provide shade from the sun.
Find Cartiere Papali on Google Maps | Nearest train station: Ascoli Piceno | It's a few kilometre on foot from the railway station to the river, so we recommend walking through the old town - perhaps stopping for a gelato!
All images reproduced with thanks by Michele Tameni, all rights reserved 2014.
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