The South of France has an abundance of good places for wild swimming - be it lakes, cool rivers or rocky waterfalls.
Wild Swimming places in South France
If you are staying in the South of France on holiday this summer and you do not have the luxury of your own private pool, then you maybe interested in finding some great places to cool off from the hot South of France sun.
Over the years, we have always stumbled across some great places to enjoy a picnic and then cool off in the water. The Languedoc region, Provence and Cote d'Azur are all blessed with a diverse range of lakes and rivers with stone beaches and rock pools.
There are few restrictions in France about where you can swim, with all waterways predominantly public property. It is always a good idea to follow a group of teenagers, because they generally know the best places to swim for free. So you can enjoy some great wild swimming places in France without fear of getting into trouble.
Here are our Top 10 favourite places for swimming in the South of France.
1.) Best places for wild swimming South of France - Pont du Gard
Just under this famous Roman aqueduct, close to Nimes, there is a rocky beach and nice cool river. There is plenty of parking in the Visitor centre car park (on the Northern side of the river) or you can take your luck along the road on the Southern side of the river.
The Pont du Gard is a popular spot for swimming. The river here is shallow and in the summer the water is refreshingly cool, without being a shock to the system. It is a great backdrop to swim out into the centre of the river, lie back and float under the aqueduct. It still amazes me how the Romans ever built the structure, it is absolutely enormous (about 50m above the River Gardon at its highest point).
The Pont du Gard is located north-west of Nimes, close to the lovely town of Uzes.
2.) River swimming Gorge du Verdon, South of France
In France's equivalent of the Grand Canyon, you will find a turquoise blue river with plenty of shade from the surrounding cliffs. The Gorge du Verdon is a great spot for wild swimming. Hiring a canoe is an obvious choice as you can then paddle along the River Verdon to find a secluded river beach or cove to base yourself. The Canyon is about 25 kilometres long and up to 700 metres deep. The most impressive part of the canyon can be found between the towns of Castellane and Moustiers-sainte-marie.
When we went to the Gorge du Verdon we rented a boat from a kiosk on the Lac de Sainte-Croix and then paddles our way into the gorge. The water is very clean and surprisingly quite warm. Our boys climbed up on the rocks on the side of the Gorge and then jumped in and out of the water for about 2 hours. They then slept like Pandas on the way home.
I also found this great blog about wild swimming in the Gorge du Verdon (Wild swimming Provence) which has some great photos of the river and the Gorge.
The Gorge du Verdon is located in the very north of the Var department, approximately 40kms north-west of Draguignan and 1.5 hours west of Cannes and Nice.
3.) Wild swimming in Provence France - Gorges de Toulourenc
The Gorges de Toulourenc, is located below Mont Ventoux, close to the villages of Bèdoin and Malaucène in Provence. The small river that runs through the Gorges de Toulourenc provides really refreshing crystal clear water. This is an ideal place to go wild swimming in Provence - surrounded by beautiful scenery and lots of places where you can scramble up on the rocks and jump into the water.
The Gorges de Toulourenc is fed by the snow melt waters of Mont Ventoux and slowly meanders across thirty kilometres to the Ouvèze river. Some of the best places for swimming are located just north of the small hamlet of Veaux and close to the villages of Entrechaux and Saint-Léger-du-Ventoux.
Also take a detour to the stunning villages of Brantes and Savoillans, both of which provide unobstructed views of the Mont Ventoux.
4.) Best swimming lakes in South France - Lac du Salagou
Lake Salagou is like marmite, you either love it or you can't see what all the fuss is all about. Personally, I am in the latter category. I just don't get it. But lots of people adore Salagou. People come and spend their holidays nearby. Indeed the teacher of my eldest son even wrote a song about Salgou! It is a good spot for windsurfing and sailing and there is a good half day cycle trail around the shore.
You will find Lake Salagou close to the town of Clermont d'Herault, just off the A75. The best location on the lake is close to the village of Octon, on the Western edge.
5.) Swimming lakes in France - Pont du Diable
This is one of my favourite spots in South France. Just below the lovely village of St Guilhem le Desert, the river Herault has been partially dammed forming a small lake. From the banks of the lake you can take out a canoe and paddle up the ravine under the Pont du Diable. You just need to be careful to avoid the crazy teenagers hurling themselves 30 foot down off the small road bridge into the river below.
In the last few years a lot of money has been spent developing the surrounding area, including providing a large car park, a lovely visitor centre (where you can grab a cool beer and ice cream) and a life guard look out post. We like to get to the lake for mid-afternoon and then head up to St Guilhem around 8.00pm for a Pizza in the square above the village.
The Pont du Diable is located 35kms north-west of Montpellier on the D27 between the villages of Aniane and St Guilhem le Desert. The nearest landmark is the Grotte de Clamouse underground cave centre.
6.) River swimming South of France - St Jean du Gard
On the River Gardon in between the towns of St Jean du Gard and Anduze, close to the village of Mialet, you will find a wonderful stone bridge designed by Monsieur Eiffel (of the Paris Tower fame). Underneath the river there are plenty of places to swim and paddle in the cool water.The water comes down from the Cevennes hills and is very refreshing, especially in the summer. You can swim quite a way upstream, but you can also find quite a few deep rock pools for jumping into.
7.) Places for swimming South of France - Roquebrun, Languedoc
Roquebrun is one of the prettiest villages in Languedoc. Perched on the edge of the River Orb and framed by a giant rocky spur behind, Roquebrun is a great place to spend an afternoon. The river is slow-flowing and there is a little weir that you can slide down (our kids normally go down head first, but there again they are mad little buggers!!).
Roquebrun is located close to Saint Chinian, 25mins north-west of Beziers.
8.) Wild swimming in France - Vallon Pont d'Arc du Ardeche
The Vallon Pont d'Arc on the Ardeche river is an instantly recognizable landmark. This 30m high rocky arch which has been eroded out by the river from the rock provides an excellent base for canoeing, swimming and a river-side picnic. But be careful, the river is quite fast flowing and full of rocks.
When we visited the Pont d'Arc, our boys really wanted to canoe down the river and under the arch. But, we arrived too late to hire a canoe. And I tell you what, were we later glad that we didn't. Our boys were quite small back then, so we took them for an ice cream down by the beach near the Pont d'Arc. To say it was a scene of carnage is an understatement. It literally was like white water rafting. All you could see was paddles floating downstream, upturned canoes, people floating past with life jackets on or clinging to rocks. It certainly wasn't the quiet paddle down the river that we were hoping for. Still the adrenalin junkies will love it.
Vallon Pont d'Arc is located 1 hour north-west of Orange in the Ardeche department, close to the town of Vallon.
9.) Swimming in waterfalls France - Gorges d'Heric
Well I say waterfalls. You will only really find these active in the winter (when you would have to be deranged to consider swimming in the river). In the summer, the waterfalls give way to little rock pools that are perfect for swimming in. Some of the pools are deep enough for jumping in from the nearby rocks (although for diving please see comments in relation to swimming in the river in winter!!).
The Gorges d'Heric is located in the heart of the Languedoc National Park, close to the town of Lamalou-les-Bains and in between the villages of Le Poujol sur Orb and Olargues on the D908. There is a car park at the bottom of the Gorge (near the village of Mons-la-Trivalle).
10.) Wild swimming in Cote d'Azur France - Le Pont du Loup
Le Pont du Loup is located close to the village of Le Bar sur Loup, in the Var department, just north of Grasse. The river Loup is actually quite a long river. It flows down from the Audibergue mountain in the Alpes-Maritimes heads on down to the Mediterranean sea at Cagnes-sur-Mer, close to Nice. The Gorges de Loup is a very pretty part of the river. During the winter the water level is very high, but during July and August, the water recedes and offers plenty of places for swimming and jumping in off the rocks
There was a famous Viaduct, which was built to enable trains to crosses the valley (hence the name Pont du Loup). But this was destroyed during Second World War.