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10 best rivers & lakes for Wild swimming in France in 2023
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. Whether it be lakes or cool mountain rivers, or even outdoor pools in towns, the South of France has an abundance of good places for wild swimming. There is no need to rent a villa with a pool, just follow our guidelines for the 10 best places to go wild swimming in South France in 2023.
Wild swimming places in France
Every town and village that you pass through during the summer, you will see groups of teenagers heading out for rivers or lakes to cool off during the afternoon. These swimming spots have been in use for centuries and they were the only places that residents in the South of France could cool off during the long summers.
We have lived in the South of France for over 17 years now and during that time we have discovered some great places to take our 3 boys swimming during the hot summer months. Most of them we found by accident. Others we were told about by local residents. Here is the list of our 10 favourite places in South France for Wild Swimming.
1.) Wild 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 which legend has it was designed by Gustave Eiffel (of the Paris Tower fame).
The Abarines bridge was actually designed by François Bataille and took 2 years to construct and was completed in 1900. Bataille did have some dealings with Eiffel and he studied his work intensively (which is where the story about his involvement may have come about).
Even during the summer, the river never gets too busy and it is a great spot to cool down. The river is not too deep or fast flowing, so it is perfect for younger children. You will find a couple of river beaches where you can set up a picnic.
The Abarines bridge is located on the edge of the Lozere and Gard departments in South France. To reach the bridge, take the D50 road from Anduze (direction St Jean du Gard). About 5 kms after the village of Mialet, the road takes a sharp left turn over the River Gardon and here you will find the bridge. There are some parking spots by the edge of the road on the far side of the bridge. The scramble down over the rocks is a bit tricky in places, but there is also a well worn path. I would certainly advise you to wander back into Anduze after a day on the river. It is a very pretty town further down the Gardon River and there are plenty of places to grab something to eat. The fabulous Bamboo Gardens are located in Anduze (see Bambouseraie).
2.) Swimming lakes in South of France - Lac du Salagou
Lake Salagou is a bit like marmite, you either love it or you can't see what all the fuss is all about. Personally, I am in the last category. I just don't get it. I just see it as a big resevoir. I think part of the issue for me with Salagou is it brings back the painful memories of being taken out by my cycling buddies for ". . . a short mountain bike trail around the lake . . . it is mainly flat . . .". 3.5 hours later and with no feeling left in my buttocks, I begged to differ. Hence, that was the last time my cycling mates saw me in Lycra.
But lots of people adore Salagou, especially our French customers. People come and spend their holidays nearby. Indeed the teacher of my eldest son even wrote a song about Salgou! Oh Salagou! Oh Salagou! - they still sing it in the car!!
It is a good spot for windsurfing and sailing and there is a good half day cycle trail around the shore. It is also the scene of a lot of Triathalon competitions. I think that the best place to base yourself is on the Octon side of the lake (the opposite direction to Clermont l'Herault).
You will find Lake Salagou close to the town of Clermont d'Hearault, just off the A75.
3.) 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. This was another life-saver for us during our first year of renting in France. When it is 40°C, then the fresh water of Herault River is a welcome relief. We still go up to the Pont du Diable with the boys, even now they are all grown up. We have some very fond memories of the place.
The bridge dates back over 900 years and originally was built by monks from the nearby monasteries at Aniane and St Guilhem le Desert.
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 le Desert around 8.00pm for a Pizza in the square above the village. There tends to be less tourists around in the evening and it is nice and cool to stroll around the old streets - it really is an amazing spot.
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.
4.) Wild swimming South of France - Gorge du Verdon
In France's equivalent of the Grand Canyon, you will find a turquoise blue river with plenty of shade from the surrounding cliffs.
Hiring a canoe is an obvious choice as you can then paddle along the River Verdon to find a secluded river beach 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.
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.
5.) Places for swimming South of France - Roquebrun
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.
6.) 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. We drove to the Pont d'Arc one summer, but thankfully we arrived too late to hire a canoe here with our boys. The boys all kicked-off because we had just driven 2 hours and they wanted to canoe. So to placate them we took them further down river to where the Arch is located. That was when we saw a scene from Armageddon. All you could see in the water was lost paddles, upturned canoes, the odd person floating down with their life vests on. When we saw the people trying to navigate the rapids (unsuccessfully!!) we were rather pleased that we just elected for a quite paddle. It is not white water rafting style rapids, but it is not a quite paddle along the river either. Still the adrenaline junkies will love it.
Vallon Pont d'Arc is located close to the town of Vallon. Vallon Pont d'Arc is located 1 hour north-west of Orange in the Ardeche department.
7.) 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 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 Gorge is a great spot if you want to cool down in the summer and especially if you want to tire out your kids. After a day spent scrambling up and down rocks, they will sleep like Pandas on the way home.
The Gorge de 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).
8.) South France lakes for swimming - Lake Montbel
Located in between the beautiful town of Mirepoix and Limoux, you will find this amazing lake. The water is the brightest turquoise you will ever see.
Lake Montbel is a centre for windsurfing. It also has a kiosk where you can hire pedalos (complete with water slides on the back. There is also a nice little beach-side shack where you can get a cheeky little beer or a cup of coffee.
The nearest village to Montbel is Chalabre. If you are heading out this way, make sure you go on a Monday and take in the excellent market at Mirepoix. Well worth the stop off. Montbel is 30 minutes due south of Carcassonne in the beautiful Arriege countryside.
9.) Places for swimming South of France - Pont du Gard
Just under this famous Roman aqueduct 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 located north-west of Nimes, close to the lovely town of Uzes.
10.) Lakes for swimming in South France - Barrage des Olivettes, Vailhan, Herault
This little lake close to Roujan in Herault was a life-saver for us. If you are fed up of the beach and you want to find a safe place for a cool swim, then Barrage des Olivettes in the village of Vailhan is the answer to your prayers.
There are a number of picnic spots, but you probably need to arrive at dawn to grab one of the picnic tables. There is also an excellent restaurant here called L'Auberge du Presbytère.
To find the Barrage des Olivettes, you take a little track from the village of Roujan (which seemingly takes hours, but is only 5kms). By the time that you reach Vailhan you feel that you are at the end of the world.
Where to next . . . ?
Read our article on the Best South France beaches to visit this summer
Interested in visiting the South of France? Check out Where to stay in South of France
Check out the Pont du Gard aqueduct bridge to visit
Contact Iain by Email if you have any particular questions you would like to ask about visiting the South of France.