We’re not the bravest or fittest cycle tourers, so getting up the courage/energy to go for a dip during a tour is always a bit hard. This time we were determined to try and spend a bit more time enjoying ourselves and not punishing ourselves by continuing cycling when we passed beautiful places to relax. Since the majority of our tour ended up being 30 degrees or hotter, we had to find as many places to cool down as possible. Here are some of our best finds:
We stumbled upon this outdoor pool in Oxford on the way to a campsite in the south of the city (passing it on the NCN route 5). Its a gorgeous heated pool which would be fantastic if it hadn’t been stupidly hot and if we hadn’t wanted to lie in ice cold water. Nevertheless, it did cool us and we spent a good two days eating picnic food on the surrounding grassy area and throwing ourselves into the water at regular intervals. Cambridge also has an outdoor lido (which is unheated) but this one was bigger, had better facilities and a larger area to relax in. Sorry Cambridge, but you lose this competition.
The Rhein in Switzerland has been cleaned extensively over the past three decades and is now clean enough to swim in. Basel has been very proactive in encouraging wild swimming in the city and thousands of people float down the river every year.
How to join in: It’s really simple, you walk down the river bank towards the Tinguely Museum. Opposite here you can walk down to the river bank and wade in. You need to bring a dry bag or purchase one of the Basel Wickelfisch bags – a fish shaped dry bag that all the locals have. Change into your swimsuit, Pop your clothes into the dry bag and get swimming. Once you’re in, your dry bag will float and you can rest your head on it as the current takes you.
The only rules are not to go to close to shore (the shore slopes in and your might scrape you legs where it’s shallow) and don’t go past the buoys which seperate the swimming lanes from the boats.
The current is slow and it’s easy to enjoy the scenery as your float through the centre of the city. There are several places where you can get out and all you need to do is follow the other swimmers. Most people sunbathe for a while to dry off and on hot days it is idyllic.
Like the Basel River swim but in the Aare river in Bern. The Aare is even cleaner than the Rhein (apparently it’s basically drinkable, though this isn’t recommended for obvious reasons). It’s also much faster than the Rhein in Basel, so you need to be a confident swimmer.
Many locals take inflatables (and beer) on the train to some of the villages up river and then float all the way down to Bern (this takes a couple of hours). In Bern, there are several places you can jump in, but you need to be careful to get out of the river before Bear Corner (you can get back in afterwards).
Bear corner is, surprisingly, exactly how it sounds – a caged area where wild bears live. Bears are the national animal of Bern and so they use these animals to entice tourists. It’s not pleasant and before 2009 it was worse: the bears were kept in a pit rather than a park.
During the Aare swim it is important to stay close to the centre of the river, again to avoid scraping your legs. If you put your head underwater you can hear the tinkling of the pebbles on the river bed.
You can get out of the river outside Lorraine Bad swimming pool and then continue your swim in the natural waters there. There are huge grassy spaces to sunbathe and everyone is welcome to sunbathe topless.
If you ride the eurovelo 15/6 on the border of Germany and Switzerland you will stumble upon the natural swimming pools at Murg. We’d rode past on our first tour, when they were closed for the season, but on our second tour we arrived during mid summer. We weren’t sure where we’d keep our bikes and panniers and at first we cycled on, debating the pros and cons. In the end, the view from the path looking down at the multiple swimming pools, slides and fountains decided for us.
We had a quick chat with the person at the ticket office who said we could bring our bikes in and set them against a wall near the entrance. It gave us piece of mind that nothing would get stolen. If you’re travelling with less kit, there’s cycle parking out front and lockers inside.
The pools are fed into by the Rhein and filtered by a reed bed system. This means that you are effectively swimming in river water. As a result, some of the walkways into the pool can be a little bit slippery with algae but this is a minor inconvenience to be bathing in clean, fresh, unchlorinated water. There were several slides which were great fun, a rock climbing wall which was basically impossible and a diving board. There was also an area for smaller children and the pools were surrounded by grassy areas.
Isar River, Germany
We cycled from Munich to Passau along the Isar River with a friend. On the first night we wild camped on the banks of the river. Whilst we were set up cooking, a man came down from the path and went for a dip.
The next morning it had reached 32 degrees before 10am. We stripped off and went skinny dipping in the river. It was completely deserted and the only people we’d seen all morning had been two fisherman in a row boat.
Here’s an excellent article about a man who has started commuting to work in Munich by swimming the Isar. We also heard of lots of people who commuted by river in Basel and I’m beginning to wonder when swim commuting might become a thing in the UK (although we’d probably have to clean our rivers first)
Budapest Baths, Hungary
We were in Budapest for a month but only managed to visit two of the famous baths. We would have loved to have gone to a few more and were recommended the Rudas Baths from several people in our hostel. Before you go, it helps if you take a pair of flip-flops, a towel and a swimcap if you want to use some of the swimming pools. Swimwear is essential (this is true in saunas too- nudity isn’t allowed) – although some of the pools have nude sunbathing areas.
The biggest, most famous and most touristy baths, we actually enjoyed this one most. Yes, it is busy and yes, it is full of tourists, but the range of baths in the complex is extensive and its easy to spend a good three hours there and completely lose track of the time.
We paid a little extra on one of our tickets to get a private changing booth (well, Lili’s Mum, who was visiting us, did). This was useful as it allowed us to leave our stuff there for the duration of our trip, but was by no means essential. All tickets give you access to a locker and the public changing rooms are like any other public swimming pool changing rooms.
It’s worth exploring the pools as the complex is enormous and people tend to jump in the first bath they see which means pools in other areas tend to be quieter. You can usually tell whether a pool is warm or hot by the number of people in it. I love a cold plunge pool and will happily lie in one for a while which greatly confused everyone who thought I was alone in my own tiny hot pool, jumped in enthusiastically, screamed, then jumped out again.
Outside there are three large pools. One has a whirlpool style donut in the centre which pulls you around in circles- inside this is the much competed for jacuzi. On the other side of the courtyard is the hot pool and in between the two is a proper swimming pool for exercise (you can only use this if you are wearing a swimcap).
This thermal bath is part of the grand hotel Gellért on the Buda side of Budapest (west of the Danube). You don’t need to be a guest to visit the baths though. This complex is much smaller than Széchenyi but is possibly the prettiest spa you will ever visit. The entire complex has all it’s original art nouveau features and feels a bit like a trip back in time.
Outside there are a couple of pools, one heated with a sauna and outdoor cold plunge pool next to it and another which is a huge wave pool. Lili had visited Budapest with her family as a child and remembers being ‘almost drowned’ (their words, not mine) by the waves, so naturally we had to check it out to see if it was extreme as remembered. Don’t get me wrong, it was probably one of the biggest wave pools I’ve ever been in and there were points I was significantly pushed about by them, but we survived (and so would any relatively confident swimmer).
Inside there are more pools, saunas, steam rooms and plunge pools. It was definitely quieter than Széchenyi spa and at points we had huge pools basically to ourselves. The most impressive feature is the main pool which is looked over by ornate balconies and covered by a rounded glass ceiling. You cannot use this pool without a swimming cap! I have never felt more sorry for any workers than the lifeguards whose only job was to stop tourists getting into the pool without a cap. We watched for a good while whilst Brit after Brit clambered in, heard a whistle blow, continued to wade, looked up, saw a Hungarian teenage lifeguard gesturing to their head, ignored them, looked up again and sighed, began to get out of the pool and then stood on the edge looking confused and still failing to spot the many ‘swimming caps only’ signs.
We passed loads of places that we didn’t try out, including a huge nudist beach in Vienna, but, if anything, this tour definitely got us excited about doing more swimming in the future!