One of the things I most look forward to when I’m planning a trip to Europe in the summer is the possibility of some outdoors swimming. I’m no pain-junkie, so for me most swimming spots in the UK are out because they’re far too chilly to actually be enjoyable! Swimming outsides is best when the sun is shining and you want some way to cool off in a hot day; clear water is also a big plus (and some pretty mountains around where you’re swimming never hurts either). Many European destinations have really amazing places for swimming, but below are some of my favourites from the (roughly) Central European area.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
If you’re going anywhere near Slovenia, I would highly recommend a trip to Lake Bled. I went there as part of an interail trip in August 2011, as a day trip from Ljubljana. You can stay around the lake itself, but it’s quite expensive in high season – and the train ride from the capital isn’t too bad. I liked Bled because of its calm: you only had to walk a little way round to find a spot without other swimmers, and the water was great! The other thing is that there’s an ice cream stall selling what they advertise to be ‘the best ice cream in the world’ and for once, I have to agree. Ice cream from Rome comes close (for example, San Crispino), but I still think the best ice cream I’ve ever had comes from Bled.
In many ways, the Wöhrsee lake at Burghausen in Bavaria is the complete opposite to Bled. For one thing, it’s teeming with people: tourists, family groups from nearby, young couples with bizarre tattoos – you name it, they’re likely to be there somewhere. It’s busy and bustling, and there’s places where you can buy chips to enjoy alongside the water: you wouldn’t find that at Bled. However, this gives the lakeside a really ‘fun’ feel: you know that everyone’s having a good time! The water itself is a strange combination of very clear, but also has quite a bit of lake weed in the shallower areas. Because the water itself is clean though, this isn’t much of a problem. Also, because the lake is big, it doesn’t take long to swim away from the hyperactive toddlers splashing around or the young teenagers throwing each other off the pier, and to find a place further out for a moment of calm. There’s also the fact that the lake is below Burghausen castle, the longest castle in Europe, so you have something to look up at while you swim.
When we arrived in Bratislava straight off the train in the heat of the day, with a long and sticky walk ahead to our hostel, we had no idea that the city boasted such magnificent lakes. It wasn’t mentioned in the guidebook, and many other travellers who had stopped off there didn’t seem to know about them – we only managed to go because we were tipped off by a friendly girl working in the hostel. Maybe it’s because the Slovaks want to keep the lakes a secret from the tourists – they’re already pretty busy – but so amazingly refreshing in the hustle and bustle of the city. This is what really sets off the Bratislava lakes from other swimming spots – there is hardly anywhere else of that I can think of that has such good swimming surrounded by tower blocks! This particular lake we went to was a short bus ride (about 20 mins) from our hostel, and was just about the right distance that you could swim across it and back and feel like you had achieved something for the day. One of my favourite days out in central Europe for sure.
Lake Skadar, Montenegro
Perhaps not quite in Central Europe as much as the others are, this lake is really not to be missed out on. I was recommended it by my friend Emma, so while I was in Montenegro last summer with some friends I made sure that we planned it into our itinerary. Lake Skadar goes across the border between Montenegro and Albania – and it’s enormous, up to 530 km2 at some points of the year, the largest lake in the Balkan peninsula. We went on a day trip from the capital Podgorica and were unlucky enough to be completely ripped off by the incredibly rude Hotel Pelican (read reviews here and don’t, whatever lies they tell you, give them any money). We shelled out a huge amount of dosh to go on one of their boat trips to Skadar and promptly found out that the going rate for such boat trips was about the tenth of the price we had paid – so I spent half the rest of the day quietly fuming. The highlight of the boat trip was however when the boat stopped in the middle of the lake and we all jumped it – there were only about ten of us in the boat and you could barely see anything else around apart from water and the horizon. The colour of the water and the surrounding landscape was absolutely sublime and so this definitely ranks in the top five swimming spots for me in Europe!!
Attersee is the largest lake in the Salzkammergut region in Austria, and by golly it’s nice. It’s long and thin (20k x 4k) and surrounded by tall imposing mountains, but there are lots of different places to swim. We arrived by train in Seewalchen and got a boat (I’m also a big fan of boat trips!) across the lake to what I think was Buchberg. There was a grassy area in front on the lake for sunbathing, a bar which did great gin and tonics…and this beautiful lake! Again, lovely surroundings, but that’s exactly what you expect from this area of Austria, famous for its mountain beauty. Needless to say the water was very clean and clear. After a lovely afternoon swimming and lazing, we walked back along the shore back to Seewalchen as the sun started to go down.
Have you been to any great swimming spots in this part of Europe that you’d recommend?