Lola Culsán and John Weller travelled Spain in search of its most beautiful swimming holes to write Wild Swimming Spain. Here they share some moments from their trip, some of their favourite places from the wild swim map, and some essential Spanish phrases for wild swimmers too (see end).
“As the sun slowly sinks behind the mountains at the foot of the valley, the blue lake turns to molten silver. We hold our breath as we slide silently into the lake for the last swim of the day. Forget Spain’s busy, developed coastline. Wild swimming in the rivers, deep pools, cascading waterfalls and shining lakes is the best way to escape the scorching summer heat. Driving along winding mountain roads, clambering up and down hillsides, wading through river valleys and eliciting information from hundreds of locals, we discovered some incredible wild swimming places.
“We start our wild swimming Spain odyssey meandering through the lush valleys of Galicia – the ‘land of a thousand rivers’. We discover thundering waterfalls, rolling hills, river coves and explore the unrivalled Río Miño. In rocky Asturias we climb to remote glacial lakes, feeling on top of the world as we enjoy carefree swims with views of the Picos de Europa.
In the Basque country we travel up, down and around the Pyrenees, seeking out its rocky gorges and medieval villages with Romanesque bridges under which we swim. In the Garrotxa region of north Cataluña, waterfalls and natural river pools punctuate the dramatic volcanic landscape.
“South of Barcelona at Les Olles, where the water has sculpted pools and bizarre rock formations, you could be stepping into a landscape created by Dalí. On into Guadalajara, serene green lakes shimmer beneath towering cliffs and pines. Here Río Tajo, the country’s longest river, offers deep swimming channels and forms wonderful river beaches on its bends.
“As we head south towards Valencia and Murcia we discover spectacular village watering holes and large round pools in the Chera National Park. In Andalucía we pass whitewashed villages and Moorish ruins en route to turquoise lakes. Our quest for wilder locations leads us to Junta de los Ríos, through deep canyons up to the majestic waterfall at the head of Río Verde, crossing hanging bridges ‘Indiana Jones style’ as we go.
“North of Madrid, we find extraordinary rock pools in the granite Sierra de Guadarrama. Although within driving distance of the capital, we find secluded swimming spots and feel revived after a day out in the fresh mountain air.
“Extremadura, in Spain’s far north-western corner, is a truly unspoilt region of steppes and rolling grassland. Cool rivers rush down from the mountains, carving out basins in the rock, and with summer temperatures soaring, we rejoiced in the bracing, crystal-clear water.
They share a few of their favourite Spanish wild swims here but you can also visit a few on our wild swimming map here (click on the images to open up in maps)
Spanish phrases to help you travel and swim
Is there a good river or lake swimming spot near here? ¿Hay un buen río o lago para bañarse cerca de aquí?
Where is the river/waterfall/pool/lake/reservoir? ¿Dónde está el río/la cascada/el pozo/el lago/el embalse?
left/right/straight on izquierda/derecha/todo recto
Is it deep enough for diving? ¿Es lo bastante hondo para tirarse de cabeza?
Is the pool large enough to swim? ¿Es el pozo lo bastante grande para nadar?
Is the water clean enough for swimming? ¿Es el agua lo bastante limpio para nadar?
Is it nice for children? ¿Está bien para los niños? or ¿Es adecuado para los niños?
Where is the nicest section (of the lake/river) for swimming? ¿Cuál es la mejor parte del río/lago para nadar?
Is swimming allowed here/there? ¿Está permitido nadar aquí?
Swimming in a natural setting/ swimming outdoors Nadar en la naturaleza/nadar al aire libre
Natación en la naturaleza – wild swimming
Una piscina natural – natural pool
Un fuente – spring, where water or a river emerges from underground
Un piscina – large pool or basin of water
Un pozo – deeply eroded ‘pot’ or rock basin (filled with water)
Prohibido bañarse – swimming prohibited
Contracorriente/con la corriente – upstream/downstream
La orilla izquierda/a orilla – left bank/right bank
Derecha norte/este/sur/oeste – north/east/south/west
Al norte, al este, al sur, al oeste – northern/eastern/southern/western
Un embalse/pantano – reservoir
Un lago – lake
Un valle – valley
Un cañón – gorge
Una cueva – cave
Unas fuentes termales – hot springs/spa
La playa – the beach
Una cascada – waterfall
Un río – river or stream
La orilla del río – the river bank
La orilla – the shore
Una molina – a mill
Una presa – a weir/dam
Nadar – to swim
Tirarse – to jump
Tirarse de cabeza – to dive
Agua dulce – freshwater (in lakes or rivers)