I’ve always had a thing for water parks. Ever since I was first introduced to the gargantuan slides at Aqualand Ste Maxime (well, they seemed larger than life to a skinny seven year old girl) I’ve sought out aquatic adrenaline-kicks. True to form, one of the highlights of my recent yoga retreat was jumping off the top of a waterfall and swimming in the fresh water below.
And so this summer, I made it my mission to seek out the best spots in the South of France for fresh water fixes. My most prized discovery was the Bain du Sémite, a bathing spot, near Saorge in the Alpes-Maritimes. This natural waterpark had the clearest, freshest water I’ve ever had the pleasure of submersing myself in and a series of magnificent waterfalls (or cascades, in French) to explore.
Noticing the inscription, 1892, I pondered on the bathers who might have enjoyed its qualities over years gone by. On doing some research, I found that some mischievous soldiers had added the inscription “Le Bain du Sémite, 1892” themselves just before the First World War. It is said that they named the spot after a friend of theirs; a Jewish soldier, who apparently had a penchant for riding his horse naked into the waters, even in the icy depths of winter. There were no naked soldiers on my watch but the experience was made extra special by the presence of clusters of yellow butterflies gathering at the ravine that day.
This was not the only aquatic paradise I found this summer. The natural spring on the site of the Chapelle Notre-Dame des Fontaines is renowned for its mystical properties. The story goes that long ago all the local water sources in the area dried up. A young Countess announced on Christmas Eve that the springs would flow again if the local villagers built a chapel. A site near the village of La Brigue was chosen but at night the building work was destroyed. On the advice of the Countess, the construction of the chapel moved to the source of the fountain. As the chapel was built, the fresh water began to flow again. In fact, wine was said to flow from the spot. Sadly, there’s no evidence of this today, but I can confirm that the location has a mystical aura, legend or no legend, (although the brook is way too icy for full bodily submersion!).
Special mentions also go to the magnificent Gorges de Verdon and nearby Lac de Castillon. This area is renowned for water sports and although I didn’t brave the rapids, I certainly enjoyed my wild swimming experiences here.
Best of the bathing
But what is it about swimming in fast flowing freshwater that feels so exciting, aside from the bone-tingling cold temperatures?
In all of my recent experiences, the water felt purifying, invigorating and revitalising in a different way from the sea or a chlorinated pool. These idyllic freshwater bathing spots left me recharged and ready to go with the flow, eager for my next wild swimming escapade. Sorry Aqualand, you are no longer my favourite water park.