Rivers & Wild Swimming Spots
Only half an hour from the hustle and bustle of the millionaires’ coast is a remote landscape of clear rivers and water chutes, bubbling natural Jacuzzis and wonderful places for snorkeling and swimming. These are probably the most beautiful cascades in all of France, but far fewer people venture into these wild hills near the Côte d’Azur, versus hitting the beach.
How to Minimize Damage
There’s no sugar-coated way to tell you this: The recent practice of canyoning and swimming in rivers is damaging the natural balance. Degrading the vegetation, turning over pebbles, disturbing the water inevitably damages the natural environment and its animal and aquatic populations. For this reason, we don’t recommend you bring children or teenagers to these areas (take them to one of the popular beaches instead), and please follow the below guide, to help minimize your impact.
The future depends on your behavior.
Do not throw anything in the river, or soil the edges of the river. Fish and small animals can choke on discarded plastic and cigarettes.
Do not wear chemical sunscreens, which poison and kill turtles, frogs, fish, and their eggs. (Learn more here.) A widely-sold safe and healthy sunscreen brand is Biarritz Alga Maris sunscreens (available in pharmacies).
Avoid walking in the water, as you can crush eggs and tiny animals. Indeed, the riverbed lodges all-year-round spawning, fish, frog, reptile, and insect larvae. The latter are the main food source for fish and native crayfish, all of which are in sharp decline due to human interference. Many creatures live, spawn, or take refuge under the stones and they can be crushed when humans walk in the water.
Make sure to not to be noisy while in natural areas, and tell your children to be respectful and quiet. The canyons and rivers are also the territory of very particular birds as well as rare mammals. Humans descent into these areas too early in their breeding season and noisy atmospheres disrupt their reproduction cycles, causing these important species to be in decline.
The Best Wild Swimming Areas
Note that many of the rivers are dammed for hydroelectricity and EDF can suddenly release large amounts of water every now and then creating dangerous waves, making it unsafe to be in the river. You can check at tourist offices for more details about timing for this. Make sure to wear waterproof shoes that won’t slip off in fast-running water (flip flops won’t cut it). There are also snakes in the rivers — stay away and don’t touch or hurt them.
The most dramatic of these aquatic playgrounds is the Clue d’Aiglun , one of the best-known of the Clues de Haute Provence, a series of gorges in the hills north of Cannes.
Here, water flowing down from the Alps mountains has sculpted countless grottoes and rock passages in the white limestone. Soaring buzzards and the scent of pines greet you as you arrive at the spectacular road bridge which spans the gorge.
Far below, the Estéron river has cut a silvery cleft through the mountainside and emerges in a string of enticing azure pools. A path leads down through the arid scrub to the oasis below. There, you will find white marble ledges perfect for picnicking and for diving into these vast basins of crystal mountain water.
Heading upstream, to where the river narrows between high cliffs, is decidedly more adventurous. Strap on your aqua-sandals for some serious aqua-scrambling, into the heart of the clue itself. Water gushes and thunders ever more loudly as you swim upstream against the current, and you’ll notice shafts of light filtering down from the high roof, and as the channel deepens and the water churns.
Gorges du Loup
In thick forest beneath the perfumeries of Grasse are the famous Gorges du Loup . The dramatic Gorges du Loup, the river tumbles over boulders, through narrow canyons and clues. This is teen and young adult paradise and adrenaline junkies will love jumping off rocks and sliding down the natural toboggans.
Here you will find numerous cascades and deep pools, and some well-known high jumps. From Pont-du-Loup the best pools are 2km upstream along the road (D3), just as the first road tunnel emerges and 300m before the Cascade de Courmes . There are several places to access the river but the easiest (and most popular) is from behind Florian confiserie in Pont du Loup .
Go early to find a parking space as the carparks get crowded, but don’t be put off, as there’s usually enough space for everyone to spread out on the river. The further you walk up the path away from the sweet factory, the fewer people there are. And when you come back you can treat yourself to something yummy from the confiserie.
To the west are riverside walks along the Siagne river below the cute village of St-Cézaire . From the village, a narrow footpath leads down to the river where the crystal-clear water awaits overheated hikers next to a small waterfall.
The Pont des Tuves bridge , built in 1802, overlooks the Siagne River and is a picturesque place to dive into the water from. To reach this bridge, you must leave the village of St-Cézaire and descend to the Siagne River, following it through a forest of centuries-old oaks. After about 45 minutes on foot, you will be surrounded by beauty: the Tuves bridge, the waterfall, a small and charming beach, many ruins that serve as testament to substantial farming activity in eras past.
To go swimming in the Gorges du Loup (at Pont-du-Loup), start from the village of Pont-du-Loup and hike up the path behind the Confiserie Florian. The further up you go, the prettier the surroundings and the more impressive the waterfalls become. It takes about 10 minutes to reach the first quiet waterside lounging areas, and 45 minutes to reach the beautiful pools and waterfalls that are upstream from the second footbridge. The path is steep (definitely not recommended for young children) and the water is cold and rough, so be careful.
Parking is a challenge in the Gorges du Loup and at Pont-du-Loup. Please be sure to respect officially designated parking locations.
Estéron Park & Roquestéron Beach
The Estéron River , with its clear waters of a remarkable green, is a playground of many pleasures. It flows in its bed, sometimes sedately, sometimes vigorously, and offers very enjoyable moments swimming in its wide, calm, pool-like launes, experiencing an invigorating massage in its “jacuzzis,” dives from atop the rocks along the banks, and even canoeing and kayaking.
In a journey stretching more than 40 miles (65 km), the Estéron winds its way through a valley with a rich cultural past, leading you to picturesque villages such as Saint Auban , Briançonnet , Gars , and Les Mujouls .
“Roquestéron Beach” is the perfect place to spread out your checkered tablecloth and have a picnic with family or friends. The river is very easy to reach from the parking lot, which is quite convenient when carrying coolers!
The most courageous souls can enjoy a dip, while landlubbers can take advantage of terrain that is perfect for a game of pétanque (boules).
More Rivers for Swimming
Clue de Pierrefeu
Downstream from Aiglun, just beyond the village of Roquesteron on the old France-Savoy border, Clue de Pierrefeu is a more gentle stream set in a magical woodland with several canyons. Overhanging ferns provide shade from the baking sun and smooth rock slides drop into perfect little bathing pools, ideal for children.
I continued down to another tributary, the Riolan , for an even more sublime dip. First I followed an old mill leat, hewn from the cliff face, then swam up an aquamarine channel before arriving at a series of caves and canyons. Smooth polished chambers have been sculpted from the rock, and these eventually emerge at a moss-covered cascade, twinkling with encrusted calcium.
There are waterfall pools on the Roya river at Fanghetto , in a narrow channel below a Roman bridge on the Italian border. There are pools, plus a shingle beach for children. Climb up towards the village to find a footpath on the left and a pleasant walk which leads to the well-hidden Audin gorge , which has deep pools of clear green water.
Ruisseau du Planfaé
Below the hills that hold the town of Sospel you’ll find a beach of soft pebbles, in the middle of nowhere, in the wild flora and the calm of the flow from the Planfae stream, with its many routes suitable for canyoning. The Planfaé creates a series of spectacular, moss-lined waterfalls and pools in a remote, wooded valley. Verdant and overgrown, this is an enchanted setting for a wild swim.
Ravin de Redebraus
Gorge du Suquet
If you follow the D2565 along the Vesubie river, you will pass through Le Suquet . Just beyond the local inn (or, ‘auberge’), wade across the river and find a stream that leads up into a dramatic narrow gorge. There’s a deep pool in a huge cathedral-like chamber with a long slide from above. The same road also passes near an impressively high, mossy cliff-waterfall at the base of the Peïra valley, near St-Jean-la-Rivière.
Sillans-la-Cascade is perhaps the jewel of Provence’s waterfalls. Follow the tiny Bresque stream down the marked footpath and be amazed as it plummets into a great palm-lined oasis of opal water. The main pool is officially closed due to rock fall risk (though locals swim anyway) but you’ll find more milky-blue pools in the woods downstream plus another waterfall.
Where to Eat
This sparsely populated region has eagle-nest villages, built long ago to overlook and defend key routes and territories.
Nearby Sigale , on a high outcrop over the Riolan river, is one of the best. The two medieval towers, remnants of the ancient fortifications, stand high above the village on the southern edge, overlooking the valley. This is a fine place for an early evening aperitif at the solitary bar, a place to share tales after a day’s swimming.
Another option is to bring food with you and picnic. Make sure to bring a bag for your trash, as there aren’t litter bins, so you’ll need to carry your trash back with you. If you get caught littering (shame on you!) you could face a very hefty fine — and locals won’t hesitate to report you.
Where to Sleep
There are many casual-style places to stay, even in this remote region. Your best bet is to find a bed & breakfast, gite, or a small hotel in a nearby village (check Google Maps for options). If you want a proper hotel, those aren’t far away either (look along the coast) — a 5-star hotel is never more than a 40-minute drive from any of these river swimming spots.
Don’t try to wild camp, as the locals may report you and park services could evict and/or fine you. If you want to camp, you’ll need to do it in a designated area (search Google Maps for “Camping” and arrange your stay in advance.)