Taking the plunge: Top 10 seawater swimming pools in Europe

From rocky openings created by natural forces to feats of architecture, here are some of the most beautiful places for a seawater swim around Europe

Porto Moniz Lava Pools, Madeira

Set amid jagged black lava, Porto Moniz isn’t just a pool, it’s a whole linked complex of them. The pools mark the point where molten lava met the Atlantic aeons ago. The surroundings are spectacular – the captured water is a clear sharp blue on a sunny day and offshore volcanic islands form the backdrop. The differences from hotel pools are refreshing: the water, renewed by the tide, is so clean and natural there are often fish and shrimps in the water (take goggles). They are good for children although the water is not entirely tame: during high tides and stormy conditions, waves can splash over the walls and slosh over belongings, and the pools may be shut in bad weather. They tend to be more serene in the mornings.
Entrance €1.50, with similar fees for sunloungers and sunshades, visitmadeira.pt

Giola Lagoon, Thassos, Greece

Top view of woman swimming in natural sea water pool.

Nature has done all the work in creating this sea lagoon, which must be in the running for the most beautiful natural swimming pool in the world. Carved into the rocks by the sea, this turquoise 20-metre-wide pool is near Astris on the island of Thassos. The surrounding cliffs have natural terraces and the only way in is to jump. The water in the lagoon comes from the Aegean but, being enclosed and shallow, is warmer than the sea, and has a sandy bottom. It’s a bit of a trek to get there: a few kilometres drive along a dirt road and then a short walk, with arrows painted on stones. Myths abound – in one of them, the Giola Lagoon is the eye of Zeus.
For location see wildswim.com

Queen Joan’s Baths, Sorrento, Italy

View of cove with ruins of Villa Pollio
View of cove with ruins of Villa Pollio. Photograph: Getty Images

On a stretch of the Italian coast with few beaches, Queen Joan’s Baths (Bagni della Regina Giovanna) lie amid the ruins of an ancient villa outside Sorrento. Romans built holiday villas here at places with panoramic views, and these baths are part of the first-century Villa Pollio. Stories say that Giovanna, the 14th-century Queen of Naples, visited the baths with either her ladies in waiting or her young lovers. The pool is large, sheltered, turquoise and surrounded by the remains of the villa and huge cliffs, with a towering rock arch between the pool and the sea. Swimmers and snorkellers can enjoy clear sheltered water. It’s not that well known locally – to get there take a bus from Sorrento to Capo di Sorrento, and then it’s a long walk down to the Roman ruins (a signpost points to i ruderi romani) and the bathing waters.

Plage de Bon Secours, Saint-Malo, France

Plage Bon Secours

On calm days, there is a striking contrast between the mirror-like surface of Saint-Malo sea pool and the ruffled sea beyond, between the order of its geometric walls and the random rocky outcrops behind them. The tides in Saint-Malo bay are some of the largest in Europe, rising and falling 14 metres (double the normal Atlantic range). The sea retreated too far down the beach for bathers in the 1930s, so this pool was built. Designed by René Lesaunier in 1937, it allows visitors to swim 24 hours a day. The arch of its diving tower rises from its sea wall like the neck of a monster. Lesaunier always claimed that the water in the pool changed twice a day, at each tide (in comparison with the nearby Dinard sea pool, which is refreshed only on higher tides).

Sliema Rock Pools, Malta

Bathing pools cut into the rocks in Sliema

The Azure Window in Gozo gets all the attention in Malta. The limestone rock arch is featured in films and free divers, scuba divers and swimmers flock to the Blue Hole next to it for its clarity, blueness and depth. But at Sliema on the mainland a series of pools offer a charming and less vertiginous alternative. The foreshore is rocky, so a series of square pools have been cut into them, with ladders and steps into the water. Dug in the 1600s, they had little canopies over them in Victorian times so women could bathe in private. All swimmers long for a (rock) pool of their own, and these are particularly peaceful.

Kasrtup Søbad seawater lido, Copenhagen, Denmark

Kastrup Sobad Copenhagen

The Ørseund Bridge that connects Denmark to Sweden appears to have connected two of the most amazing sea bathing facilities in Europe: Ribersborgs Kallbadhus on the Swedish side, established in 1898, and Kastrup Søbad on the Danish side, built in 2004. Ribersborgs Kallbadhus is an open-air public bath on a pier where Swedes go for sauna, skinny dipping and diving all year round (winter temperatures 4C). Kastrup Søbad is a modern building, with a wooden pier leading out to a huge wooden snail rising from the sea, offering protection from the wind, and three- and five-metre diving platforms. Access is free, the facility is spotlit at night, and there are some supervised hours. It was originally intended to be open at all times, but entrance is now restricted because of vandalism.

Grotta della Poesia, Roca Vecchia, Italy

Grotta Della Poesia
Grotta Della Poesia Photograph: No Credit

The Cave of Poetry is on the Adriatic sea in Puglia, with the mouth facing the sky, rather than the sea, producing an egg-shaped crater that holds clear blue green water, with five-metre cliffs for jumpers. Popular but not too busy, it’s name comes from posia, which means water source in ancient Greek, rather than poetry as it is generally translated (but it still stirs the soul of many a swimmer). Before it was a destination for swimmers, it was one for writers, who came here to compose dedications to a local deity. Buses to the cave stop running in mid-September, after which you will need a car.

Charco Azul Pool, La Palma, Canary Islands

Charco Azul Pool, La Palma, Canary Islands

The sea in the Canaries is often a bit lively, which makes the several saltwater pools in these islands a blessing. The pool at Charco Azul provides a rare place to swim on the north-east of La Palma. It’s a manmade, modern rock pool that fills naturally with fresh sea water, deep and clear. There are changing rooms, and a cafe serves fresh fish. With fish in the pool, crabs on the edges, Canarian geckos scurrying between rocks, a wild ocean to stare out at, volcanic lava banks and the occasional kestrel above, the scenery is stunning. Plus there’s a children’s pool, a tiny waterfall, a sunbathing zone, showers, changing rooms, and parking. Other top pools in the Canaries include Charco de la Laja and Puerto Santiago natural pool, both in Tenerife.

Azenhas do Mar, Sintra, Portugal

Cliff top town of Azenhas do Mar, Sintra, Portugal, with its seawater swimming pool.

This is a small town of whitewashed houses on a cliff 30km from Lisbon. A seafood restaurant of the same name sits just above the town’s natural pool, tucked into the base of the rocks. The sea is often ferocious, with crashing waves showering swimmers as they bathe. But this serene pool allows bathers to enjoy the marine violence without having to interact too much with it. Between the beach and the restaurant, this is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon by the Atlantic.

Sørenga seawater pool, Oslo, Norway

A new inner city public beach with large wooden sundecks and sand for the kids opened 2015 in Sorenga Oslo Norway

Opened in June 2015, Sørenga is a fjord pool near the Opera house in the city centre. It is part of a five-acre park, a free public space that offers floating jetties, a beach, diving boards, outdoor showers, separate children’s pool, grassy areas, a 50-metre pool with lanes, and a 200 sq metre seawater pool. There is plenty of room to sunbathe and picnic on the wooden decks, and it’s all free. Brits particularly will find such safe open-sky swimming in the heart of the city intoxicating – roll on the opening of the Thames Baths (where river water will be filtered and heated) in London.

Kate Rew is the founder of the free, crowd-sourced, worldwide swim map and the Outdoor Swimming Society


Kate Rew

The GuardianTramp

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