Forget the costas mountain rivers and clear lakes offer the best escape from Spains summer heat. The authors of the new Wild Swimming Spain choose favourite bathing spots within reach of the big cities
Madrid: La Charca Verde and Manzanares
Just over an hour from Madrid, the granite outcrops of La Pedriza, in the Cuenca Alta del Manzanares regional park, provide the backdrop to a wonderful wild swimming spot. These mountains are the backdrop for Ernest Hemingways For Whom the Bell Tolls, set during the Spanish Civil War. Today, the area is popular with hikers, climbers and wild swimmers.We expected to pay an entrance fee but the men in the hut at the gates smile and wave us through. We drive 5km up through pine forests beneath the imposing mountains to a small bar and car park by the Manzanares river.
We follow the river upstream. From its source near the Navacerrada pass, the water has smoothed and sculpted the rocks into surreal shapes. Families are having fun in the pools, but the sheer length of the river, the abundant vegetation, and the wide choice of swimming spots means it never feels crowded. When the path divides, we take the right fork, cross a bridge and continue up the valley to our left, finally scrambling over enormous boulders to reach La Charca Verde (Green Pond). Enormous bleached rocks on one side have been worn smooth, and youngsters slide down them, laughing with joy as they slip into the water. On the other side, promontories above the deep pool are a perfect place to show off your diving.
This river often served as the backdrop for romantic artist Francisco Goya. Those who arrive early just as the sun (also) rises could have this atmospheric spot all to themselves.
On the M30/M607, it takes just over an hour to drive from Madrid to the car park . From here, its a 20-minute walk. Camping El Ortigal (tent pitch 6.60) provides all the necessities with no frills Barcelona: Riera de Merls
Abundant pools and waterfalls along sandstone gorges make the Riera de Merls, 117km north of Barcelona, a perfect place for wild swimming. To protect its otter population, long stretches of the river are designated areas of natural interest. The waters are also home to trout, catfish, Pyrenean newts, salamanders and a variety of frogs and toads. If youre lucky you might glimpse a kingfisher or a wild cat. Numerous deep pools along the river, often have high rocks to jump and dive from. The nearby ancient town of Santa Maria de Merls boasts a ruined castle, the Romanesque bell tower of the church of Sant Marti and a Gothic bridge.
Probably the best place to start is the natural pool next to
Cmping Riera de Merls ( GPS), which is great for jumping, wallowing and fun. We walk 400 metres south along the road to a secluded and enchanting waterfall at an elbow of the river. Look out for a small path through the undergrowth on the left-hand side of the road. Follow the path until you reach rocks overlooking the main pool, with the waterfall on your left. You can enter the pool from the banks of the far side of the waterfall. Get there early to enjoy this pool in peace and privacy.
La Quar: Zona de les Heures
About 2km further south is
La Quar: Zona de les Heures, an alluring area with pools and huge rock formations making a natural sun trap. Theres a shallow pool for kids and a small ravine with a deepish pool beneath for older people who like jumping in. There are at least four other pools in the vicinity of Zona de les Heures, and exploring them makes a great adventure for children and the young at heart.
To find this family-friendly wild swim,
turn left down the slip road marked with two signs, one saying Vilartimo and the other Goles de les Heures. Follow the road to the right and you soon see the river. Climb down the rocks and the first access to the water is on your right. Walk another 100m to reach the ravine, where you can jump in, though do check the water level first.
Another 5km south,
near Santa Maria de Merls, we find another great spot to jump and dive from rocks into a deep river pool. This secluded spot is 5km (10 minutes drive) from Santa Maria de Merls on the BV-4406. Theres a small spot to park by the left-hand side of the road. Cross to the other side of the road and follow the gravel path clockwise round the field until you reach the river. Its an easy, three-minute walk from the car park. From Barcelona, take the B-10/C-58/C-16 for 100km towards Santa Coloma de Gramenet until exit 90. Then follow the C-62 towards (and past) Olvan for 12km until you see a brown sign for the Riera Merls. Turn left towards Gironella and Berga and drive north on the BV-4406. Stay at Cmping Riera de Merls (from 13.90 per tent plus 5.40pp)
Santiago de Compostela: A Firveda
Galicia is a land of lush rolling hills threaded with crystalline rivers: its known as
el pas de los mil ros (country of a thou sand rivers). Cascading waterfalls and river beaches join 1,000 miles of coast to make the region a wild swimmers paradise. Galicias gorse- and heather-covered hills and mossy drystone walls are reminiscent of Derbyshire or Cornwall, but the palm trees remind us we are in Spain.
Since the middle ages, pilgrims have flocked to Galicia, and their modern counterparts, laden with rucksacks, still walk the Camino de Santiago. On our wild swimming pilgrimage, we head south from Santiago for the tiny hamlet of A Frveda in the foothills of the Serra do Cando mountain. Ninety minutes later, we find ourselves picking our way down a steep rocky path with the roar of the waterfall growing ever stronger. In the jungle-like, mossy valley, we bathe in the two natural pools and dare each other to swim under the fierce, cascading waters of this dramatic waterfall near the source of the Verdugo river.
Park on the CP-0306 outside A Frveda by a wooden sign for Ro Verdugo no Firenza . Walk into the village, turn left at the fountain, walk for 10 minutes down a narrow mossy track and continue down the hill, past another fountain . The track is rocky and slippery. Stay at Camping Maceira (from 4.50 per tent plus 4.50pp), an hours drive from A Frveda Mlaga: Ro Verde
Just 90 minutes north-east of Mlaga, high in the Sierra Nevada, awaits a fantastic adventure for adults and children in a stunning natural environment. We start our day at the narrowest part of the oleander-garlanded gorge, where thrill-seekers are leaping from a mountain ledge, clearing the treetops by inches before plummeting into a cool river pool.
Weve heard theres a secret waterfall at the top of the Barranco de las Chorreras gorge. We climb up steep, narrow paths, passing astounding rock formations draped in mosses; the air is heavy with the scent of pine and wild herbs. Theres a lot of ascending and descending and quite a bit of zig-zagging across the river. We reach a small waterfall, which cascades down yellow rocks into a round turquoise pool, La Poza Central. This is a wild swimmers paradise, and we cant resist a dip. Revived, we march on, and after an arduous trek involving rope bridges, we hear our destination before we see it: the powerful and majestic torrent at the head of the gorge. We feel humbled and exhausted and a long way from civilisation. Nevertheless, we try and swim under the pounding waters, getting pushed back again and again by its forceful cascade.
A few words of warning: you have to be physically fit to reach the top waterfall. There is little or no phone coverage here. Follow the signs, keep to the river and take a map. Flash floods may wash away hanging bridges: if the bridges havent been rebuilt after the previous years floods, the river is usually shallow enough in summer to wade or walk across.
From Mlaga take the A7 east towards Almucar, then head north on the A-4050. After Otvar go north for 6km, stop at gateway on left by the yellow hut (theres a small entrance fee for cars; in winter, the key is available at El Capricho Bar in Otvar). Drive 5km down the rough, steep track and park at the abandoned pump house or drive up steep hill for 200m and park. Head north-west, keeping the river to your right, and pass the dam. Clamber down rocks to the river, cross and follow north-east to the first pool. Stay at Camping Tropical Almucar (from 5 per tent plus 5pp) Granada: Lake Negratn
Negratn, a dazzling aquamarine lake beneath Mount Jabalcn, is one of our favourite Spanish wild swims. Set within a vast plateau, El Altiplano de Granada, this beautiful unspoilt area is part of the natural parks of Sierra de Baza and Sierra de Castril. After an hours drive from Granada, we arrive in time for a sunset dip. Refreshed, we eat delicious fish at the Cortijo del Cura restaurant overlooking the water.
At sunrise we enjoy another magical swim across the lake from the inland beach in the warm, silvery waters. In high summer, the beach is popular with locals; take a drive or stroll around the huge lake to find more secluded spots. Meanwhile, the small town of Cuevas del Campo, just north of the reservoir, boasts several cave houses for which the area is famous. There are also thermal springs Baos de Zjar, set slightly above the lakeside next to Los Baos restaurant where you can enjoy the therapeutic waters and a great view.
From Granada take the A-92/N-342 east, turn left at the GR-7100, follow the road until it meets the A-315, and turn left just before Freila. Heading north, youll pass Camping la Cabauela (from 3.50 per tent plus 3.80pp) and then reach the lake. You can park outside the restaurant and the beach is in front of you. Arrive early and you may have the place to yourself
This is an edited extract from Wild Swimming Spain by John Weller and Lola Culsn (15.99, Wild Things Publishing). Guardian readers can enjoy a 30% discount (plus free p+p) by entering Guardian as the coupon code at wildthingspublishing.com