We are so lucky in this part of France to have the choice of the sea and rivers to swim in. The PACA region has over 30 rivers, lakes and streams most of which are accessible for a dip, splash or full-blown wild swim. These rivers range from gently meandering streams to mountain torrents and I have yet to discover one that isn’t beautiful. This variety means that there are tranquil spots for toddlers to paddle in, rope swings for kids to play on and plenty of rocks to jump off. There are rivers with natural jacuzzis, waterfalls to sit under and places to float down. The possibilities for wild swimming in rivers on the Côte d’Azur are extensive.
Favourite rivers for wild swimming on the Côte d’Azur
The nearest river to us is the Loup, only 10 minutes’ drive away in la Colle sur Loup. This river starts in the mountains and is a popular one for canyoning but by the time it reaches us it is calm and shallow for the most part. The “Rives du Loup” river banks are perfect for young kids, with a walking path, picnic tables and a gentle rocky beach. There’s also a well-known rock climbing area just by the beach to make it a multi-activity area, great for the whole family.
Between La Colle sur Loup and Villeneuve-Loubet where the Loup reaches the sea there are plenty of spots for a paddle, and even some areas deep enough for a full-body emersion! Read a detailed post I wrote about this part of the Loup river here.
Further upstream from La Colle sur Loup are the dramatic Gorges du Loup, where 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. (And even this not-so-young adult loves it too!)
There are several places to access this part of 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, 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.
Almost equal distance from us as the Loup is the Brague river at Valbonne. This river gently flows through the wooded land of the parc naturel de la Brague, a forest of 633 hectares stretching over the communes of Valbonne-Sophia Antipolis, Biot and Antibes.
Walking along its shady banks, cool even in the height of summer, the only noise you’ll hear is the trickle of water and occasional frog or duck. It’s wonderfully peaceful and wonderfully tempting to jump in. There are places where enterprising people have tied ropes to swing off and plenty of boulders to sit on and enjoy the calm.
There are several places to access the Brague river and join the 9 km hiking trail along its banks. One of the easiest is from the edge of Valbonne village opposite the cemetery on Ave de Pierrefeu where you’ll find a path down to the river. My favourite access point is off the D4 in Biot (Route de Valbonne) almost opposite the beginning of Chemin du Vallon de la Rine about 1.5 km from Biot Tourist Office or 5 km from the primary school in île verte Valbonne coming from the other direction. This path is reasonably flat and joins the river at an exceptionally pretty section. For more details on where to access the river click here.
One of the first sparkling crystalline rivers we discovered when we moved to the Côte d’Azur was the Cagnes river above Vence at the sources du Riou. To find this “secret” magical spot you have to walk 20-30 minutes (or even further if you can’t find a place to park) through wild flowers and forest, with magnificent views across to the Baou de St Jeannet. It’s hard to believe you’re close to one of the bigger towns in the area once you’re on the track to the river. It’s unbelievably silent, with only the sounds of insects buzzing and the occasional bird.
You’ll hear the river before you see it. Don’t think the first sight of water is all there is, continue walking past several pools until you find somewhere you fancy. There are rarely many people here and the water is a vibrant turquoise and superbly clear. And cold! To get directions read the detailed post I wrote about the sources du Riou in the Cagnes river here.
Heading further into the arrière pays (back country) you’ll find the Estéron river renowned for its jade coloured water. We like to swim at the Pont de la Cerise near the village of Gilette. The view from the medieval stone bridge is sumptuous, the colour of the water is very unusual.
The river here is fast flowing, with natural slides and turbulent jacuzzis. There are places where crazy people jump and I know one of my kids has done so when I’ve not been there, but I don’t recommend it! In fact to be perfectly open, officially wild swimming is not allowed here but plenty of people do it. Whether you want to swim or simply dip your toes in, the setting is gorgeous and well worth the 30 minute downhill walk. (Which means a 45 minute uphill walk to get back to your car….)
To access this heavenly location (about 1 hour from Lou Messugo) drive through Gilette towards Roquestéron on the RD17 for about 4.5 km. The road heads down and shortly after you pass the old station of Collebelle on your right you’ll see the beginning of a hiking path with a wooden sign to Pont de la Cerise on the left. Park on the side of the road wherever you can. You need trainers or hiking boots for the walk down to the river.
The Roya river is known for adventure-adrenaline activities such as rafting, canoeing, kayak-rafting, canyoning and hydrospeed (whitewater swimming). Located about 1.5 hours from us (and Nice) in the arrière pays, the pretty town of Breil sur Roya is the centre for all this.
The river runs fast through gorges surrounded by spectacular scenery. We have found 2 spots we love. One is reached by a 15-20 minute hike from the centre of Breil and the other is on the road towards Saorge. However, all along this gorgeous river you’ll find places where you can scramble down to the water’s edge.
At our “secret” spot on a small tributary off the main river, under an old bridge, you can jump into a deep pool and hide out under a mini waterfall. We’ve never seen anyone else here but it’s not so easy to get to, especially if you’re not good with heights. The stunning, but somewhat alarming, 20 minute walk follows a very narrow path across a steep slope with a sheer drop into the river far below. Details of the route (in French) can be found here.
Our other favourite location is much easier to find. Drive out of Breil in the direction of Saorge. Shortly after the 2nd tunnel there’s a little area to pull off the road. You’ll have an amazing view of the “stacked’ village of Saorge in front of you. There’s access to the river here next to an electricity pole. Scramble through the bushes and you’re sure to have this lovely section of the Roya all to yourselves. The water is freezing, but once in it’s invigorating and lots of fun floating down the gentle rapids.
For more locations of fabulous rivers to swim in in the PACA region I recommend this article in French from France 3 Télévision.
Some things to note about wild swimming in rivers on the Côte d’Azur
Many of the rivers are dammed for hydroelectricity and EDF can release water every now and then creating dangerous waves. You can check at tourist offices and in the local paper Nice Matin, but if there are other people around it usually means you’re fine.
You’ll need a pair of old trainers or, better still, river swimming shoes to aid climbing in and out of the water. (You need these on Côte d’Azur pebble beaches too so it might be worth investing in some if you’re going to be swimming in rivers.) You also need trainers or hiking boots to walk to many of these rivers. Flip-flops won’t cut it!
Always check the depth of the water before jumping in and watch out for hidden rocks.
Please take all your rubbish home!
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