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Keeping it fresh: Exploring the lakes and rivers of the Riviera

Escaping the heat and the madness of packed beaches, Lewis Longman takes us on a tour of fresh water getaways, not far from the coast.

Pont des Tuves in Montauroux, from our Summer Guide (see below). Photo: AS

A forest of parasols sits between you and sea. The shrieks of children cry out into the sticky air. Overly tanned legs lazily stroll past you, kicking sand into your sunburnt face. You forgot the sun cream, of course. Eventually you navigate the canvas of bodies and garish towels and make your way into the sea. It’s not particularly cold or refreshing, and you stand there, hopelessly looking around at a mass of bodies bobbing away in the water. So much for social distancing.

While somewhat hyperbolic, this experience isn’t too unfamiliar for many of us who frequent the beaches along the Mediterranean coast. However, if you want to escape the crowded coves and hubbub of the seaside, then fresh water swimming may well be right up your alley...or river.

St Agnès:

Cooling waterfalls at St. Agnès Photo: Lewis Longman

As the highest coastal town in Europe, it comes as no surprise that the road to Sainte Agnès is long, windy and perilous. Taking a minibus from Menton, the drive which takes about 30 minutes, snakes up high into the hills above the clouds, with the Mediterranean shimmering below. St Agnès itself is a very small and quiet village perched on a rocky outcrop, which also houses the Maginot Line Fort. However, sneaking away from the village is an unassuming footpath which leads mysteriously down in between the verdant mountains.

The rural footpath carves quietly through the surrounding landscape, and if you stick on it for long enough, and manage to avoid the horses you have to share the footpath with, you will arrive at the Cascade du Borrigo. This impressive waterfall and its surrounding streams offer a serene spot in which to swim and bathe, in chillingly fresh azur waters.

In order to warm up, there’s no better way than a drink on the sun-soaked terrace of Le Righi restaurant which boasts amazing views on a clear day.

La Siagne, Tanneron:

Enjoying the shade and cool water of the Siagne river. Photo: Lewis Longman

There’s something mesmerising about a river slowly flowing beneath sweeping trees, the sound of cicadas in the air, as dragonflies swoop across the water. La Siagne which flows through Tanneron is no exception. The emerald green waters, smooth like glass are a beautiful backdrop for a picnic off the beaten track. The water is cool and invigorating, and has many safe spots in which to paddle as well. Further along down the river, the water reveals its more ferocious side, bubbling up over smooth rocks and cascading down into crystal clear pools.

The water is usually icey cold as it flows down from the Alps, which makes La Siagne a perfect place to cool down on a hot summer’s day.

Le Lac de Saint Cassien:

Lake St Cassien, photo by @annyanais on the Lac de St Cassien FB page

The lake. The zenith of the water world. Small ones, big ones, green ones and blue ones - a lake certainly presents itself in many forms full of possibility and aquatic adventure. In his book Walden, Thoreau describes a lake as being “landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye.” I’m sure he would have been equally as impressed by the Lac de Saint Cassien, which sits majestically amongst the Esterel mountains. Lined by rolling green hills, the surrounding landscape is breath-taking. While in summer months the lake is often extremely busy, its sheer size means that you will never be crammed in among other people, gasping for air. Whether sitting in the shade under a tree, or laying atop a rock in the sun, it’s very easy to find a space away from the crowds. The lake itself is a beautiful turquoise, deep and wide with an abundance of great swimming spots, surrounded by verdant pine trees. While no motor boats are allowed, you can traverse the lake on a kayak or pedalo - though of course, the best way to get around is to swim. While the water is not as warm as the sea, it’s not as cold as the surrounding rivers, and makes for a brilliant fresh water swim on a sunny day - certainly worth thinking about the next time you’re looking for a parking space for three hours somewhere along the coast!

-Lewis Longman

If you would like to explore even more fresh water escapes, read our 2021 summer guide, downloadable for free, here.

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