What better way than to cool down in a magical setting surrounded by lush nature? The varied landscapes in the South of France hide some pretty amazing sites where you can have a cooling dip. In this post, I share my favourite five wild swimming spots in the Aude department, including lakes and rivers. Please feel free to share your best water hangout(s), so I can keep this list up to date.
1. Gorges du Verdouble at the Moulin de Ribaute
In the land of Cathars, you can have an energizing swim under the watchful eye of the Château de Peyrepertuse. At the Moulin de Ribaute in Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse, the Verdouble River has carved some impressive gorges. You will find several basins and waterfalls for some water fun. And the good thing is that there is a small lake too! So, when you’re visiting the castle in the summer, it’s kind of a must to cool down at this fabulous site. The Moulin de Ribaute is now a protected natural site. Victim of its success in the past, the community in the Aude department decided to take action. Due to the new rules, they preserved ‘their’ Gorges du Verdouble from becoming a junkyard. This might sound strict, but the gorges are so beautiful that it’s all for a good cause to protect and respect them. During July and August, swimming in the lake is supervised from 09h30 to 18h30. There is no restaurant or bar, so it’s best to bring a picnic. The designated parking lot is open from 09h30 to 18h30 in July and August and costs 5 euros per day.
2. Cascades de la Nielle
You will find the Cascades de la Nielle south of the village of Saint-Laurent-de-la-Cabrerisse, also known as ‘the Gate to the Haute Corbières Massif’. The small waterfalls are a great spot for a swim in the emerald green waters of the Nielle River. The river, a tributary of the Orbieu River, finds its way through a wild landscape of rocks to reach the cascades. And there, the water continues its course over naturally formed stone steps. Because the water is so clear, you can see these huge steps under the river like a giant staircase. This sight, along with the lush green shore of the river, is simply magical! It is a beautiful place to cool down during the summer. Swimming is at your own risk as the site is unsupervised. Also, there are no bars or restaurants at the river, so plan to bring your own food and drinks. And water shoes if you want to enter the river comfortably.
3. The Orbieu river at Ribaute
The Plan d’Eau Les Fargues in the village of Ribaute near Lagrasse is a magnificent natural pool. Don’t confuse it with the above mentioned ‘Moulin de Ribaute’ though, which is another location at an hour’s drive from the village of Ribaute. Crossing the bridge over the Orbieu river will bring you to an aquatic paradise of rocks, waterfalls and turquoise water. It’s the best place to cool down in a postcard-perfect setting! Here also, the municipality has undertaken action to preserve this unique landscape. One of the measures is a paid parking lot of 250 places (4 euros per day) during the summer months. It is impossible to swim in the waterfalls section for safety reasons, especially during spring and autumn when the water level is high and dangerous. During the high season, you can swim upstream of the rocky area, where the river is calm. There is supervised swimming every day in July and August from 15h00 to 19h00. You are not advised to swim outside the supervised area and times.
4. Lac de la Cavayère
Even at Carcassonne, there is a beach. It’s called Carcassonne Plage, and it is hidden amid abundant nature on the banks of the Lac de la Cavayère. This artificial lake and the Raymond Chésa leisure complex spread over 40 hectares is a beautiful natural environment. There are tons of activities to do, such as renting pedal boats, waterskiing, and wakeboarding, to name a few. Also, there is a treetop adventure park, O2 Adventure. And every year, from June to August, the aqua park of Parc Aquaviva rises up in the middle of this lake. To reach this water park, you have to walk 900 meters from the entrance of the lake. I have tested Parc Aquaviva with the twins, and they loved this inflatable water playground.
5. Lac de Jouarres
Right on the border of the Aude and Hérault departments lies the pleasant Lac de Jouarres. The lake is officially part of the community of Homps in the Aude, and the most important part of this lake is in this department as well. It doesn’t matter though, as you will find refreshment in the cool water regardless of which department you’re in! The pebbled beach and grassy shore invite you to spread your towel and cool down by this delightful lake. The Lac de Jouarres is a reasonable sized lake, not too big and not too small. A walk around the lake is only 5 kilometres long. Or you can rent a boat, stand-up paddleboard, windsurfing board, pedalo or canoe at the Club Nautique to add to your water enjoyment. During July and August, a lifeguard monitors swimming in the lake, and there is also a small restaurant.