Brought up on the shores of Lake Garda, Michele Tameni has been exploring Italy’s wild swimming spots since childhood, and is the author of a new guidebook to the best. Here he picks five favourite gorges and canyons.
La grotta urlante, Emilia Romagna
Italy might be best known for its beautiful cities and coastline but it also boasts some of the most spectacular wild river scenery in Europe. The “Howling Cave”, near the perfectly preserved town of Premilcuore, is so called for the loud roar created by the waterfall that plunges in. Beside an old stone bridge, the river suddenly enters a spectacular chasm. The cave below has two pools deep enough to dive into from the rocks that surround it. After the cave, there is a beautiful lake with an even higher ledge for diving, surrounded by the Foreste Casentinesi National Park, one of the country’s largest and best preserved woodlands. It is located along the SP25 road, about 2km after Premilcuore – the following latitude/longitude can be entered into online maps to show the location: 43.9671, 11.7614.
Gole del Sesia, Piedmont
The river Sesia begins close to the ski resort of Alagna and flows down through a green valley, offering some idyllic places to swim. The quiet pools of Isola and the Romanesque bridge of Scopetta offer pleasant views of the river, before the dramatic gorges of the Sesia. Here, two tall granite walls rise only a few feet apart from each other; the rays of the sun sparkle through the green waters. Dive in and swim down through the gorges to reach the lower pools, then warm up on the warm marble rocks beside them. From Borgosesia, follow the SS299 northeast for 24km until you find an open space on the left, where you can park and walk down to the river (45.8202, 8.1544).
On the northeastern flanks of Mount Etna, not far from the tourist honeypot of Taormina, the river Alcantara passes through a dramatic series of gorges. They are the result of millennia of erosion – the river gradually eating through lava that blocked its path in an ancient eruption. The polished canyon walls rise to 25m; swimmers can explore it by swimming upstream. The water is clear and cold and the sun reflecting from its surface creates beautiful plays of light on the dark walls. Take the SS185 towards Francavilla di Sicilia; continue for 13km to the Parco Botanico e Geologico delle Gole dell’Alcantara (37.8799, 15.1732).
Only a few metres from its source, the river Arzino drops over a series of waterfalls, surrounded by beech forests and with numerous pools for a dip. But continue a few kilometres downstream to find mesmerising gorges where you can swim between white curved rocks, beautifully crafted by the river and perfect for snorkelling. The water is incredibly clear and has a luminous azure hue. A huge sloping rock provides a place to sunbathe beside a deep pool. From Forgaria nel Friuli continue northbound on SP1 for 10km to Cerdevol (46.2803, 12.938).
Sorgenti del Sammaro, Campania
Hidden near the entrance of a narrow gorge is a magnificent blue-coloured pool that rises from underground springs. Carved rock shapes are all around. The water is crystal clear and thrillingly cold – dive down and swim among the beams of light. The ruins of two ghost villages are nearby, Roscigno Vecchia and Sacco Vecchio. Starting from Roscigno, 60km southeast of Salerno, drive south towards Sacco. Cross Ponte di Sammaro, go on for 1km and then turn right in Via Piano della Monaca (40.3880, 15.3622).
‘Wild Swimming Italy’ by Michele Tameni is published on May 12 by Wild Things Publishing (£16.99)