Europe's 10 cleanest places to swim wild — with Austria No 1

The landlocked alpine destination has the best natural bathing sites

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If you’re planning a summer getaway where you can be at one with nature and satisfy your wild swimming fix, then Austria needs to be on your radar.

That’s because the mountainous landlocked country has the cleanest bathing water among European Union countries, according to a new study by the European Environment Agency.

Analysing the water from 21,859 bathing sites last year, the agency found Austria has the best natural swimming sites, with 97.7 per cent of its bodies of waters ranked as excellent quality.

In Malta, 84 of the 87 bathing sites are deemed excellent quality in a new study by the European Environment Agency. Photo: Ferenc Horvath / Unsplash

Closely behind Austria is Malta, with the island destination recording excellent readings at more than 96 per cent of its bathing spots.

In five other countries — Greece, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark and Germany — more than 90 per cent of natural bathing spots offer excellent quality water.

Having left the European Union, the UK's waters were not assessed by researchers.

The top 10 cleanest places in Europe for wild swimming

Which countries in Europe have the best natural bathing spots? Photo: Unsplash
  1. Austria
  2. Malta
  3. Greece
  4. Croatia
  5. Cyprus
  6. Denmark
  7. Germany
  8. Bulgaria
  9. Lithuania
  10. Portugal

Mediterranean holiday hotspots Italy and Spain ranked 12 and 13 in the study while France, the world’s most-visited country, was listed at number 22.

Poland was the lowest-ranked country in the study. Only 44 per cent, or 299, of the Baltic nation's wild swimming spots were deemed excellent quality, and 16 were deemed poor quality.

In total, 332 bathing water sites had low quality water in 2021. Six countries recorded three per cent or more of poor quality swimming spots including Estonia, France, the Netherlands, Latvia, Slovakia and Sweden.

45 European swimming spots closed for poor quality water

Italy closed 31 bathing sites in 2021 for poor quality water. Photo: Cristina Gottardi / Unsplash

European Union countries must close any spots deemed unsatisfactory for the coming bathing season and, if these places continue to rank poorly for five years in a row, must permanently restrict access to bathers.

In 2021, Italy closed 31 sites, France stopped people swimming at eight bodies of water, the Netherlands shut two locations and the Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland and Sweden all closed one site.

If you’re wondering whether swimming by the sea or opting for a dip in a lake is better, go for the coastal site.

The study found that these are generally better quality than inland water with 88 per cent of coastal areas classified as excellent, compared to just over 78 per cent of inland sites.

This is typically down to higher self-purification capacities in coastal areas, compared to small lakes and ponds which are susceptible to short-term pollution from things like heavy summer rains or droughts.

Updated: June 11, 2022, 6:20 AM
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