Galicia – “The land of a thousand rivers”

As well as enjoying the amazing beaches of Galicia we also ventured inland for some refreshing river swimming and relaxing bathing in natural thermal pools.

For a long time we’ve loved river swimming and where we lived in the UK we were lucky enough to take our pick of rivers and beaches across South West England and Wales. Daniel Start’s Wild Swimming book really sparked our interest in the hobby and provided all the information and inspiration we needed to seek out our own swimming spots and pluck up the courage to take a tip whenever the opportunity arose.

We’d heard that Galicia is known as “the land of a thousand rivers” and quickly learnt for ourselves why. The wild swimming here is kind of in a different league to that in the UK. If nothing else the hot temperature and sunshine certainly helps you take that initial plunge but it also seems like places here are more geared up for it with things like cleared access in to the water and many places having nearby outdoor showers for you to rinse off after your swim.

We’ve found that wild swimming is a wonderful way to experience a place – it’s often combined with a lush walk as you follow the river along to find your own private swimming spot and it also completely changes the view of a place when you experience it from within the river banks right in the water – being surrounded by wildlife, greenery and rocks. We also usually find that wild swimming spots have great places to wild camp nearby too.

We managed to find the Wild Swimming Spain book by the same publishers which was great for pointing us in the right direction, but even without this there’s loads of information about the rivers around, in addition to lots of purpose built lidos and thermal baths, which are entirely free to get in.

Here are some of the places we explored…

Ourense Thermal Springs:

This was our first experience of outdoor thermal springs and it was incredible. In this area there’s a route of thermal pools that runs along the river Minho. There are signs all the way along which point out the locations of the pools and let you know which ones are free and which charge an entry fee. We stuck to the free ones which gave us plenty to enjoy. The spas are open all day and all night, we stayed in til 1am and were surprised to still see people coming and going at this time. It was amazing to sit under the stars in 35C temperature water.

River swimming next to the beautiful town of Ribadavia:

After our stop near Oursense we decided to go to Ribadavia as it was only a short drive away and there’s a lovely shaded grassy car park to stop in and we’ve learnt shade makes A LOT of difference when you’re in a van! We arrived in the early evening and went for a walk in to the town along the river which was really nice as we saw peoples gardens and allotments that backed on to the river. We decided to go for a swim the next day but couldn’t find just the right place to launch in, until we saw a group of local kids edging behind some bushes and climbing down some rocks beneath a bridge which took you out on to a tiny beach. We only had a quick dip here as the water was icy cold – we were the only ones to attempt it as everyone else had gone there to sunbath!

Lido and river swimming in Avión:

Not wanting to beat by the cold temperature of the river near Ribadavia we continued our search and visited Avión, following the suggestion in the Wild Swimming Spain book. This was another brilliant place to park the van as there’s free water,  toilets and an outdoor shower which we made use of straight away! We started out swimming in the river which was so amazing. The water is incredibly clear and gets really deep in places so you can have a go at diving in as well as swimming. After our river swim we went in the mad-made lido which was empty apart from us and had another good swim there.

Thermal springs near Spain/Portugal border at Balneario de Lobios:

This is a bit of an unusual place as the hot springs are on the edge of a town so it doesn’t feel quite as rural and it’s right next to big spa hotel. Despite that, you can’t beat a dip in a naturally heated bath! When we first arrived it was really busy with people playing music and drinking, so we decided to wait and have another late night bathe when there were only a few other people there. The temperature here is perfect and you can alternate between the cold river and hot spring.

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