In case you didn’t get the memo: the cold-water swimming craze is officially here to stay. What arguably started as a lockdown trend — wild swimming in lakes, seas and rivers because we couldn’t use pools and lidos — has combined with the cold therapy wellness movement (see icy poster boy, Wim Hof) to become a permanent fixture in feel-good regimens.
“The benefits are really quite startling when you look into it,” says Jem Wallis of Escape Swims, which provides professional outdoor swimming and cold-water immersion sessions in Cornwall. “There’s a huge amount of anecdotal evidence of thousands of swimmers feeling better in body and mind, now being supported by research confirming those outcomes. We know the rise in adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine is significant and sustained for hours after a swim.”
So, cold-water swimmers are obsessed for a reason. Besides the known mental health benefits you get from being immersed in nature, the shock of (carefully managed) cold-water exposure is thought to do wonders for the body — everything from reducing inflammation to boosting immune systems.
And whether you’re hooked on cold-water swimming or trying it for the first time, you don’t just have to stick to the Serpentine. Swimming retreats let you explore new landscapes across the country or the world, challenge yourself and — crucially — connect with the like-minded. “Swimming in a community is important,” says Simon Murie, founder of SwimTrek.com, which runs trips everywhere from the Outer Hebrides to the Galápagos. “We often get people coming by themselves, looking to do swims they haven’t done before in a safe environment. Tackling the challenge alongside others in a group is easier, as everyone is encouraging everyone else.”
Ready to take the plunge? Read on.
Wild Swim Camp at Another Place, The Lake, Cumbria
If you’re beginning your love affair with cold-water swimming, you might as well do it with one of the pros. Ice Swimming Hall of Famer Colin Hill leads three days of aquatic immersion in and around Cumbria’s rambling Ullswater — England’s second-largest lake – in November and December, when you’ll really feel the benefits of the cool temperatures. The itinerary includes stargazing night swims, hikes followed by dips in a river, and cushy accommodation at stylish hotel Another Place. No prior outdoor swimming experience is necessary, though you should be able to swim 500 metres without stopping.
From £220, another.place
Canadian Wilderness Retreat, Canada
Canada and cold water go together like rhubarb and custard, right? This seven-day break from specialist swim tour operator SwimTrek.com lets you take in an untouched boreal forest as you backstroke. Seaplanes will drop you at remote locations in the unspoilt Churchill River System in Saskatchewan, where you’ll enjoy cool (though not icy) swims while spotting eagles, beavers, pelicans and even bears on the way. Average daily swim distances are about 6 kilometres (3.7 miles), so this is one for folk with a bit of open-water know-how already.
From £2,950, swimtrek.com
Dip and Dance at Fritton Lake, Norfolk
If you’re not sure you’re ready to commit an entire holiday to swimming just yet, this one-day retreat is the perfect place to start. Set within a thousand-acre rewilding project, Fritton Lake retreat takes its name from the S-shaped body of water on its doorstep, popular year-round for everything from paddleboarding to kayaking. And, of course, swimming.
The new Dip and Dance package includes wild lake dips paired with warm-up moments in a floating sauna, plus yoga and dance classes. The end-of-day reward is hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows by a cosy fireside.
From £175, frittonlake.co.uk
Cold Water and Wellness Retreat at Budock Vean, Cornwall
Jem Wallis of Escape Swims knows Cornwall’s idyllic Helford River inside out. He’s partnered with Budock Vean Hotel on two breaks this year — one in May, the other in October — allowing guests to discover this quieter corner of south-east Cornwall from the water. Opt for the first Cold Water and Wellness Retreat if you want the real meditative experience of floating along in the cool blue (waters are colder in spring than in October) or if you’re a newbie, as you don’t have to be a seasoned swimmer to join.
From £564, budockvean.co.uk
Slovenia Lake Swimming Holiday, Slovenia
Slovenia doesn’t have much coastline, but it does boast spectacular green, glacial lakes and meandering rivers — backdropped dramatically by soaring forested mountains. It’s hard to imagine a more pristine setting for a four-day group swimming break, taking you from the shores of famed Lake Bled, with its utterly photogenic island church (you’ll swim there), to the frothy Kozjak waterfall for an unconventional cooldown. On the last day, you’ll tackle a swim across Lake Bohinj, a glassy expanse with crystalline waters.
From £590, responsibletravel.com
Bryn Tanat Hall, Powys
With the northern Welsh river Tanat passing right through its grounds, frankly it would be rude to come to Bryn Tanat Hall and *not* swim. With this in mind, the hotel has crafted Wellbeing Retreats featuring cold-water immersion in its waters, boosting feel-good endorphins and fortifying immune systems.
Held throughout the year, three-night retreats also include yoga, pilates, woodland walks and crystal sound therapy — plus use of the hydrotherapy suite. Consider this a nice gentle introduction to the cold-water world if you’re feeling hesitant.
From £690, bryntanat.co.uk
Wim Hof Break at St Michaels Resort, Cornwall
If it’s the full Wim Hof approach you’re looking for — so, ice baths, breathwork and guided meditations — then this three-night getaway in Falmouth delivers the goods. Level 2 Wim Hof instructor Cat Paterson leads you through what’s not just an enlightening physical experience, but a stress-boosting emotional one, too.
Wild swimming off the beach is paired with invigorating coasteering excursions and soothing warm-up sessions in the spa. Just as well St Michaels Resort happens to have a cracking one, featuring the largest hydrothermal pool in all of Cornwall.
From £930, stmichaelsresort.com
Swimming in the Arctic Circle, Norway
Now here’s an aquatic adventure for the truly dedicated cold-water swimmer: Norway’s Lofoten archipelago, in the Arctic Circle. To call it scenic is an understatement, with dramatic otherworldly cliffs and bountiful wildlife ranging from puffins to whales. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, waters aren’t as bone-chilling as you might expect (about 11-15ºC at their warmest in August), so experienced strokers can relax and relish the twice-daily group swims, ranging from 1km to 4km. If you have a plus one who fancies the epic location but not the dips, no problem — non-swimmers can book on to the trip with a 10 per cent discount.
From £2,900, swimquest.uk.com
School of Wild Wellness and Bushcraft at Glen Dye, Aberdeenshire
For a cooling dip in back-to-nature styles, sign up for a stay at Glen Dye Cabins and Cottages, which runs year-round wild swimming sessions with the UK’s first ever female commando, Pip Wright. Regularly scheduled group Cold Water Therapy lets you plunge in on various days throughout the month — but you can also create your own self-styled retreat by booking Pip to take you to secluded wild swim spots several days in a row.
In between swims, enjoy other wildness-based activities at the onsite School of Wild Wellness and Bushcraft, including whittling, foraging and axe-throwing.
From £55, glendyecabinsandcottages.com
Cold-Water Retreat at Three Mile Beach, Cornwall
Get the goodness of cold water in all forms — not just swimming — at a newly launched three-night retreat to the north of St Ives. Besides practising your breaststroke, you’ll surf on Gwithian Beach, join a Wim Hof workshop with sound healing and yoga, and experience a three-hour guided coasteering session where you’ll scramble over boulders, jump off cliffs and basically get drenched in sea spray.
The idea is that the combo of adrenaline-filled moments and restorative quiet time leaves you feeling balanced and connected with nature.
From £403, threemilebeach.co.uk
Yoga and wild swimming at Plas Cadnant, Anglesey
Daily wild swimming, yoga, massages, and delicious plant-based food - what more could you want from four days in the Welsh countryside? Nestled in 21 acres of private parkland on the Isle of Anglesey, the secluded country house of Plas Cadnant is the perfect place for a long-weekend of wellness.
And don’t worry if you’re not a seasoned wild swimmer, the guided swims are completely tailored to the group’s abilities. They range from breathtaking coastal swims, to floating about in the spectacular lakes of Snowdonia, to taking an active dip in some of the most stunning waterfalls Wales has to offer. Either way, you’ll eel invigorated and empowered as you re-connect with nature.
From £653, thezestlife.co.uk
Atlanta Trevone, Cornwall
Although not specifically dedicated to swimming, this luxury three-day retreat in the stunning northern Cornish coast is perfect if you want to combine the water with a holisitic wellness experience. Featuring cold water immersion, wild swimming breath-work classes, daily yoga and pilates, coastal walks, sauna and spa treatments and dinners by private chefs, it’s perfect for anyone seeking the opportunity to switch-off and reset in total privacy.
Plus, you’re based in one Cornwall’s hottest new opeings, Atlanta Trevone, a collection of five luxury self-catering holiday homes.
From £995, atlantatrevonebay.com
Sea swimming retreat at Chapel House, Cornwall
Located just a stone’s throw from the harbour of Penzance, the base of this two-day retreat is Chapel House, a beautiful Georgian townhouse which has been transformed into an elegant boutique hotel.
Each morning starts bright and early with a guided sea swim (depending on the tide), where you’ll be taken down to a perfect spot to refresh before the day ahead. There is also cold water pool swimming on offer if the weather doesn’t behave, before a warm up in the geothermally heated section of the lido. Chapel House provides dry robes and flasks of hot tea to warm you up afterwards, as well as a spa treatment, breakfast, steam room and sauna use throughout the stay.
From £600, chapelhousepz.co.uk
Swim Camp, Lake Geneva
Switzerland is home to a whopping 1,500 lakes, so where better to spend a week perfecting your strokes?
Guided Classique Swims offer swimming camps in summer taking place in the widest part Lake Geneva (13km between Lausanne and Evian-les-Bains), for the more serious open-water swimmers among us. The six-day long retreats focus on perfecting technique and building endurance, with options for either 10 hours or 15 hours in the water.
From €900, www.lgsa.com