Covid-friendly Locations in the South of France: Swimming Lakes
Ah, 2020. Who knew come the holidays we’d still be living our own version of confinement! Obviously lots of people are travelling and there are tourists everywhere. While there is an increase in people locally I would say it’s mostly holiday home owners; the numbers are down, which is good news for those of us concerned about the virus being spread everywhere and not to good for local businesses. Luckily for most of the tourism-based business in this area they only really open in July and August anyway. Maybe this year they’ll be tempted to stay open a little longer? But this being France…
While the reality of Covid is a real pain in the bum, we’re lucky to live somewhere where people want to holiday. One of the reasons we love this place is for the stunning scenery and all the outdoor opportunities, and it’s those that have really been the saving grace this year. We have our land, of course, but right now it’s too hot to hang out there (no house, and it used to be a field, so no shade!) so we are finding ourselves more and more in the woods and at the swimming lakes.
While we’re over an hour to the cost (nearer two by the time we get to a beach) we’re lucky to be within a stone’s throw of three of the best swimming lakes in the area, these being Puivert, Quillan, Montbel, and Belcaire. Before it got super-hot we were also frequenting the river lately: one of our favourite outings, a simple pleasure we discovered during our short our of freedom during confinement, has been to ride our bikes to one of the places where the river criss-crosses the farm tracks. There’s plenty of the shade there but, now the heat has really stepped up and the rain has all be disappeared, they’re not flowing so much, so we’ve handed them back to the mosquitos!
Swimming Lakes in and around Puivert
Lac du Puivert
This is our most local lake and one we find ourselves visiting a couple of times a week. For us it’s the best of the four options because it has an area marked out for children, making it the safest place for the little ones to play without us having to worry about them too much. At the furthest point within this safe area from the beach my six-year-old can stand easily with the water just below shoulder height, which is reassuring for us and her as this is her first year where she is swimming without armbands. The little one (now 4) is out of his depth at the limit of the child’s area but he’s still in arm bands so bobs about like a cork and can swim back in. If he has been out of his depth it really hasn’t bothered him!
During the afternoons in high season there’s a life guard there, which is reassuring. As far as facilities go there are loos (squatty) and two cafes (buvettes) serving drinks, food, and snacks.
There is some shade but you have to get there early to get to it and, if you are with a little ones, it’s a little too far from the water’s edge for you to pitch up there and have a good view of them. If you need shade, take a brolly!
The only downside of this lake is the water quality: other lakes are larger or have better filtration systems. This means the Puivert lake starts to get warm along with the weather and with high volumes using the water it can get a bit stinky (funny tummy, anyone?) The mayor does monitor quality though, so you can assume that if it’s open it’s also safe. I’ve not known it to close yet, but it’s nicest after a thunderstorm, when the water flushes through a bit!
Lac du Montbel
This is a vast lake with opportunities for sailing as well as paddle board, peddlo and canoe hire. There are beaches at Léran and Montbel, at opposite side of the lake. Both locations have eateries, toilet facilities, and boat hire. There are life guards at both sites in high season.
Although the lake is much larger than at the other locations, because the water is so high this year (or was, the last time we visited) the beach are is rather small. One of the best parts about this site is the access to shade as there’s a large wooded area that is great for picnics.
This is also a great location for cycling so if you have bikes (or hire them) you can ride the full circuit (17km) or just pootle around to find a quieter spot to set up your camp for the day.
I like to go here now and again but with the smaller beach area it can feel a bit more crowded, and while there is a life guard and an area marked out for swimming there isn’t an area specifically for children so, unless they’re confident swimmers, they have to be watched more carefully as they can easily end up out of their depth.
Lac du Belcaire
Belcaire is a really nice one to visit on the hottest of days as there’s shade and, being up on the Platuea du Sault, it’s a little higher than the others, so generally cooler.
Again, there’s a lifeguard, a marked off swimming area (the area covered by the lifeguard) and a smaller, shallower area for children. There are some great walks from here and also tennis courts for hire. There’s a small buvette onsite serving food, drink, and ice-creams, and a petanque court. There’s also a really nice playground for younger ones with that rare thing in France: a baby swing!
The downside of this site is that the beach area is smaller so on busy days you can end up a bit squashed in. The upside is because it’s a bit further out in the sticks it’s generally quiet. This year, thanks to Covid, the campsite is closed, so that is contributing to keeping the numbers down at the lake. The campsite is right next door and is undertaking a major revamp which includes a pool and a water slide, so should be fun next year!
Lac du Quillan (Lac Bertrand)
This is actually my favourite of the four – but being local I get the benefit of choosing when to go and I like it best out-of-season!
One of the best things about this one is the water quality. At any time of year (unless they’ve drained it!) it’s clear and cool. That’s because, as the newest of the four lakes, it benefits from a very modern filtration system which also cleanses the water with UV. The water cycles under the ground through the filter then back in again, which is what keeps it cool.
There’s a large sandy beach on one side and pebbled beach areas on two of the remaining four sides. Access on the fourth side is reserved for the large inflatable fun thing, that my children are still too small for but a great place for older kids to let off some steam and keep cool at the same time!
Last year there was a very over-priced and lack-lustre buvette in a not-particularly-accessible location. I can’t image it did very well. This year everyone’s favourite coffee truck is on site, positioned on the shady side in the trees, so when you need a quick drink and break from the sun it’s right where you want it to be.
As far as facilities go there are toilets and showers. There are tonnes of picnic places, all in the shade around the edge of the path, and even a small outdoor gym (the machines aren’t great but hey.)
For the cycling enthusiasts there’s a BMX track, which we all love. I’ll admit it’s not my favourite places in the full summer heat, but that’s one of the reasons I’m a fan of this place out-of-season.
It’s only the second year it’s open and thanks to the heavy rain we had in spring and into early summer the trees that were planted and the grass that was sown have settled in well and it’s starting to green up nicely. Last year it looked a little more like a lake in the middle of a building site but as the plants mature it’ll really start to be somewhere special.
So there you have it. Four lake recommendations: safe (relatively) outdoors spaces where you can hang out with friends or as a family and still have something resembling a relaxing holiday even in the face of Covid.
In my next post I’ll be tackling camping during Covid, as that’s usually our go-to summer holiday but we’ve decided not to go the whole hog this year so, while we are still getting the tent an airing we’re being a little bit more creative about it.