We must have made a strange sight: 12 wetsuited swimmers suddenly landing on a nudist beach. I often feel overdressed in a wetsuit, but this was ridiculous. But rather than disrobe and get into the swing of things, we averted our eyes, opened our towfloats and rehydrated with some water, before swimming off again on our exploration of the coastline.
As the nudists receded from view, we stopped beneath craggy cliffs and dipped our heads under the water. Our guide, champion long-distance swimmer Miquel Sunyer, pointed out a bright orange starfish making its slow way across the seabed.
We were exploring Spain’s Costa Brava and Costa Barcelona with Vies Braves, a simple solution to the problem of swimming in busy seas. A series of “tracks”, from 500m to 2km long, in the water off the Catalonian coast are buoyed off from boats, so people can explore the coast safely, swimming from beach to beach. Signs at the start and end of each track have a map of the area, distance and estimated time, any hazards or currents, and return land routes for those who want to swim just one way (or for family and friends to follow on foot). So far there are 25 routes and more than 25km of buoyed lanes to explore, from Sitges, south of Barcelona, to Portbou on the French border. The Vies Braves tracks can be explored in a number of ways: on organised trips for groups of friends or swimming clubs tailored to suit abilities and length of stay; by joining sessions with swim guides held in several towns in high season; or by going it alone, using the Vies Braves website to plan your itinerary.
On our organised three-day swimming trip in early June, water temperatures were between 16C and 18C – very pleasant for British swimmers, although on longer swims we did wear wetsuits. Later in the season, water temperatures reach the mid-20s, so they would not be necessary.
We started in Lloret de Mar, the busy Costa Brava resort. The beauty of the Vies Braves tracks, however, is that you are soon off the tourist trail and exploring the coast away from the crowds. We swam out from Fenals Santa Cristina beach and hugged the coastline as we swam around the headland. The buoys were a reminder that we were safe from boat traffic, but just in case we also had towfloats and wore bright yellow hats.
Miquel was fast. Very fast. But the emphasis of this trip is exploring, not racing. So we pootled along the coast, stopping to photograph jellyfish and starfish. Throughout the trip we spotted a handful of jellyfish, but they were nothing to be alarmed about. In fact, the creatures were so beautiful they were one of the highlights of the marine life we saw.
The second swim of the afternoon was off the sandy beach at Platja d’Aro, a little further north, around a headland dotted with beautiful villas. It’s a good way of nosing at some impressive property. As the sun started to go down, we rounded a final outcrop to a small beach. After a 2km swim, it was a pleasant walk back along the path to where we started, stopping to look down the cliffs to the water we’d been swimming in.
Our base for the next two nights was Girona, 60 miles north of Barcelona. On our first morning there we drove to Colera for the first swim of the day. It was early and the town was quiet as we headed past apartment blocks down to the beach. The only sign of life was at the shack hiring out kayaks and stand-up paddle boards. For this swim, 2km out-and-back, we dispensed with the neoprene and were accompanied by one of our group’s family in kayaks. The scenery was stunning as we headed away from Colera – rocky outcrops, twisted pine trees and sheer cliffs rising out of the water.
To get to the next swim, we took a steep footpath out of Colera along the top of cliffs, stopping to take in the view of the bay. We climbed a few hills as the sun beat down, and then scrambled down a rocky path before climbing up again through a grassy meadow. We paused under some trees to catch our breath and cool down, letting the hikers overtake us again, before we headed back down to the beach and our next swim at Garbet.
We swam along the coast to the next beach, dodging the sea urchins before diving into a gully where the water suddenly went deep and cold. We stopped to take photos of ourselves underwater, then it was back to the beach and a lift to a campsite in Colera for a lunch of delicious paella with rosé wine.
That evening we returned to Girona, which makes an excellent base if you are planning on hiring a car and exploring the local Vies Braves routes.
For those based in Barcelona, Vies Braves is a fun and original way to see lots of the city’s coast in one day: the 8km Costa Barcelona is a magical mystery group tour of four swims, linked by minibus.
We start at Barceloneta Beach, near the end of Las Ramblas, in company with a group from Barcelona’s open water swimming club, with a 1km open water dash. It is fun to be swimming in a group of 20 swimmers: it’s small enough to be sociable, and even though we don’t speak Catalan we are made very welcome.
After a quick snack of oranges and Spanish sausage we headed off in the bus for swim number two, a fun 2km in lumpy seas from Port Ginesta. The bus met us at the end of the swim with more snacks and then it was on to the longest swim of the day. We gathered at the end of the promenade in Sitges for a 4km swim west to Home Mort (Dead Man’s Point) and those nudists.
Some swimmers didn’t join us for the full 4km but joined us at the halfway point. The swims aren’t competitive so are suitable for all abilities – we tended to naturally form groups based on speed, but the faster swimmers were quite happy waiting for the slower ones. And stopping to look at wildlife was a good, natural way of regrouping.
The final swim of the day was at Calella, north of Barcelona, where we saw a colony of shags and a flatfish. Back on the bus we tucked into our packed lunches before contentedly dozing our way back to Barcelona, a creditable 8km and lots of fun under our belts.
SwimQuest Swimming Holidays in partnership with Vies Braves offer tours scheduled for May, June, July and October 2017 based in the beach town of Platja D’Aro. The trip offers the opportunity to explore the coastline’s best spots in small groups of up to 12, fully escorted, coached and supported by qualified SwimQuest guides. The trips culminate in an 8km sectioned challenge on the final day, in which the SwimQuest group will team up with Vies Braves and local swimmers to tackle the Cap de Creus Natural Park, swimming from Roses to Portbou, between rocks and alongside dramatic cliffs. This final 8km swim challenge will be made up of four 1.5-2.5km swims.
The trips are suitable for all ability levels and swims will be tailored to suit individuals' needs. Swim coaching and video analysis is also included. To reserve a place, email firstname.lastname@example.org with Costa Brava in the subject line, or fill out a booking form at www.swimquest.uk.com/costabrav...