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Swimming 40 lakes in Switzerland

For her 40th birthday, Julia Weber gave herself a gift: a challenge to swim in 40 lakes in Switzerland in 2022. It was a chance to leave her comfort zone, to discover new and beautiful places and to value the enchanting bodies of water on her doorstep. 

What inspired you to create your 40 Lakes in 2022 challenge?

I began winter swimming at the end of 2021. At first, it was because of the Coronavirus restrictions in indoor swimming pools, but I soon realised the benefits of outdoor swimming in winter and it became a passion. I love water and have always been fanatic about swimming in lakes. Switzerland is a water wonderland with so many beautiful bodies of water. I came up with the idea of swimming in 40 lakes as a special present to myself for my 40th birthday. I wanted to leave my comfort zone and discover Switzerland on my days off, and I thought that challenging myself to visit 40 lakes might help me do this.

Where were these 40 lakes, and how did you choose them? 

Well, firstly, they all had to be in Switzerland. I had some books about hiking and wild swimming in the country, but sometimes I found a new lake via Google Maps or when travelling by train – I looked out the window and a little lake passed by. 

What are some of your most memorable swims? 

In Engadin (a long, high Alpine valley region in the eastern Swiss Alps) there are so many beautiful lakes. To swim in Lake Sils the day before my birthday in October was a pretty nice gift. Until that point, I had only seen the lake frozen in winter. Another memorable swim was in Verzasca (a valley in the Locarno district, known for its cool jade green water), where I wanted to swim for so long. One lake was a bit frozen, that was also a highlight. 

Did any of your dips not quite go to plan or present any unexpected challenges?

Some of the lakes were quite far away or not easily accessible by public transport. Another challenge was finding the time; I work 90% of my time, and also have a few other hobbies and friendships on the side. Another challenge was that I was often out on my own and, of course, I respect the risks that swimming outdoors entails… I always had a safety buoy with me. 

What did you discover about Switzerland through this challenge?

That I don’t have to travel as far (like I used to) to discover wonderful places. Switzerland has so much to offer, especially when it comes to hiking and beautiful lakes. Also, public transport is very luxurious compared to other countries. Thanks to the 40 lakes challenge, I discovered many more beautiful new places in Switzerland and realised how incredibly valuable it is to have so many clean lakes in my country.

What did you discover about yourself through this challenge?

That it is important to believe in yourself and not to listen to others. Friends calculated how many lakes I would have to do per week to make it and said I would never have enough time. I travelled more intuitively, without so much planning and just followed what felt right and my mood. Sometimes I went to several lakes in one weekend. Also I realised that outdoor swimming makes me really happy. And that sleeping in on the weekends is nice, but setting yourself a goal motivates you to get up and embark on a new journey. Finally, setting yourself a goal encourages you to spend less time consuming – whether that be shopping, Netflix or social media – and more time being outdoors and connecting with nature, which is something I feel is important in my life.  

How does swimming outdoors make you feel? 

I feel powerful and connected with the beauty of nature. Over the past year, outdoor swimming has also taught me to focus and let go of unnecessary things; swimming in cold temperatures especially helps with this. I’ve also learnt that weather conditions aren’t an excuse to not go on a trip – outdoor swimming is an experience even when it rains or snows. 

Do you have any swim ambitions for 2023?

I first wanted to set a goal to swim in all of Switzerland’s lakes over the next few years, until I realised that there are 1,500 bodies of water (including rivers). Therefore, the goal for this year will be to improve my swimming technique and finally to swim across Lake Zurich.

You can see more of Julia’s incredible swimming adventures in Switzerland on her Instagram. Be inspired by more outdoor swimming reflections and intentions.

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Jo is the Gear Editor for Outdoor Swimmer and also writes news and features for the website. A keen open water swimmer and long-distance walker, she loves seeking out lakes and lidos close to her home in the Mendip Hills, Somerset. She is the author of The Slow Traveller, editor and founder of independent magazine, Ernest, and has previously tested outdoor clothing and kit for BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC Focus and Ernest Journal.