A reader on swimming in Geneva You have to brace yourself for a swim in a Swiss lake ten months of the year.

In July and August the water can be warm enough to bask in it for hours at a stretch. In June, when the summer air entices people outdoors to the beaches around Geneva, Lac Léman is still frigid with snowmelt from the nearby mountains, but once you're in it's bliss.

You lose track of time and don't try to gauge distance when you can do long languid strokes without bumping into anyone. And there's always something spectacular to see when you raise your head to breathe—a glimpse of Mont Blanc on one side or the green flanks of the Jura Mountains on the other, with sail boats drifting on the horizon with the breeze.

 

I do a lot of back stroking in the lake since it's so hypnotic looking up at the landscapes. There isn't much to see on the lakebed for those interested in snorkeling. And of course, one has to contend with duck fleas (puce de canard as it is known here). I had the reaction that many people get to these harmless parasites: itchy red bumps on my exposed flesh. It only affects swimmers in certain parts of the lake— where the banks are shallow and duck and geese are hovering; and the reaction generally fades after a few days. I didn't let it deter me. I learned to rub myself vigorously with a towel as soon as I get out of the water and even before taking a shower. Then I take a good soap shower and hope for the best. 

I recently bought a wetsuit to prolong the outdoor swimming season, but it only gave me an extra month on either end. Now I can venture into the lake earlier in June and later in September, though the wetsuit doesn't protect your extremities. The water temperature compels you to kick harder and concentrate in order to keep your hands and feet from freezing.

It's a sad day when I have to hang up my wetsuit and give up open-air swimming. The rest of the year I go to great lengths to find the least crowded places to swim.

The Piscine de Varembe is the closest indoor pool to my apartment in Chambesy, but it's usually crowded and noisy—with schoolchildren, retirees, employees of nearby UN agencies and foreign missions as well as those who come for classes and lessons.

Piscine des Vernets is a lot bigger but it's also a lot farther for me to go. Ferney-Voltaire is a friendlier place if I can avoid the lunch-hour speed demons.

It's a joy to happen upon a great municipal pool in some obscure village while traveling. In tiny Murren in the Bernese Oberland, for example, we found a gem of a pool in a sort of greenhouse sports complex; and the extensive pools at Lavey-les-Bains provide adequate space for a decent swim.

With sunshine and temperatures forecast to reach the upper-20s the first weekend in October, it might just be possible to brace myself for one last lap in the lake; even if the water temp is a frigid 17C.


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