Put Valle Verzasca at the top of your bucket list

For all the dreamy Instagram photos and incredible drone videos you’ve seen of these sparkling emerald pools, there’s one thing that still bothers me. It’s not the crowds (I’d expect nothing less). It’s not the infrequent bus schedule (the place is effing beautiful, get over it). No, it’s much more important.

How cold is the water?

It’s the only thing stopping me from jumping in. I’m sitting on a small rocky island in the middle of a stunning emerald pool. The water of Valle Verzasca runs 7 metres deep in parts but I can clearly see the riverbed, like I’m staring through a glass window. To my right the medieval town of Lavertezzo, crowned with the weary clock tower of the Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angeli. To my left the landmark double arched bridge Ponte dei Salti, where young men dare each other to make the spectacular dive into the frigid river below.

The quaint medieval town of Lavertezzo. Picture: Nathan Dukes

The famous arched bridge Ponte dei Salti. Picture: Nathan Dukes

The nearby city of Locarno hides the truth. We might be in Switzerland but it sure feels like Italy. The warm water of Lago Maggiore. Tall green poplars. Terracotta. Gelato. Italians. All my memories have a yellow haze. It’s easy to forget about the Alps, but they’re all around us. The snow melt that fills the Italian lakes has to come from somewhere, after all.

So, how cold is this water? Colder than the English Channel. Colder than a shower with just the cold tap. Colder than New York’s Hudson River in winter.

At a ridiculous summer average of 7 degrees celsius (44F), the warning signs aren’t for show. Heart attack, hypothermia, thermal shock. My travel companion is content to dive straight in with little regard. I wish I had her courage. Instead, I’m sitting here on my little rock like a wuss. She taunts me like a child for half-an-hour before I snap. Enough is enough. Now or never. I run and dive in.

Icy rapids on the Valle Verzasca. Picture: Nathan Dukes

Testing the water. Picture: Nathan Dukes

The initial shock hits you like a bus. Your skin goes tight and tingly, compressing your chest to conserve whatever warmth might be left. Even after coming up for air the coldness remains, like it’s taken over your entire body. It’s a thrilling feeling, but the shock subsides quicker than I thought. For reasons I can’t explain, the temperature is perfect. Getting out is impossible. And who’d want to get out when you could just ... stay in?

It might be as crowded as Bondi Beach in summer, but there’s something truly special about Valle Verzasca. The bridge, the town, the water, the warm summer sun. We’ll be back.

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