Making a splash: swimming pools in Florence

Making a splash: swimming pools in Florence

Tue 06 Jun 2017 12:00 PM

The concrete diving board at Costoli, Florence’s largest outdoor swimming pool, is the real deal. With three levels to jump from, it is a daunting prospect to anyone with sense—like me. But our daughter conquered all 10 metres of it, in her own particular style.

Ph. Emma Prunty

This was August. We had just moved to Florence from colder climes, so she was keen to splash down into the deep blue water of the plunge pool below. For a while she observed the teenagers on the platform who were lingering and chatting rather than jumping off, and then she decided she would go for it.

Climbing up the platform steps, our then nine-year-old edged past these older boys, through their noisy cloud of thick, pure fiorentino. “Scusa… permesso,” she said in her brand-new Italian, as she walked to the edge, looked down and then quickly back at the boys, and off she jumped. Sitting below at pool level, waiting for the splash, I got to enjoy the boys’ dismissive faces quickly change to a smile and a nod, and then watched their jaws drop as she appeared a minute later, ascending up a level, then another, to the very top—and off over the edge.

Even though we live just outside Florence, few of our friends have (or admit to having) a pool. We discovered a large blow-up paddling pool in our rented house and were delighted to see, after a day of filling it with water, that it was big enough for full child-sized submersion.

But nothing beats a day at the pool as the city opens up its fine collection from June to September. On the west side of Florence the beautiful Pavoniere pool sits in the Cascine park, while the more functional Bellariva pool is on the east side of the river. Our favourite spot—for reasons that are now obvious—is Costoli, close to the stadium, as there are indoor slides at Hidron, further west of the city. For a full list of pools, head here.

These oases are as close as many Florentines get to a day at the beach: that object of longing in the Italian psyche during the (not actually so cold) winter months. These city pools all boast plenty of space for sitting around, lounging, picnicking, sleeping, radio listening, loud talking, indeed anything other than swimming. We might not be at Versilia, but there’s no less posturing, flirting or indeed any less skin on display.

There is a bar at each pool for something cold, fizzy, caffeinated, salty or sweet, and plastic chairs are set amidst the cigarette buts on the scrabby grass. But at least you won’t get sand in your schiacciata. All the pools have a shallower section for younger kids; some have a playground or even a little pond with cute turtles. The lifeguards, all suitably attired with on-trend sunglasses, are generally helpful and keep a close eye on things. If you come one morning in June or July you might even have the water to yourself—something that will never happen in August.

Now it’s one of our favourite Florentine routines to hit the pools, to sit around and cool off, and perhaps even swim. Each year our daughter enjoys barrelling down into the cold, blue water at Costoli, each year chatting a bit more each time with the local boys.

Useful tips

The only reliable way to get information about the pools is to phone or visit them; do not rely on any websites.

You must wear flip-flops (ciabattine) and wear a swimming cap when in the water. All pools have a poolside bar/café, but you can usually bring food and most have a water fountain.

Changing facilities are basic in most pools, except Hidron and hotel pools.

Sun loungers are usually available for a fee.

Lifeguards are usually vigilant and keep an eye on both kids and parents to be sure they can swim alone. Parents should, of course, be vigilant anyway.

Le Pavoniere / charming place, good shade and resplendent with playground, restaurant and nightclub: you could end up staying here all day.

Costoli / their smaller kids’ pool is nice and big, but the main pool is too deep for non-swimmers and the diving pool is great for jumping/diving only. There have been no slides here in the last few years, but that might change soon.

Bellariva / a more basic option, nice vibe, plenty of space and shade: parking along the river can be tricky.

Hidron / outdoor and indoor slides, great for non-swimmers: hard to get to without a car.

Out of town / a friend has suggested we try out the pool at Borgo San Lorenzo, in the Mugello, to get further away from the crowds.

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