What's the attraction?
The lure of the big blue – and the steely grey and choppy – is getting stronger. If "open water" sounds a bit daunting, don't worry; there are plenty of specialist companies willing to hold your hand as you dip a tentative toe in. Swimtrek (01273 739713; swimtrek.com) was launched 10 years ago by Channel swimmer and coach, Simon Murie. Then, the number of people booking a swimming holiday was in the hundreds. This year, Swimtrek expects to take around 4,000 swimmers on holidays ranging from a week-long island-hopping trip around the Sporades in Greece to shorter breaks in Mallorca and Slovenia.
Other companies offering swimming holidays include The Big Blue (0113 2169 434; thebig blueswim.com) for trips in Greece and Gone Swimming (01244 940 740; goneswimming.co.uk) if you fancy a "Wet Weekend" in Wales. And there are dozens of opportunities to take the plunge in more controlled environments too, with learn-to-swim and improvement holidays in pools around the world.
Sink or swim
Champneys (0843 316 2222; champneys.com) offers three- and five-day Art of Swimming – Learn to Swim breaks (020-8446 9442; artofswimming.com) using the Shaw Method, which is based on the Alexander Technique. The three-day break is available at Champneys Springs Health Resort in Leicestershire from 8 August and costs £530 per person, full board.
The Shaw Method is also taught in Wales by Swimming Without Stress (01239 613789; swimmingwithoutstress.co.uk). These residential tailor-made courses for beginners are based at Croft Farm and Brongwyn holiday cottages near Cardigan, each with heated indoor pools. Six 45-minute lessons cost £295; four nights' cottage accommodation from £306.
The Residence Mauritius has complimentary children's swimming lessons. Turquoise Holidays (01494 678400; turquoiseholidays.co.uk) offers a week's half-board from £4,099 for a family of four, with transfers and return flights from London. Closer to home, the Sani Resort in Halkidiki, Greece, has launched baby swimming lessons for guests aged six months to four years old for €15 (£12.70); doubles from €126 half board (0800 949 6809; www.saniresort.gr).
In hot water
In Iceland, they take their bathing so seriously that the word laugardagur means both Saturday and pool- or hot-springs day. The Blue Lagoon (00 354 420 8800; bluelagoon.com) is one of the country's most renowned attractions, where the mineral-rich water is a balmy 37–39C. Entrance costs from €33. Iceland also has numerous geothermally heated swimming pools, 13 around Reykjavik alone. The Laugardalslaug Geothermal Pool (00 354 411 5102; reykjavik.is) is the largest in the country with an Olympic-sized indoor pool as well as an outdoor pool, a whirlpool and a steam bath. Entrance costs IKr550 (£3.40). Swimminginiceland.com lists more hot springs and geothermal pools around the country.
Luxury swimming-holiday specialist, John Coningham-Rolls (020-8675 6608; coningham-rolls.com) offers tailor-made trips geared to groups of friends or triathlon participants, as well as set itineraries in the UK, Europe and Asia. A week aboard a traditional 1915 Norfolk Wherry yacht, for a small group of eight swimmers, costs £750 per person including full-board accommodation, skipper and a wild-swimming guide. The tour departs from Beccles in Suffolk on 10 and 17 August and ends in Norwich, with plenty of swimming in the Norfolk Broads in between.
A whale of a time
Thousands of beluga whales summer in the waters of the Hudson Bay and Churchill River in Canada each year before migrating north to the Arctic Ocean. Discover the World (01737 214250; discover-the-world.co.uk) offers the chance to jump into the water and snorkel with them. The five-night trip in July and August costs from £1,553 per person and includes return flights between Winnipeg and Churchill, transfers, five nights' accommodation, half-day tundra buggy tour, a tour of Churchill, a three-hour beluga whale-watching cruise and a two-hour beluga-watching zodiac cruise; international flights not included.
In Western Australia, you can swim with mighty – but harmless – whale sharks between March and July on the Ningaloo Reef. Exmouth-based Oceanwise (00 61 447 089 752; oceanwise.com.au) offers licensed day trips for A$390 (£260) including transfers, training, photos, lunch and equipment.
Slovenian Martin Strel, aka Big River Man, was the first man to swim the five great rivers of the world: the Amazon, Yangtze, Paraná, Mississippi and Danube. He has since set up Strel Swimming Adventures (07700 061236; strel-swimming.com) with his son, Borut. They run swimming holidays in Slovenia, Austria, Croatia, Montenegro and Lake Powell, Arizona. The four-day Slovenian Lakes and River trip takes you to the lush forests and glacial lakes of Triglav National Park to bathe in the Kozjak waterfall. Other highlights include plunging into the vivid green glacial River Soca, swimming out to a 17th-century church on Lake Bled, and the final challenge, swimming the length of Lake Bohinj. The trip costs €508 including B&B, local guide and transport, coaching sessions and equipment hire but not flights.
Wet and wild
At The Scarlet hotel (01637 861800; scarlethotel.co.uk) you can take a wild swimming tour of Cornwall's coast exploring caves, spotting seals, sun fish and even dolphins, with professional instructors, towels and hot toddies on stand-by. A two-night package costs from £515 per person, half board.
Camino Ways (020-3468 1516; caminoways.com) has a self-guided seven-day walk and swim trip, hiking along the west coast of Galicia and winding up at Finistère, believed to be the end of the world by the Romans. As you trek along the Costa da Morte (Coast of Death) you can veer off the path to head down to wild beaches and jump into the Atlantic breakers. The six-night trip costs from €539 per person half board, excluding flights.
Nicole Kidman swam in the remote waterfalls and natural pools of the El Questro Wilderness Park in Kimberley, Western Australia (00 61 3 9426 7550; elquestro.com.au) while filming Baz Luhrmann's Australia. Some of the cascades were only discovered in 2010 and to reach them you have to hike through ancient gorges or drop in via helicopter. Check-in to Emma Gorge tented cabins to explore El Questro's 1 million acres. Rooms start at £190 per night through Bridge & Wickers (020-3642 5938; bridgeandwickers.co.uk).
Swim Barbados Vacations (swimbarbadosvacations.com) is staging two open-water sea races on 6-7 July and 26-27 October. The swimming festival, featuring a 1.5km race and a 5km race, plus watersports, a beach barbecue and live music, is open to swimmers from across the world. Entry is US$18 (£12); closes 5 July.
"Swimming is so much more than plodding up and down the lane of your local pool. In open water, no two experiences are the same. My favourite swim is the Hellespont in Turkey which divides Europe from Asia and which Leander made famous in Greek mythology by swimming to his lover Hero every night. Lord Byron repeated the feat in 1810. This 4km swim starts at Gallipoli and finishes near the ancient city of Troy." – Simon Murie, founder of SwimTrek
Who said that?
''Me don't swim too tough so me don't go in the water too deep." – Bob Marley
"Swimming is normal for me. I'm relaxed. I'm comfortable and I know my surroundings. It's my home." – Michael Phelps
"I know some of my parents' friends think Little Britain is in incredibly poor taste. But swimming the Channel? You can't really say anything about that, can you?" – David Walliams