Genevieve Willis Long enjoys a luxurious dip and dinner in the plush new Thames Lido in Reading

I am a huge fan of al fresco swimming, though living in Oxford, we unfortunately do not have much to offer here.

Of course, we have the fantastic Hinksey Outdoor Pool, and a fair few dreamy wild swimming spots, but all are seasonal. So when I heard that there was a new lido a mere hop, skip and a jump (or a half hour train ride) away in Reading, I jumped at the chance to check it out.

Arriving on a cold Saturday afternoon, in torrential rain, I didn’t have high hopes, but as I stepped through the door of the Thames Lido, I forgot about the weather as soon as I saw the beautiful pool in front of me. Watching the steam rising from the gorgeous blue tiled infinity pool, I felt as if I were in Bali.

The Thames Lido has truly been reborn from the Edwardian Ladies swimming baths it once was. Opened in 1902, it closed in 1974 and fell into years of subsequent disrepair.

The saviours of the pool are the genius team behind The Bristol Lido, who were awarded the opportunity to develop the site in 2013. And haven’t they done a fantastic job!

The restoration has been lovingly carried out, which highlights the beauty of the old building. Wherever possible they have reused, recycled and incorporated as much of the old lido into the new and the result is a cool, glamorous retreat.

Aside from the pool, there are quiet treatment rooms upstairs. I sadly did not have time to indulge this time but I did on a visit to the Bristol Lido – enjoying one of the best head, neck and back massages I can remember.

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Pool with a view: Genevieve and her friend Naomi enjoy dinner

The rooms are cosy and luxurious with background sounds of people gently swimming below and a playlist of relaxing cool tunes (I do remember The XX playing as I drifted into the peacefulness of it all).

The friend I was meeting was running late, so I dipped into the pool pre-dinner. As the rain lashed down, the water was warm and refreshing; it was a sublime experience. To one end of the pool there is a hot jacuzzi-style plunge pool. Lying back in this I felt as relaxed as a Japanese snow monkey in a hot spring.

Refreshed, I readied myself for dinner. The facilities are comfortable, clean, well thought out and ecological with limited water wasted and there is a handy ‘boudoir’ room with hairdryers, straighteners and full length mirrors.

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Once my friend had arrived, I headed to the restaurant to meet her. All the staff were welcoming, happy and attentive. We took our seat in the gorgeous, laid back restaurant with floor to ceiling doors and views of swimmers gliding past while, in the background, chefs were busy in the open kitchen with wood-fired ovens.

We opened with a couple of aperitif ‘Gin Mares’ and a selection of padron peppers, olives, bread and fried whole baby mullet in a tahini sauce with Rioja Usoa de Bagordi – delightful.

This was swiftly followed by burrata with broad beans, peas, yuzu and dukkah and wood-roast garlicky scallops – which were cooked to perfection.

The rest of the room was a-buzz with happy contented diners. Noise levels were surprisingly muted which was a bonus so we could hear ourselves speak as we almost licked our plates clean with enjoyment while chatting well into the evening.

The main courses, lived up to the delectable starters. A delicious, Pollo al Ajillo (chicken with wet garlic, white wine with a potato puree and kale) and a Pyrenean lamb leg with purple sprouting broccoli and salsa verde – which, according to my friend, was divine.

Pudding (yes, we really went for it) – was a selection of exquisite homemade sorbets and ice creams.

I can highly recommend the wine list too. The mix of an extensive range and our knowable waiter led us to polish off bottles of Fasto Verdejo and Txakoli Agerre.

At the end of the evening, we rolled home happy, full – and very relaxed.

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The facts: Thames Lido, Napier Road, Reading RG1 8FR

  • The Thames Lido is in Kings Meadow Park in Reading, a short walk along the Thames Path from the town centre and railway station.
  • Call 01182 070 640 or email events@thameslido.com
  • The pool is heated to between 20-24 degrees. For non-members, swim sessions are on a first-come, first-served basis with no bookings. 
  • While no bookings are usually accepted for a swim, you can guarantee a dip by booking a Swim+ Eat package from £35 per person or spa day package.
  • The restaurant is open to all seven days a week.

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