For at least 4,500 years, people have been plunging into pools. The Great Bath of Mohenjo Daro in modern day Pakistan is the earliest known man-made pool, built using waterproofed bricks, and likely used for purifying religious purposes rather than pleasure. The Ancient Greeks also built bathing pools, though it was the Romans who built the first swimming baths—including heated ones during the first century BC.
But it would be nearly two thousand more years before swimming pools became mainstream. A handful of public indoor pools were constructed around London in the late 1830s, the first US swimming pool opened in Boston in 1868—and around this time they began springing up in Aotearoa, too. Following the founding of the modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, swimming’s popularity ballooned.
Below, we bring you a bounty of some of the most beautifully designed pools from around the world…
1. Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Undoubtedly one of the world’s most recognisable pools (thanks in part to its appearance in Crazy Rich Asians and documentary features by the likes of National Geographic), Marina Bay Sands Hotel pool sits within a one-hectare ship-shaped platform overlooking the harbour and Singapore’s stunning cityscape. Fifty-seven storeys up, the world’s largest infinity pool spans three towers, stretches for 150 metres (that’s three Olympic pools), and holds nearly one-and-a-half-million litres of water that spills over a 146-metre-high vanishing edge. This one’s best enjoyed with a glass of champagne at sunset.
2. Bondi Icebergs, Australia
It’s not so much the design of Bondi Icebergs pool that bags it a place on this list, but its spectacular seaside setting—perched so close to the Pacific Ocean that waves regularly crash over the surrounding rocks and into it (the pool is filled with saltwater). The site—which comprises a 50-metre aquamarine pool that runs pretty much parallel to the seafront, with a perpendicular 25-metre kids’ pool—was developed for Bondi Beach lifeguards by the Icebergs Swimming Club in 1929, and now also boasts a sauna and bar and eatery with mesmeric views.
3. Hanging Gardens, Bali
With a name that brings to mind one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens of Bali have a lot to live up to—and don’t disappoint. Sprouting from the jungles of hypnotic Ubud, this spot was named as having ‘the most stunning views’ in the 2018 Boutique Hotel Awards, thanks in part to its twin-tier pool that almost fools guests into thinking they’re swimming atop the rainforest. The 44-villa site sits suspended on a mountainside with a 45-degree slope.
4. San Alfonso Del Mar Seawater Pool, Chile
An engineering marvel, Chile’s San Alfonso del Mar Seawater Pool, is so large it verges on being given its own sea status! Fittingly, the water is pumped straight from the Pacific Ocean (filtered and treated) and reaches a tropical-like 26°C while coloured a tropical turquoise hue. This mass of water measures more than 1,000 metres in length, and covers eight hectares, easily large enough to kayak, sail or scuba dive (it hosts these activities and more). The San Alfonso Del Mar is positioned so close to the ocean that from many angles the two bodies of water appear to merge into one—a pool that’s an oyster’s world.
5. Grace Santorini, Greece
From cave pools to natural lagoons like Giola in Thassos, Greece is awash with spectacular swimming-cum-chilling spots, but we’re going for the infinity pool at Santorini’s Grace Hotel—the largest of its kind on the island. The boutique lodging tumbles tier by tier down the slopes of the Santorini Caldera, its white stone architecture a stark contrast against the verdant volcanic landscape until it stops dead at the expanse of brilliant blue water overlooking the Cyclades Islands and Aegean horizon famed for the world’s most spectacular sunsets.
6. St Regis Lhasa Resort, China
Think Tibet and you’re most likely to think of Buddhism, but the pool at St Regis Lhasa Resort is all about the bling. The only indoor pool on the list is lined with 24-carat gold leaves and crystals that cause its saltwater to glow like treasure, while being heated to a super-comfortable 28-32. More akin to a giant hot tub, the ‘Gold Energy Pool’ may not be open-air, but there are views of the local lake and Potala Palace.
7. Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti, Tanzania
Literally and metaphorically possibly the coolest place on the entire continent to escape the African heat, the Four Seasons Safari Lodge pool may only be 25 metres in length, but what it overlooks is immeasurably mind blowing. The free-form infinity pool is positioned in such a way that almost appears to tumble into a natural watering hole below—a watering hole that’s frequented by families of African elephants. Beyond are endless skies that rise above the wild plains of the Serengeti that are patrolled by the Big Five of lions, leopards, buffalo, rhinos and those elephants. The pool’s bar is open from sunrise until sunset—there may be no better place on Earth to enjoy a cocktail.
8. Belmond Hotel Caruso, Italy
Classic meets contemporary in striking fashion at the Belmond Hotel, a “heavenly retreat between the sea and the sky”. The hotel, set in a former 11th-century palace atop a 300-metre cliff, still retains much of its retro-resplendence (think marble corridors, antique furnishings, classical paintings, lemon groves and rose gardens) and so the infinity pool makes for an incongruous addition to the grounds. But its understated elegance works wonderfully, rippling gently beneath ancient stone walls and overlooking the Amalfi Coast and the town of Ravello from the region’s highest point.
9. Amangiri, USA
This astonishing oasis-like pool in Utah’s desert has been dug around a 165-million-year-old monolith at the luxury Amangiri resort and serves as its centrepiece. Built using local rock, the massive, curved water feature is set within a sunken courtyard, blending beautifully with the sprawling sandstone landscape that’s peppered by giant Jurassic-age, Mars-like mesa rock formations famed for their flat tops.