(CNN) — Bathing water quality in Europe has improved dramatically over the past decades, and a new report published this week by the European Environment Agency (EEA) shows that nearly 85% of Europe’s bathing areas are now rated “excellent”.
The landlocked country of Austria, known for its many beautiful lakes, including the alpine waters of the Achensee in Tyrol and the emerald Weissensee in Carinthia, sits at the top of the rankings with 97.7% of its waters rated as excellent.
Just behind it at the top of the leaderboard are four Mediterranean holiday favorites: Malta, Greece, Croatia and Cyprus. Denmark and Germany are the other countries where more than nine out of 10 sites received the highest rating.
Portugal ranks 10th with 88.5%, while Italy (87.9%) and Spain (87.4%) rank 12th and 13th respectively.
Popular tourist hotspot France trails further down the rankings at 75.7%, while Poland ranks lowest at 44.5% – slightly behind Slovakia at 50% and Hungary at 60.2%.
Malta was named no. 2nd place in the list of the best swimming places in Europe.
The assessment was compiled by the EEA in cooperation with the European Commission. Local and national authorities have taken water samples during the bathing season and analyzed them for types of bacteria that indicate pollution from sewage and livestock.
The water was then rated as “excellent”, “good”, “sufficient” or “poor” according to European Union standards.
Swimming in poorly rated waters can lead to illness – if the water is swallowed, swimmers may experience abdominal pain or diarrhea.
There were a total of 99 bathing spots in France that were rated “poor”, meaning they had to be closed for the next bathing season with measures in place to reduce pollution and eliminate health hazards.
Places that have been considered bad for five years in a row must be permanently closed – this happened to 31 bathing places in Italy, eight in France and two in the Netherlands.
This rule is part of the Bathing Water Directive, which was adopted in 2006 and has resulted in a steadily growing proportion of excellent locations ever since. Water quality in the EU is generally high, with minimum water quality standards being met in 95.2% of all assessed sites.
The cleanest bathing waters in Europe
1. Austria (97.7%)
2. Malta (96.6%)
3. Greece (95.8%)
4. Croatia (95.7%)
5. Cyprus (93.3%)
6. Denmark (91.9%)
7. Germany (90.4%)
8. Bulgaria (89.8%)
9. Lithuania (89.2%)
10. Portugal (88.5%)
Top image: Lake Achensee in Austria. Credit: Ralph Hoppe/fottoo/Adobe Stock