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Explore the Fascinating Underwater Paradise of France

France could legitimately be described as the home of modern day scuba diving. While recreational diving has been a popular pastime in communities around the world for many centuries, underwater exploration was often limited to how long you could hold your breath. The invention of the aqualung by Frenchman, Jacques Cousteau, in 1943, sparked changes in the sport, that today enable divers to explore the vast dimensions of the underwater world, and all of the beauty that lies therein.

Diving in France off Corsica

Diving in France off Corsica by Lory2K

Diving in France offers the diver a wealth of environments which can both challenge and delight the participant. France caters for everyone, from the first time diver who wishes to try their hand at the sport, to the experienced wreck diver wanting to explore reefs and other sunken structures.

With three vastly differing coasts, offering three entirely different environments for the diver, it is perhaps unsurprising that more and more people are travelling to France to enjoy the wealth of diving available there.  Along with numerous islands, and beautiful underwater scenery, France is a diving destination you will want to return to again and again.

So what can you expect to find in the hidden depths around the country?  Amazing rock formations litter the French coast, and there are over 20,000 known underwater caves, some of which open into fantastic caverns, seen by all but a few intrepid explorers.

Wrecks and Reefs, from the two world wars and beyond, play host to a vast array of interesting species, and offer spectacular underwater habitats for seldom seen sealife.  Sponges and Corals of all shapes, colours and sizes may also be found, and depending on the area in which you dive, you will find barracudas, groupers, conger eels, rays, scorpion fish, moon fish and many many more.

The Island of Corsica, in the Mediterranean, is a diver’s paradise, warm seas encourage a wider variety of fish, and you can expect to find breams, cuttlefish, groupers, langoustes, moray eels, octopi, star fish and tube worms in the waters around the Island.

There are naturally a few species you would rather avoid when diving off the coast of France. As with anywhere you dive, each dive will present you with its only particular nuances and quirks.  The most likely dangers come from those sea creatures with vicious or poisonous bristles and spines, these include scorpion fish, bristleworms, sea urchins and stingrays.  Medical attention should be sought if you come into contact with any of these creatures, as individuals may react differently to each one.

Visibility

In Northern France you can expect to be able to see between 5-20 metres. In Southern France, visibility is around 20 metres, and on the island of Corsica 30-35 metres. The sea floor is generally rocky or sandy, and there are a great many caves and cliffs to explore.

Legal Requirements

France is one of the few countries which regulates scuba diving, and it is worth familiarising yourself with the requirements before you go.

Many diving schools offer courses for children.  In France the minimum legal age to scuba dive is 8 years old, with 14 being the youngest age at which you can obtain your first certificate.  For divers under the age of 18, written parental/guardian is required.

French regulations mean that when you are diving in France, you will require a current driving licence and/or civil liability insurance which covers scuba diving.

It is also worth ensuring you have adequate health cover in place, while it is unlikely that you will need it, healthcare in France is not free, and should the worst happen, and you need medical treatment, you can quickly run up a large bill if you are not covered.

Divers who intend to participate in unaccompanied diving need to be CMAS 2 stars (BSAC Sports Diver/Dive Leader or PADI Advanced Open Water Diver/Rescue Diver) which allows unaccompanied diving to a depth of 20 metres. CMAS 3 stars (BSAC Advanced Diver) allows unaccompanied diving to 60 metres.

Diving Schools

Many of the diving centres in France speak only French. If you feel that your grasp of the language will not cover you for a diving holiday, it is well worth doing your homework before you leave. There are multilingual dive schools to be found, and as you’d expect, even some operated by ex-pats.  Finding where to go before you travel can significantly reduce stress on your holiday.

Snorkelling

For younger members of the party, or those wishing to experience the joys of the underwater world without the expense associated with diving, snorkelling can be an enjoyable alternative.  The crisp blue seas of the Mediterranean and clean, clear Atlantic waters offer the joy of encountering a number of underwater creature at close range, without the necessity of taking costly undersea courses.

When to dive

Although diving is likely to be at its best during the summer months, in the South of France, diving schools operate all year round. The mild Mediterranean climate meaning that the waters do not become too cold during the winter months. Divers tend to opt for 5mm wet suits in the summer, and dry suits in the winter.

North Coast

The main diving area in the North of France is, perhaps unsurprisingly, centred around the Normandy Landing beaches and the wrecks which lie just off the coast. At Arromanches you will find hundreds of wrecks in shallow waters, and you will rarely need to venture deeper than 30m to find them.  Some of the most notable wrecks include HMS Svenner which was operated by the Norwegian Navy, the Susan B Anthony, a troop ship which sank on the 7thJune 1944 and the Strathalbyn, a cargo ship sunk by a mine during the First World War. Closer to the beaches you will find countless landing craft, cruisers and even sections of artificial harbour which have been left to nature to envelop.

Please be aware that the nature of these wrecks mean that some are war graves, be respectful and follow the advice on the restrictions this imposes on diving.

South Coast

The warm temperate climate of the Mediterranean makes diving in the South of France a pleasure.  Most popular is the area between Marseilles and Nice, with the Bay of St Tropez being particularly worthy of mention.

The Bay of St Tropez offers relatively shallow reef dives, and deep wreck dives.  The Donator, one of the most famous wrecks of the French Riviera is a 78m cargo ship which sank in 1945, most of the dive is at 40m depth and is an underwater paradise for you to explore.

In the Gulf of Lyon lie the remnants of a Lockheed P38 Lightning aircraft which sits at a depth of 40 metres, and the popular diving wrecks of the Rubis, Togo and Liban are all nearby.

Corsica

There are around 30 diving centres along the Corsican coastline, so it will come as no surprise to discover that diving in the region is excellent. The undersea environment includes a carpet of yellow flowering anemones, red coral and gorgonian.

Notable sites include the wreck of a US B17 off Calvi on the North West Coast, home to a large colony of Moray Eel.  The Italian Ship Alcione C, which sits upright at a depth of 34m, and in the bay of Porto-Vecchio, a large cruiser, which was apparently sunk by a drunken crew many years ago.

Wherever you choose to dive in France, you are certain to be captivated by the stunning world which lies just beneath the waves. It is an environment which keeps many divers returning year after year, to explore more of France’s underwater treasures.

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