Last week I sent a friend a text for tips on French fine diving, to help write this article about the best France scuba dive sites. He misread it and sent the address of a Bistro on the Rue de Rivali in Paris. Our Gallic cousins are best known for their gastronomy, but the country boasts almost as many great places to dive as to dine.
10 best France scuba dive sites
Do you like your moules to be found clinging to the side of wrecks rather than plates? And prefer your fish swimming off the Cote D’Azur rather than in garlic? Then check out our ‘French fine diving menu’ of the top 10 scuba diving sites in France:
French fine diving: Starter
Ile de Hyeres, Mediterranean
The Ile de Hyeres is the name of a national park that is composed of three islands on France’s Mediterranean coast near Toulon and Marseille. The best dive sites are on the island of Port-Cros where you can dive in clear waters among many wrecks.
The national park status ensures that the marine life and habitat are remarkably well preserved. Amongst all the sea life it is possible to see the brown macrou, a massive grouper once thought to be extinct. Reason enough for this to be one of the best France scuba dive sites.
Aroca Tiquia, Aquitaine, Atlantic Coast
The Atlantic coast has cooler temperatures than those in the Mediterranean, but with water temperatures at 20C in the summer diving from the Atlantic coast in South West France has plenty to offer. An abundance of marine life the region is perfect for exploring the habitat of local tunas, pollack and mackerel.
Our pick in the region is the series of caves, holes and canyons underneath the waves that make up Aroca Tiquia. The dive has a maximum depth of 36 metres, but caution needs to be taken as there are some strong currents in the area.
Lavezzi Island, Corsica
Corsica’s 1000 km of dramatic rugged coastline continues underwater in the form of canyons, needles and rocky peaks. The absence of intensive commercial fishing, a lack of pollutants from the land and the careful management of two internationally renowned marine nature reserves give Corsica a natural advantage over other Mediterranean scuba diving sites in French.
There is great diving all round the islands including a German bomber wreck. But for me the pick of the bunch is diving in the Lavezzi Marine Reserve amongst the groupers and above a carpet of yellow flowering anemone, red coral and gorgonia – easily one of the best France scuba dive sites.
French fine diving: Main
The Espingole, Cavalaire Bay
The Espingole is one of a number of wrecks in the Cavalaire Bay. Built in 1900, she had only been in service three years before running aground during navel exercises. During an attempt to relaunch her she floundered and now rests on a sandy bottom. It was equipped with cannons and torpedoes and you can still see some of the shells at the front of the wreck, but be careful not to touch them.
She lies in a relatively easy depth of 38 meters, with no currents, and protected from prevailing winds. The rear is the best preserved. The engines are easily visible, surrounded by bricks of coal. The wreck has resident moray and conga eels, many species of fish, lobster and crayfish. The waters are clear, and on descent the whole wreck is displayed before you.
The Togo, Cavalaire Bay
For a deeper wreck in the bay of Cavalaire try the Togo, a cargo ship sunk in 1918 during WW1. It lies in 51 to 56 m of water, reaching off the bottom to 45 m. The ship split into two when sunk, with its bow in the shallower water.
The wreck is covered in Gorgone fans, which turn from a dark purple to a deep red when illuminated, and the whole site is a pleasure to swim around thanks to the exceptional water clarity. Due to the depth of the ship, she is not normally dived by commercial dive firms and so you’ll have her to yourself.
The Bay of Agay
The highlight of scuba diving holidays in the Bay of the Agay are the three German munitions barges sunk by a British sub during World War II. They lie at around 38 metres on a sandy bottom littered with debris. Conger and Moray eels live amongst the hundreds of shells.
Le Donator, Ile de Hyeres
The 78m cargo ship ‘Le Donator’ is always on a list of the best things to see scuba diving in France. Sunk in 1945 carrying a cargo of barrels and wine, she lies in about 45 m and stands upright. This dive is quite a challenge due to the depths but the hull, covered in soft corals and surrounded by lots of fish, is easy to explore.
D-Day diving in Normandy
The coastline of Normandy is littered with wrecks from the 1944 World War II landings. I reckon the beaches around Arromanches are a good place to start. Hundreds of wrecks in waters never much more than 25m deep make it a popular spot and with some of the best France scuba dive sites.
The sea floor is covered with ships, troop carriers, tank landing craft, cruisers, and even huge sections of the Mulberry artificial harbour. The D-Day Wrecks museum in Port en Bessin is also a must see to get an idea of what is below the waves.
French fine diving: Dessert
Emergence du Russel, Dordogne
Great scuba diving sites in France are not limited to the sea. Cave diving is very popular, especially in the Dordogne and Lot regions where there are some great caves and passages with fabulous clear waters. Try Emergence du Ressel in the River Céle of the Dordogne. Visibility is good and temperatures hover around a pleasant 15C in the summer.
The Emergence du Ressel begins as a wide 150m long cavern before disappearing into smaller tunnels. There is a nice shorter loop that drops as low as 18m for those new to cave diving. There are also options of several hours’ more, reaching depths of over 70m for experienced cave divers.
I hope that our French fine diving menu has wetted your appetite for scuba diving in France. However this is just my selection of 10 of the best France scuba dive sites. Please let us know your favourites, and be sure to check out our scuba diving discounts.