Gites in Provence: Diving on the Cote d'Azur

Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur

Since the world-famous French explorer, conservationist and film-maker Jacques Cousteau first made deep sea diving popular in the region in the 50s and 60s, it has grown exponentially to become one of Provence's best loved watersports. With the surface sea temperature ranging from around 9°C (48°F) in January to some 23°C (73°F) towards late August, there are some supreme dive sites in the region for the experienced and novice alike. A good proportion of established dive centres also offer baptêmes de plongée (trial dives) for the absolute beginner. The best dive sites recommended locally are to be found around Hyères, Marseille and Cavalaire as well as at certain locations further east along the Côte d'Azur. The entire coast is rich with breathtaking submerged rock formations and dive wrecks. Due to the National Park of Port Cros, the area around Hyères is also renowned for its remarkable variety of fish and plant life. Additionally, the area around The Calanques, with its spectacular white limestone cliffs and crystal clear turquoise water were officially designated a National Park in April 2012. It is due to the colour of the Mediterranean around the southern coast of France that the region itself gets its name (Côte d'Azur) – and with good reason. The waters are crystal clear, affording views of a wealth of plant and animal life. Depending on site and the season these can include seaweed, posidonia, coral, hermit crabs, sea perch, barracuda, sea urchins, morays, grouper, octopus, lobsters, John Dory, congers and wrasse. Before considering undertaking a diving excursion as part of a gites in Provence holiday, it is worth remembering that, in France, diving is highly regulated. Until very recently both accompanied and unaccompanied divers would require a certificate from the CMAS (Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques), or World Underwater Federation before taking to the water. This has been more widely accepted by local diving centres than a PADI certificate (Professional Association of Diving Instructors). With the sometimes complicated laws governing acceptability of the various certificates changing in July 2010, divers are advised to confirm their eligibility with their diving centre of choice or to perhaps consult a diving forum of the most up to date information. In any case, all divers now require a current (less than 12 months old) medical fitness certificate and divers under 18 will need to have written consent from a parental or guardian. Finally, insurance, while not obligatory, is obviously strongly recommended.