In many ways, France could be considered the birthplace of modern day scuba diving. Jacques Cousteau, considered to be the father of scuba diving, was born in Bordeaux in 1910, and having a passion for marine life from a young age, first tested the Aqua Lung in French waters in 1942.
The best dive sites in France are found in the French Riviera, located on the southern coast. There is also great diving near Italy, closeby the stunning island of Corsica, and wreck diving opportunities in Normandy. In general, France is quite famous for its underwater caves which offer complex cave systems and an underwater experience to remember.
Certain areas of France offer great visibility, such as the Cote D’Azur which can boast up to 40 meters visibility on a good day. Closely resembling any number of tropical destinations, the southern coastal region of France also has high water temperatures when compared to other areas. In January, the temperature drops to around 14°C, however in August it can be a balmy 26°C, whereas the warmest temperature in the English Channel is 16.5°C in summer and 9°C in March. Divers are required to wear at least a wet suit when diving in the Channel, and for cave divers exploring the south western regions of France a dry suit is often the preferred attire. France’s Lot region boasts many cave dives, and the water temperatures remain steady at around 13°C.
France Dive Sites
For scuba divers looking to make the most of their time in France and explore as much of the underwater offerings as possible, it is suggested to begin diving in Normandy. Although the waters can be frigid and murky in this north eastern region, there are numerous wreck dives that should not be missed in Britanny province. An area known as D-Day is home to hundreds of historically significant wrecks that have found their resting place along the iconic Gold Beach, where the remains of Mulberry Harbour can still be seen.
Hundreds of ships sunk during the year 1944, and many of these are accessible to novice divers thanks to their depths not reaching more than 25 meters. There are so many wrecks in this area that there is even a D-Day Museum located in Port en Bessin where divers can learn about the historical significance of each vessel before venturing underwater to explore them.
The remarkable D-Day area is found in the commune or township known as Arromanches Les Baines. This town is a popular tourist destination and is also very popular with scuba divers interested in exploring the many WWII wrecks in the area. Arromanches beach, also known as Gold Beach, was the site of the Mulberry Harbour, an important destination used for offloading men, supplies and vehicles to the allied forces during the Battle of Normandy. The waters surrounding these wrecks do not often offer excellent visibility, and the temperature is certainly less than ideal, but for an avid wreck diver there is no water condition that will prevent them from exploring these iconic wrecks.
There are 2 cargo ships of UK origin that are worth exploring in the area, the Lynghaug and the Empire Flamingo. Another worthwhile wreck to explore is the Susan B Anthony, an American troopship that sank in 1944 as a result of an offshore mine explosion. Lying at a manageable depth of only 30 meters and teeming with marine life, some sections of the Susan B Anthony wreck are even shallower at 20 meters, making it an ideal wreck for beginner divers.
Although there are hundreds of wrecks in the province of Brittany, not all of them sank during World War Two. A steamboat cargo vessel known as USSA was used during WWI and sank in 1917, again as a result of a mine explosion. Divers exploring the USSA will be met with swift currents, large crabs and even larger lobsters. Quite amazingly, although this aged vessel is in 3 separate parts and has come to rest in a very busy channel at only 27 meters down, the vessel is almost entirely intact and in very good condition considering its age and location. Most divers visiting the USSA will make use of a dive boat that departs from the nearby area of Cherbourg.
France’s south western regions of Lot/Dordogne is the most popular for those interested in cave diving. Here divers will encounter entire limestone cave systems made up of hundreds of connected tunnels, caves and caverns, all with excellent visibility. Cave paintings have even been found in some of these caves, offering a truly unique experience for divers. One of the most popular cave dives in France’s Dordogne region is Emergence du Russel which is located close to the Cele River riverbed. Both beginner and advanced cave divers can enjoy time spent at Emergence du Russel, with water depths reaching as far down as 70 meters in some areas of the cave.
France boasts hundreds of cave diving opportunities, and Jacques Cousteau famously almost met his match in a cave nearby the town of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse in south eastern France’s region of the Privince-Alpes-Cote d’Azur. Cousteau was exploring the origin of this famous crystal clear mountain spring that begins at the Sorgue River, and inhaled exhaust fumes in his tank. Luckily for Cousteau and the scuba diving world, he was able to return to the surface safely from a depth of over 100 meters and lived to tell the tale. The Fontaine-de-Vaucluse stretches to unimaginable depths, with world famous cave diver Pascal Bernabe setting the record for a 240 meter dive in this mountain spring back in 1997.
Scuba Diving in the French Riviera
The French Riviera, and specifically the stretch of French coastline between Spain and Italy known as Cote d’Azur, is where the majority of dive sites are found. The warm, clear Mediterranean waters off of Nice in France offers a plethora of underwater marine life such as moray eels, crayfish, conger eels and large schools of fish. For expert divers looking for the ultimate thrill, a highly technical and notoriously dangerous site known as Le Tombant des Americains is located just off of Nice. The dive begins at 50 meters and divers will need to find a dive shop willing to make the special arrangements necessary to make this difficult dive.
For those interested in wreck diving in the French Riviera, Poquerolles island near Toulon is a popular choice. Two cargo vessels, Le Grec and Le Donator, are ideal for shipwreck enthusiasts as is the entirety of the coastline of the French Riviera, with many wrecks scattered around.
How to get There
The easiest and most common way to get to France is to fly into Paris and make travel arrangements from there. Trains, planes and cars are all easily accessible from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and so beginning and ending a trip in Paris tends to be the cheapest and most logical option.
The most time effective way of getting from Paris to the French Riviera is by catching a flight from Paris to Nice Cote d’Azur Airport, which takes just more than an hour compared to at least 5 hours on a train. It is also possible to drive down the Mediterranean coast from Paris.
Cote d’Azur offers a number of dive operators who can help to arrange diving excursions, gear rental and even certification and training. Some dive shops operate in English and will gladly show you the diving hot spots in their area.
Golfe Juan, located between Cannes and Antibes, is a great diving destination and well worth a visit for those looking to explore canyons, caverns, pinnacles and swim throughs in a diverse underwater setting. Although it is common to think that the Mediterranean Sea has been overfished and so doesn’t have much to offer, local dive operators have reported major increases in marine life over the last 10 years.
Nice is a beautiful town boasting pebble beaches, stunning waters and charming local culture, as well as delicious food and great diving opportunities. As the 5th most populated place in France and the gateway to the French Riviera, Nice is definitely worthwhile seeing and offers a number of dive operators that will make diving a breeze.