The coastlines and rivers of France have an intimate connection with scuba diving. In fact, the famous French documentary film maker and inventor Jacques Cousteau (with his partner Emelie Gagnan) was the first person to create and successfully use a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. He patented the device in 1945, and then spent a few years diving around the Mediterranean filming sunken shipwrecks and helping the navy.
Today, there are still many excellent spots to practice this fascinating sport – and plenty of dedicated and passionate teachers who can help you master the art. From glorious sunken caves to sunken WWII aeroplanes and amazing sea creatures, you can find all manner of awe-inspiring sights while swimming around in French waters. These are just three of the best sites, although remember – if you’re not a highly experienced diver, you will need help and training from an instructor.
Phare du Planier, Marseille
Planier is a small island about 10 miles from Marseille, upon which a lighthouse has stood since at least 1320. The current lighthouse may have been built in 1945, but the fact that there has been some sort of structure here in the same spot for nearly 700 years is a marvel in itself. Below the crashing waves, Planier offers some of the most amazing wreck diving in France. Highlights include a crashed warplane from 1945, a grounded Algerian oil tanker and a few older shipwrecks from the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of these are today covered in all kinds of underwater fauna and flora, and attract diverse varieties of eels, rays and more.
The Rubis, St. Tropez
Found just off Cape Camarat on the sun kissed French Riviera coastline, lies the wreck of the World War II mine laying submarine Le Rubis. Some 7 metres wide and 60 metres long, it makes for an imposing underwater sight – even from a distance. But it’s only when divers approach the wreck itself that the true interest becomes apparent.
Purposefully sunk by the army in 1958, it is today it home to Conger Eels, Sunfish, Manta Rays and other exotic warm-water marine life. Brave visitors can even take a peek inside the mechanical belly of the beast, where mine loading equipment, torpedo bays and other military paraphernalia can still be seen – preserved for eternity on the ocean floor. Don’t get inside though, as it is certified as unsafe by the local government and you could catch a large fine for doing so.
Lot et Garonne, Cahors
One of the premier cave diving spots in the whole of Europe, the whole Lot et Garonne region (named after the two local rivers that form a small basin here) is criss-crossed with dense and winding tunnel systems – many of which are completely underwater. Not for the faint hearted, or those without training, as many caves here can reach several miles in length. Highlights for those up to the challenge include 50 metre underground plunge pools and several thousand-year-old cave paintings that are inaccessible to anyone but cave divers. Just make sure you really are fully prepared before trying any cave diving for the first time.