Friday, April 9, 2010

Top Ten Diving Sites in Europe

Top Ten Diving Sites in Europe

You don't have to upset environmentalists by travelling across the globe to witness the wonder under the waves. There are plenty of excellent submarine adventures to be had within a half-day's flying time from the UK. Less carbon footprint, less chance of your foot being chewed off by a Great White shark. Result! Here's my guide to the top ten diving sites in Europe.

1) Ras Mohammed, Egypt

With off-shore names such as Anemone City and Shark Reef, you know you're in for something special in the Marine Conservation Park of Ras Mohammed Reef, midway between Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh, in Egypt. Here, vertical walls and wrecks complete a truly fabulous underwater adventure experience. Giftun Island, an easy half-day excursion from Hurghada and Makadi, is a reef island close to some excellent dive spots - even snorkelling is great here, and boats regularly leave the major resorts for leisurely half-day cruises (usually with lunch included). Overnight excursions to The Brothers and Zabargad islands are great - as the reefs are teeming with phosphorescent underwater life.

2) Scapa Flow, Orkney, Scotland

Something a bit different here, off the chilly Northern British coast. During the First World War, surrendered German vessels were scuttled to prevent a submarine attack. Now, these form vast underwater reefs in the clear, cool waters. They're home to huge, inquisitive lobsters, octopus, starfish and wrasse - and the odd German gun, of course! An excellent cold-water dive.

3) Kas, Turkey

Turkey's Lycian coast is a stunning spot- benefiting from excellent visibility and dramatic wall dives, bottoming out at 85 metres beneath the waves. The Canyon Wreck wall has stunning underwater flora, bristling with life such as Moray eels, Trigger fish and grouper. Wrecks date back ro 100BC, in this large bay hunkered down between the Med and the Taurus mountains on the south coast of Turkey. Fethiye, too, is a favourite spot for taking to the waters.

4) Tenerife, Canaries

Surely the best Canary island for divers both experienced and novice, Tenerife is a good spot to get up close and personal with barracuda, morays, angelsharks and parrotfish. Best areas are the Wall, at Radazul, with its vertical rockface, Devil's Reef at Radazul, a deep dive with lots of black and red coral formations, and the 38m dive at Masca Deep - teeming with flora and alive with morays and triggerfiches.

5) Baron Gautsch, Rovinj, Croatia

The Croatian coast is spectacular. Rocky ledges fall off into cobalt blue waters which, due to the scarcity of sand around these parts, is incredibly clear, to over 40 metres. Wreck divers won't want to miss one of the Adriatic's most beautiful sites - the Baron Gautsch shipwreck was once a casualty of the First World War. But shipping's loss is diving's gain, and this wreck is abundant with algae, coral, colourful fish, and anemones. Other good spots in Croatia include the offshore national park of the Kornati archipelago - especially around Rasip.

6) Santorini, Greece

On the plus side, you've got beautifully clear, warm waters (hovering around 35 degrees), and some stunning underwater rock formations. On the minus, it's difficult to deny that the Med is an extremely over-fished destination. Still, there is life if you know where to look for it. The best spot? Adiaviad. With visibility around 26-30 meters you'll have no trouble spotting the octopus, barracuda, red snapper and grouper amid the brightly coloured coral. Also try Mansell Reef in the open sea outside the caldera.

7) Cyprus

Recent wrecks, well sited, can quickly become A-list destinations. Take the Zenobia. Divers love this huge ferry, which lies just 15 metres under the surface, and goes down to 42 metres. Great, of course, for swim-throughs, although we hear that the bars are closed. You'll easily use up a week's worth of dives at this site, and always discover something new each time. Watch out for turtles!

8) Malta and Gozo

Diving is multi-coloured experience although, in Malta, the predominant hue is blue. The Azue Window is the name given to the natural rock arch which frames the beautiful blue Mediterranean. But, at the Blue Hole, the intensity of colour gets ratcheted up a notch. Here, a beautiful sharp drop inside the Blue Hole cave takes you to underground fissures and caverns, swim-throughs and chimneys. It's a startlingly impressive dive site, with sea life in abundance.

9) Eilat, Israel

The Israeli Red Sea is fast becoming a serious contender. Excellent dive schools have set up in recent years, and staff are only too keen to get you out to the action. Good dives are the Caves, Coral Beach, and Mosquito Wreck - with reefs extending up to 30 metres down, alive with lion fish, grouper, manta rays and friends. And, while the Dead Sea isn't dive central, it's got to be visited while you're here.

10) South of France

It mightn't immediately come to mind, but the south-west corner of France, around Antibes and Nice, has some super diving locations. Sea Lion Island has a stunning drop off populated with gorgonian coral to a depth of 40 metres. Home red coral, lobsters and even a sunken pedalo! Further along, at La Fourmigue, there's even a statue of the Virgin Mary (the location's used for underwater weddings!) Impressive biodiversity, warm, clear waters, and that South of France vibe. It's definitely worth considering...

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