Deep Secrets: 5 incredible dive sites to visit in the Mediterranean

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incredible dive sites to visit in the Mediterranean

Gozo, Malta

Diving in the Mediterranean often gets a bad rap – lack of marine life, poor visibility and hordes of tourists – but Risa Merl discovers five spectacular sites hiding in classic summer cruising grounds to tick off your diving bucket list

1. Blue Hole and Inland Sea, Malta

Don’t let this dive site’s proximity to the shore fool you. Not only does this spot blow stereotypes about Med diving out of the water, it also offers two stunning sites in one descent. The natural rock formations of the Blue Hole grotto and the limestone lagoon of the Inland Sea are linked by a beautiful series of small caves and caverns, allowing divers to explore both.

Many dives start in the Inland Sea before passing through the crevice of rock that connects it to the open sea, heading over a reef dotted with nudibranchs and then emerging into the Blue Hole, one of the world's most amazing cave dive sites. “Sea life abounds,” says Mikhail Umnov, owner of Starfish Diving School on Malta’s east coast, who often guides superyacht owners and guests to this site. “There are big yellowfin tuna up to 1.5 metres, dolphin fish and even octopus. Not only is the sea life fantastic, but there is a beautiful composition of rocks.”

The sites suit beginners and experienced divers alike. “Open water divers can easily go on this dive. It’s good for buoyancy control but it’s also advanced, and technical divers enjoy it as the max depth is 65 metres.”

Location: Near the site of the Azure Window, a 28m natural limestone arch that collapsed in March, off the island of Gozo, Malta

How to get there: It’s a 500 metre tender ride from the Fungus Rock anchorage – far prettier than it sounds

Depth: Up to 65 metres

Experience level: Open water to technical diver

Insider’s tip: The best time to go is in the early morning when you can see a lot of sea life and beat the dive boats, which come between 9am and 2pm

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USS LST 349 Wreck

Ponza, Italy

The US Navy landing craft sank during a storm off the Italian island of Ponza, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, in 1944 while carrying German prisoners of war from Anzio (all were saved). “There is real history to it,” says Captain Mark Giblin, of 72 metre Axioma. “The whole bow is intact, which makes it an interesting dive, and two or three machine-guns are still mounted.”

One of the best shipwreck dives, the site has also attracted a good deal of sea life, a bonus for Med dives, and over the years fishing nets have attached to the wreck, creating an ethereal scene as divers descend. “At 25 to 30 metres you start to see the boat, and it’s quite spooky with the nets floating off,” says Giblin.

There’s also a good chance you’ll be able to enjoy the dive in complete solitude. “There’s an American bomber that sank off Calvi in Corsica, but everyone knows about that. This is very much a little-known secret,” he adds.

Location: Cala dell’Acqua, nearest chart reference is Punta Papa

How to get there: It is half an hour by tender from the island’s sheltered main anchorage of Ponza harbour

Depth: 25 to 30 metres

Experience level: Certified open water divers who are comfortable with wreck dives

Insider’s tip: The wreck is set near the north end of the island and open to the prevailing north-north-west winds, so visit on a calm day or first thing in the morning

Picture courtesy of Alamy.com / Angelo Giampiccolo

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El Toro Marine Reserve

Port Adriano, Mallorca

Mallorca is renowned for its on-land pursuits, including cycling, golf and hiking. But the belle of the Balearics also has eight marine protected areas and one marine national park. “The sites are some of the healthiest and most exciting marine ecosystems in the Mediterranean,” says Brad Robertson, founder of Ondine Diving.

Robertson’s favourite site in Mallorca is El Toro Marine Reserve, just outside the superyacht haven of Port Adriano. “When we take superyacht owners and guests to El Toro, they always arrive with very low expectations, typical of the general outlook on Med diving,” he says. “But once we have completed the two dives, the comments are hugely positive.”

At El Toro, divers can expect to spot various species of grouper, schools of amberjacks, tuna, barracudas, the occasional ray, nudibranchs and flat worms, moray eels and octopuses. “I worked on the Great Barrier Reef for many years, and El Toro is a much better dive than most of the common tourist sites the large operators in Oz visit,” adds Robertson. “Yes, better than some of the Great Barrier Reef. Big call I know!”

Location: Mallorca, just beyond Port Adriano How to get there: Take the tender out from the Philippe Starck-designed marina

Depth: Shallow dives for novices, to up to 40 metres for experienced divers. Visibility on a good day can be 50 metres-plus

Experience level: Open water to advanced

Insider’s tip: End the dive in the El Toro cave. It offers spectacular views back into the light blue water with the sunlight beaming through

Picture courtesy of Alamy.com / Westend61

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incredible dive sites to visit in the Mediterranean

Larnaca, Cyprus

The wreck of the 172 metre Swedish cargo ferry Zenobia, which sank during her maiden voyage in 1980, is consistently rated as one of the top wreck dives in the world. “Zenobia can be explored at depths of 12 to 42 metres with so much to see at every level, meaning every dive is really rewarding regardless of your experience, and you can keep coming back to discover more,” says Tom Lord, Limassol Marina’s assistant marina manager. “What makes this dive particularly special is Zenobia went down with all €200 million of her cargo still tied down on board. None of the cargo has been salvaged.”

The dive starts with a descent along the starboard hull, taking in the immense size of this vessel before dropping down to a depth of 12 metres, ideal for beginners. More advanced divers can slip inside the wreck, exploring the accommodation blocks and various decks – perhaps swimming into the bridge and engine room.

Barracuda patrol the wreck, along with parrotfish, tuna, grouper, sea bream, lionfish, octopus, stingrays and moray eels. Technical divers might even opt for the further thrill of exploring the wreck by night. “Cyprus is known for its plankton-free high visibility and rich, carefully protected marine life,” adds Lord, “so the dive site really offers a guaranteed exciting and memorable experience for all abilities, every time.”

Location: Less than 1nm from the lively Larnaca coastline

How to get there: Travel 50nm east from Limassol Marina

Depth: 12 to 24 metres

Experience level: Open water certified to advanced

Insider’s tip: Owing to the massive scale of the wreck, visit with a guide – on your own tender – to maximise the experience, which can be arranged by the concierge at Limassol Marina

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Grouper City, Lavezzi Marine Reserve

Lavezzi, Corsica

Boasting some of the clearest water in the Mediterranean, Corsica is a diver’s heaven, dotted with wrecks, caves, grottoes and reefs. Kirsten Schoombie, the dive instructor on 55 metre Amels Astra, has dived all over the world, from South East Asia to the Galápagos, and she names Corsica as one of the most exceptional places to dive in the summer.

What the petite island of Lavezzi lacks in inhabitants it makes up for in an abundance of scuba spots, with more than 40 dive sites. Lying at the southern tip of the island, the dives in the Lavezzi Marine Reserve stand out for their unusual rock formations, which create a maze of underwater caverns and canyons, towering peaks and sloping valleys with granite boulders. The aptly named Grouper City is a highlight, with excellent visibility in 15 to 30 metres of water and a population of giant grouper. Just a mile from the eastern side of Lavezzi, divers descend along the designated mooring chain as it’s a high current site.

Settle at 30 metres and wait to be greeted by grouper and moray eels that hide in the giant rock formations.

Location: Lavezzi Marine Reserve, south of Corsica

How to get there: Sail from Corsica or Sardinia – Grouper City has a mooring buoy in five metres of water

Depth: Grouper City is 15 to 30 metres. Deeper dives in the reserve range up to 70 metres

Experience level: Beginners to advanced

Insider’s tip: Sailing with a mixed scuba skill set? These islands are perfect for snorkellers to get their fins wet, too

Picture courtesy of Alamy.com / Angelo Giampiccolo

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