Scuba diving road trips in Italy start to be a love affair with my blog. What can I do? Every time someone mentions an exciting diving adventure in Italy, I happen to book the flight ticket the following day! I think you can see the pattern now: I love Italy for the cultural wealth and diversity of its regions, the succulent food specialities in each of them, and how easy I make friends there every time I go.
As I’m slowly discovering one by one the top dive sites of Italy, I realise that beyond being one of my favourite travel destinations, Italy is the home of many quirky dive sites. I had the luck before to dive the underwater Roman ruins of Baia near Naples and the Christ of the Abyss statue in Portofino, but now I can add the medieval ruins of Capodacqua Lake to my Italian dive log.
When the call for underwater adventures is stronger than anything
If you have followed me the entire year, you know I had a busy year: Florida, Scotland, Hungary, France, Italy, Malta, Canary Islands, Belgium, Netherlands and England. But when an acquaintance met 3 weeks before at a scuba divers meet-up party in Paris, offered me to join his group of scuba divers for a once in a lifetime underwater experience, I couldn’t say no.
My agenda was full. I had to “buy” time to make it happen. I did it by doing a 48h scuba diving road trip. I didn’t sleep much that weekend. Especially since I was coming back from Southern France on Friday evening and I needed to be on the train for Belgium on the next Monday at 6.30am. No choice, I had to fly early Saturday morning and fly back as late as possible on Sunday evening. Despite the tiredness I accumulated doing so, I do not regret a single second what I did. Sometimes, it’s better not to think too much. Book that flight ticket and let the adventure comes to you. Was this dive site that unique to be worth all my efforts? Listen to this…
Capo d’Acqua Lake (also written Capodacqua) is an artificial lake created in the 1950’s to irrigate the nearby fields and now used for hydropower. Naturally filled by springs from the surrounding mountains, its crystal clear water offers visibility up to 40m and hides a secret. Before there was a lake, a long, long time before, there were 2 mills and a paint factory with some houses, streets and bridges using the running water as a source of energy. Buildings are said to be from the Middle Age, but no exact date can be found. Judging that the nearby medieval town of Capestrano has a church from the 12th Century and a castle from the 13th Century, I can only guess it should be around that period. If half of the main building of the paint factory can still be seen above the surface, the remainings of two mills are entirely submerged. The walls are far from being intact. The earthquakes that regularly happen in the area took a toll over the centuries. Nevertheless, one of the mills still have walls with interesting architectural details while the other one only kept the foundations but with the metal blades of the waterwheel still visible!
Moreover, we were attending the very first event of its kind: the Capodacqua Night & Colour. It was organised by SML Sub-events in partnership with Atlantide dive centre, the only organisation who has the right to organise diving in Capodacqua Lake which is on private land. The concept was to do a night dive while the ruins are lit with different colour lights. Benefits from the event were going to the families of the nearby towns who suffered from the recent earthquakes of 2016. If while scuba diving I can do some good at the same time, it’s even better.
For such an adventure, I’m up to anything: finishing packing on Friday at 12am, waking up Saturday at 4.55am, taking my taxi at 5.15am, being at the airport before 6.00am, taking off at 7.20am, landing in Rome at 9.30am, having breakfast in the airport at 10.00am, picking up my cute rental Fiat 500 at 11.00am, after 2h30 driving from Fiumicino to Capestrano, I was so excited to arrive… “so when do we dive?”
Capo d’Acqua & Capestrano: hearty food & medieval castle
I was so proud to make it to Capo d’Acqua on time. But after saying hello and introducing myself to a group of super friendly Italian, French and Belgian scuba divers, it all started with food… a lot of food! On the way to Capo d’Acqua, I had made a stop on one of the fantastic Italian motorway petrol station, as usual, the shop was filled with delicious food, and I couldn’t resist a mozzarella tomato focaccia sandwich and a cafe macchiato.
“Why did I do that?” I told myself, as mouth-watering food kept coming in front of me. I understood there was no chance for an afternoon dive as everyone was enjoying a very long lunch in the large and elegantly decorated restaurant of the tiny village of Capo d’Acqua. I was full, but I couldn’t stop tasting everything because all the dishes were so tasty and so different from what we may call Italian food abroad. I thought that as it was fresh water diving, for sure, I wouldn’t need too much weight on top of my drysuit!
After lunch, I was offered to tour the medieval town of Capestrano, overlooking Capodacqua Lake. This way we could explore the area while waiting for the night so I could start diving directly with the fantastic Capodacqua Night & Colours event! Capestrano is so close, you shouldn’t miss it when visiting Capodacqua. The tiny town has unfortunately suffered from recent earthquakes (2006, 2009). Most buildings had scaffoldings to hold them. Nevertheless, the charm of this ancient town on the slopes of the Apennine Mountains with its 12th Century Church and 13th Century Castle is undeniable. Don’t hesitate to go inside the Castle, the visit is free, and the view from the wall is breath-taking. We got a stunning purple sunset over the top of the snowy mountains. After our tour, we cheered with a glass of Aperol Spritz (Aperol + Prosecco + a slice of orange, my favourite drink in Italy) at the only bar in the village, right next to the Castle. The inhabitants were quite puzzled to see so many people!
I finally took my quarters in the charming “Agriturismo” (B&B) that was my home for the night. It was a superb place, with a terrace and a garden overlooking Capodacqua Lake and Capestrano Castle in the background. The house was made of carved stones, fully equipped with a kitchen, cakes and a coffee maker for breakfast and a comfortable bathroom for relaxing warm showers after the dives. I was literally in the middle of the Italian countryside to scuba dive, and I loved it!
Diving in Capodacqua Lake night and day
As a result of my afternoon arrival on Saturday, my first dive in Capo d’Acqua was directly a night dive. When I approached the lake, I could already see at the surface yellow, green and blue spots of light. Knowing that preparing my scuba diving equipment in the dark is not the easiest thing, I had already put my undersuit and my dry suit to the waist and prepared my underwater housing for my camera at the B&B. As the diving centre was just downhill on the lake shore, that was the easiest option. But still, putting my BCB on the tank, adjusting my regulator, worse, dealing with my direct system hose that was slightly loose on the first stage gave me enough struggle in the dark. I closed my dry suit, adjusted my weight belt and carried my equipped tank to the shore to just put it on my back at the very last moment. Finally, here I was, sitting on the metal stairs, fins on, mask on, ok!
The dive guide of Atlantide dive centre, asked me”Did you dive here before?”, I answered “No”.”OK, easy, just follow me and don’t touch anything!” We first descended to our max depth: 7m! Diving Capodacqua Lake is indeed shallow. It might look like that any beginner can do it but before you think to come to Capo d’Acqua, make sure to know how to do a proper frog kick. Lake diving usually includes thin particles at the bottom of the lake that can completely mess up the visibility for your dive buddies if you kick regularly.
At that time of the year, in December, water was between 12°C and 13°C so even if it can be done in a wetsuit, a dry suit is a better option (I didn’t see anyone with a wetsuit by the way). Scuba diving with a dry suit in shallow water can be really tricky: not only you need to fin kick correctly, but you need to be appropriately weighted and in total control of your buoyancy which is usually more complicated at low depth.
We did the night dive on the right side of the lake, the one with the mill that has the taller remaining walls and the paint factory that is half submerged. It was where SML Sub-events had put their genius light systems in Capo d’Acqua ruins. The lights were not only in different colours but some were blinking and changing colours. As I was discovering the ruins of Capodacqua Lake for the first time, being in such extraordinary conditions made my experience even more magic.
Very quickly, I understood that taking pictures in such low light conditions would require me to make a lot of settings I had not the time to do if I didn’t want to lose my buddies and our guide. The very few pictures I took at the beginning of the dive were completely blurry. I think the only solution to take a clear picture would have been with an underwater tripod. So I figured out the best option would be to film and extract the best images from the different videos. It worked perfectly even though I have to say the quality is just not the same than taking a picture (At that moment I thought that a 4K camera would have worked amazingly).
My favourite parts of the dive were the small bridges and the remaining arches of the building lit in purple and yellow, an entire tree that was in blue light and the bright green carpet of aquatic plants that was recovering one of the ancient roads. At an average depth of 5m, I knew I had absolutely no worry to have about my air consumption with a 12L tank. I could completely focus on my videos but also not to lose my dive buddies. To capture the beauty of the lights in the dark, I had to switch off my video torch light. I was just turning it on sometimes to indicate to our guide I was still there. One hour later, I felt we were only down there for 15 minutes.
On the next morning, we woke up at 8.00am (amazing, I finally slept in a bit!) to be the first divers at the lake. After breakfast in the sun (love December in Italy) with strong mocha coffee and chocolate chip cake, I jumped again in my dry suit too happy to finally discover Capo d’Acqua underwater ruins in the daylight. This time, it was nice to prepare all my gear in the sun. This dive site is truly exceptional and I decided to add it to my list of the best diving in Europe.
This time, we started on the left side to check out the mill that still has its metal waterwheel. Visibility was not as good as the famous 40m I heard of but still a good 20 to 30m. I could finally in the day light, switch back to picture mode. The underwater ruins of Capo d’Acqua being shallow, you get enough light from the surface to give an interesting contrast between the stones and the blue background.
After swimming along the foundations of the second mill that is much more damage than the first one, I could see all the details of the waterwheel that has just a few stones and plants inside. We then followed a long straight wall leading us to the part I dived the night before. It felt like flying around an underwater ghost town. Unlike my experience of the Roman site of Baia near Naples, which is an actual archaeologic site, here you can clearly see the buildings, the roads and the bridges of the medieval village of Capo d’Acqua. The last part of the dive was in a super shallow part at 3m, completely covered in grass as we made our way back.
Happy of my second and last dive, I drip-dried as much as I could my scuba diving gear and my dry suit. The advantage of fresh water diving in a lake is that the equipment is already rinsed! 30 minutes later, I had packed everything and freshened up with a warm shower. I was ready to take the road for the last amazing part of my incredible Italian weekend: Rome!
All roads lead to Rome
When you fly to the Eternal City to go scuba diving and the only time you went there was when you were 15 with your junior high school… how to resist checking if you still love Rome that much, even for a few hours?
Important tip if you’re going to Rome by car: Hopefully, I checked the parking restrictions that apply in Rome before leaving the airport on Saturday morning. My initial plan was to go on Saturday to Rome before going to Capodacqua, but non-residents are not allowed to park in the historic centre of Rome from Monday to Saturday in the streets. More information can be found here.
I initially put in my GPS a parking space that was close to Coliseum. I found on-street parking space off the main road and next to a hotel. It was perfect and looked safe, but still, I made sure to leave absolutely nothing on the seats and to not open the boot at any moment to avoid anyone to potentially see I had a scuba diving bag inside. I wasn’t entirely reinsured, but everything went well, the car was still there with all my stuff inside.
With my travel buddy for the day, who was taking same return flight, and I were a bit starving after our dive and our long chitchat during the 2h30 driving, we started by indulging ourselves with delicious pasta with a glass of Aperol Spritz (again! I told you, I really love it!). We were literally 5 minutes walking away from the Coliseum but not right next to it. The food was good, and so were the prices in a very cosy atmosphere. I’m happy to recommend the Archetto di Cavour (197 Via Cavour).
We started by the Coliseum, only externally to take a few awesome pictures and selfies. My favourite one was certainly the old yellow Fiat 500 with the Coliseum in the background. We continued our walking tour by crossing the Roman Forum, which is a 15,000m² archaeological site right in the middle of the city. A few shots later, we turned on the right before the massive white Victor Emmanuel Monument also called in Italian “Altare Della Patria”, to take the direction of the Trevi Fountain.
I have no idea how crowded Rome now is in the summer, but when we arrived, the square around the Trevi Fountain was packed. I wanted to finish my tour by the Spanish Steps, a place I kept lovely memories with all the purple flowers and the church on top, but in December, flowers are gone, and the stairs were packed too. Yet, I was happy to be there and to immerse myself again in the Roman atmosphere.
While making our way back to the car, we went across a few curiosities like this house that almost looked like a monster that would swallow you if you open the door! There is so much more to see that I promised myself to come back in Spring or Early autumn to get lost in the different districts of Rome. I was quite happy with what we managed to do in only 2 hours without rushing.
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Photo Credits: Emmanuel Back (Cover Picture)
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