Of all the places I’ve dived in, only one so far offered the possibility of gathering a vibrant city life with scuba diving adventures. This place happens to be in my homeland, in France, in the second largest town in the country: Marseille. This is why in my first years as a scuba diver I quickly went diving in Marseille and came back as often as I could.
Marseille: a seaside city with a vibrant Mediterranean culture
In 2013, Marseille was chosen to be the European capital of the culture. The capital of the culture in Europe is a program that exists since 1985. For one year, a city is designated by the European Union for the organisation of a series of cultural events emphasising on the richness of European cultures. The underlying goal is to foster urban regeneration, change the city’s image and raise its visibility on an international scale. The impact on this city has been tremendous! Special events, concert, art exhibition and even just walking around is fantastic thanks to all the art pieces distributed all over the city. Since 2012, we are assisting at the total rebirth of this city which exists since Antiquity.
The Old Port offers now a fantastic promenade with a mirror sunshade (l’Ombrière), a totally new National Museum of Mediterranean cultures opened, and it has an amazing black concrete lace style architecture. The old landmarks of the city such as Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde Basilica offer great sights as well. Ideally located on the highest point of the city, the view is breath-taking: 360° on the town and the Frioul Islands. A walking tour of the scenic Panier district (on the right side of the Old Port when looking at the sea) is also really charming if you want to wander around, taste some delicious navettes (orange blossom biscuits) or buy some traditional Marseille soap.
Marseille & the Calanques National Park
Marseille is also an amazing scuba diving destination. Not really known outside of France as the few foreign scuba divers coming to France are usually keener on going to Corsica or the French Riviera. Most scuba diving centres are located at Port de la Pointe Rouge, only 20 minutes by bus from Place de Castellane in the city centre of Marseille.
The Marine National Park of Calanques is the youngest of the national parks in France, as it was created in 2012, and covers an area from Marseille to La Ciotat including Cassis. Hopefully the positive impact will be soon visible like it is today in the National Park of Port-Cros and Porquerolles which was created in 1962. Don’t take me wrong, it doesn’t mean there is nothing to see today, this is actually quite the contrary. It is just going to get better and better as the years pass. Marseille made it to my list of the best diving in Europe.
Best diving in Marseille : top dive sites
The best dive spots are mainly located all around the Riou Archipelago, in the heart of the Calanques National Park. The playground for scuba divers is ideal: tunnels, caverns, canyons, walls covered with sponges, anemones and yellow and red gorgonian sea fans. The colours of the walls have nothing to be ashamed compared to some coral reefs.
The marine fauna is also rich: Inspect every hole and crack in the walls and you will be very likely to see moray eel, grouper and octopus. An enormous school of bream and sargo will “fly” all around you and if you are lucky you might even meet sun-fish (usually around the month of June).
I went diving many times in Marseille and these are my most memorable dives so far (maximum depth is of course adapted depending on every diver’s level):
- L’Imperial du Large, max depth 40 m (beginners divers usually go to the Imperial de Terre or Imperial du Milieu for shallower depths)
- La Grotte à Perez, max depth 40 m but the entrance of the cave is at 20 m
- La Pointe de Caramassaigne, max depth 40 m, my favourite dive in Marseille
For the wreck lovers, there are several fantastic sites, but here are the two best:
- Le Chaouen, a cargo ship from 1961, from 6 m to 36 m deep
- Le Liban, a steam liner from 1882, from 28 m to 36 m deep
When to go diving in Marseille?
Even if the water temperature can be cooler than on the French Riviera due to the currents going in the direction of Marseille, the best period for scuba diving is from June to October with a water temperature of 14°C at the beginning of the season to 24°C in the middle of the summer.
I recommend taking a 7 mm full suit with a hood to feel comfortable underwater, especially at the beginning of the season. But it seems the cooler, the better. I once got some extraordinary 26°C, but the visibility was lower. When the water is around 18°C, you can get some excellent conditions with visibility up to 25 m!
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