As you walk along the docks in Cannes France admiring one multi-million dollar yacht after another, it is easy to daydream and imagine you are the owner of one of those beauties. Like a sea turtle being drawn back to the beach where it hatched, yachts seem to be drawn to the French Rivera for the “season”. This is where the rich and famous come to be “seen” and where the rest of us come to see those wanting to be “seen”. Maybe our favorite movie star is there. They have been doing it for over 150 years, and it not likely they will tire of it soon. Cannes is famous for its film festival now in its 70th year and a number of other festivals that attract visitors from around the world.
People come to enjoy the beach clubs with crystal clear water and wide beaches. The nightlife is extensive and a trip to one of the casinos almost mandatory. A walk along the main beachfront street will take you pass designer shops. Everything you see says affluent, Cannes has more yacht brokers than most cities has used car dealers. Côte d’Azur is the name in French for the English name French Rivera.
Still, not everything is for the rich and famous. As I was walking at the old port, where local fisherman have their boats and the visiting boats are only in the 100’s of thousands and not multi-million dollar range, I came across a dive boat tucked between two sailing yachts. To be honest, I never gave much thought to the French Rivera as a diving destination. The French Rivera brings to mind many things but diving, for me, was not one of them. I talked briefly to a couple of divers getting off the boat and they told me of the incredible dives they had. My thinking started to change.
Diving The French Rivera
The diving season along the Côte d’Azur runs from April to November. Some of the dive operators are open year round and can provide full boat charters offseason. Of course, if you own one of the mega yachts you can hire a dive guide anytime.
There are five dive operators in Cannes, which took me a little by surprise. However, when I went to Fédération Française d’Etudes et de Sports Sous Marins (FFESSM) (French Federation of Undersea Studies and Sports) Côte d’Azur region website, I found many more. There are 177 clubs and 59 commercial enterprises (SCA) within the Côte d’Azur region. Some of the clubs and SCAs are not scuba diving but most are. The commercial dive operators have daily operations during the dive season as do some of the clubs.
There are also hundreds of different dive sites along the coast. Most of the dive centers and clubs have over a dozen nearby sites and many of them have 30 dive sites to choose from. There is a range of different types of dive sites as well. Wreck sites are common, with a number of WWII ships ready to be explored. The military wrecks tend to be deeper but many are still in the range of the advance and deep diver. The visibility is generally excellent and current mild if any at all.
Where to Stay to Dive
If you do not have your own mega yacht to sail along the coast search for your own special dive sites, you will likely pick one or two locations to dive from. Here is a quick look at some of the places along the Côte d’Azur that you can dive at:
Nice: Nice is the fifth largest city in France by population and the second largest in the French Rivera. Its airport is considered the gateway to the Rivera. There are a number of dive centers located around the city mostly near the port area or over at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. There are over 35 dive sites in this area within a 15 to 30 minutes boat ride.
Antibes: The municipality of Antibes is located about 15 kilometers west of Nice and is about halfway between Nice and Cannes. Most of the diving is done from the village of Juan-les-Pins which is known for its spas and health resorts. The village is to the west of the main town on Golfe Juan where most of the diving is done. There are also trips out to Îles de Lérins. These islands are close to Cannes. The dive centers of Juan-les-Pins visit about 30 different dive sites that are within 30 minutes.
Cannes: Lérins Islands ( Îles de Lérins) are a group of four islands about 15 to 20 minutes boat ride from Cannes. The two largest islands in this group, Île Sainte-Marguerite, and the Île Saint-Honorat, is where most of the diving happens from Cannes.
Saint Tropez: Another well-known name for the rich and famous. Also an outstanding dive destination. Along with dive centers in nearby Sainte-Maxime and Port Grimaud you have access to over 60 dive sites.
Hyères: Hyères is often said to be the original French Rivera, was a destination for the famous and royalty in the 18th century. The town still has its medieval old town. While the other destinations of Côte d’Azur are an international mix, Hyères is mostly a domestic destination. The diving is exceptional often cited as the best in the Mediterranean Sea. The National Park of Port-Cros & Porquerolles islands is dived from Hyères. The park was the first national marine park in France and is the largest in Europe. There are also a number of shipwrecks in the area. Over 40 sites are available for divers with some exceptional sites that are perfect for beginners.
There are many more dive destinations tucked away along the coast. Each offering the diver something special. There are enough dive sites to keep you busy all year.
My short visit to Cannes was an eye-opener for me. I have added the Côte d’Azur to my bucket list right at the top.