The Wining and Diving series sees Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown embark on a tour to tickle the taste buds as well as to discover amazing dive sites in wine-making regions around the world. Some of the best wines are influenced by sea breezes and a coastal climate, allowing two of Nick and Caroline’s passions to be combined into one epic journey.
**Please note, Nick and Caroline are not encouraging drinking before diving! The two activities are kept well apart on each of these trips.
The Costa Brava is a hugely popular destination for those seeking sunshine, but it has much, much more to offer that just beaches and bars. One advantage to the huge number of tourists heading in this direction each year, is that the flights are competitively priced and go from all our major, and some smaller, airports. We had heard that there was some excellent diving around the Medes Islands and we got the opportunity to head to L’Estartit for a long weekend to check it out, as well as exploring the local region to sample its excellent food and wine. We flew into Girona, which is about an hour away from our coastal base and flew back to the UK from Barcelona, about 2 hours away from L’Estartit.
Our diving was to be based around a group of pinnacles called the Medes Islands. These can be reached by a very short boat ride from L’Estartit and are a series of weather-worn rocks rearing up out of the sea. The islands and the sea that surrounds them have been a marine reserve for over 30 years and the protected area immediately around the island excludes all fishing and hunting activities as well as throwing anchor. A much larger area, which is increasing in size all the time, has a series of further protections, to prevent any harmful fishing activities and preventing all but the handful of local line fishing boats from coming into this area at all. This protection, over a long period of time, has made these islands a mecca for divers.
The rock formations, when you go down to around 20m are covered in amazing gorgonian corals. Red, orange, yellow and pink corals cover the walls, anemones fight for space, so that dives are packed with colour. The fish life is also excellent. We encountered large octopus and grouper on all the dives. Schools of smaller fish patrol the shallows, barracuda form large schools and circle in the sunlight and blennies hide in every small hole that can be found. We also saw the biggest scorpionfish you are ever likely to see! On the short boat ride back to shore between dives, we encountered mola mola.
In our short stay, we got to visit 4 dive sites over 2 days of diving. Our first dive was actually on the main coastline rather than the Medes islands themselves. In flat calm water, basking in sunshine, we dropped down to find a series of overhangs, tunnels and caves to explore. Barracuda glinted in the sunlight near the surface and we were treated with an octopus poking out of a crevice on our slow descent. Closer inspection of the reef revealed both huge and tiny nudibanches, camouflaged scorpionfish and blennies hiding in every hole in the coral. It was a great dive, topped off by seeing a Mola mola, or sunfish, at the surface from the boat on our short journey back to harbour. After a bite to eat, we were back on a boat and heading for our first dive of the Medes Islands.
Les Farranelles is one of the smallest islands in the Medes Islands. The dive ranges in depth from around 8 to 40m. As you go deeper, you find more and more rock formation covered in amazing corals. Large grouper hang motionless in the water and even come up to divers to see what they are up to. As you come up shallower, you can spend time looking for tiny critters on boulders closer to the surface. Moray Eels hide between the rocks, with their cleaner shrimp companions.
The next day we dived El Salpatxot, where a vital marine ecosystem of sea grass shelters juvenile fish. This dive site is on the largest of the islands and so can provide some shelter for divers in windy conditions. However, for us it was another perfect day, with visibility of about 15m, flat seas and the water temperature which suited our 5mm wetsuits well (around 21 degrees). Our final dive was to be one of the most famous dive sites in the area: Dolfi Sud (or Dolphin South). The site is named after a small statue of a dolphin that can be found at the entrance of one of the many caves that make up this dive site, one of which cuts right through the island from one side to the other. Grouper patrol the caverns that, at certain times of day, are flooded with sunlight. Conger eels lie tucked away in the caves too. It is a great site for those that like to explore.
Our diving over for this trip, we picked up our hire car and planned a route with the tourist board that would allow us visit some of the best, though not well-known, vineyards in the area and to be able to sample the fabulous local produce. This part of Spain is famous for olive oil and wine, as well as great food. We took our car up into the Roses region to sample some of what was on offer. Much of the area on land, as well as at sea, is nature reserve too, so the growers of olives and grapes follow a more traditional way of production, using organic methods and shunning heavy machinery. Our first stop was to a local co-operative, Empordalia, who work with local farmers to bring to market, the wines, olive oil and other local produce to sell in their shop and café. The wine, especially the sweet, red wine, and olive oil were wonderful and so we decided to bring some home with us (regardless of our tight weight limit on the plane!)
We then headed further towards the coast to visit a vineyard that was run by the granddaughter of the founder, Col de Roses. She whisked us into her 4×4 and said I have something to show you. She drove us through the stunning coutryside down to the coast, along smaller and smaller roads, until we were driving through the terraced national park along her vines. All this so that she could show us her sea view vines that get their cooling straight from the sea breezes. “You are divers” she said, “so am I – I thought you would like this!” We did. Up on the terrace, with got a chance to sample the wines and then, to our delight, she gave us 3 bottles to bring home and try in our own time (packing really was going to be a problem!)
Our final stop was to a gourmet restaurant, called Terranova, for lunch. This was to be no ordinary lunch, but a tasting menu, where food seemed to be never-ending, each small course being accompanied by a local wine (for Nick – who was not driving). We sat on the terrace, in dappled sunshine and loved every minute of it. Our tour was a perfect day trip from L’Estartit. The tourist board have created wine tours for all those that fancy a go at this and provide maps and recommendations to help you along.
As a final bonus, with our return flight from Barcelona, we got to do a quick day trip, taking in a leisurely walk up Las Ramblas, stumbling across a festival with human towers reaching scary heights with tiny children in crash helmets at the very top, jumping on a bus tour around this stunning city, all before heading to the airport and home.
Why Skopelos should be your next summer dive destination!
Earlier this year we were given a fantastic opportunity to visit Skopelos in the Sporades Islands in the northern Aegean Sea. This green, mountainous island sits at the edge of the largest marine park in Europe, the National Marine Park of Alonissos and Northern Sporades. We were to focus primarily on scuba diving, but during our short stay we were especially impressed with the equally diverting topside options in Skopelos.
Our short stay meant we just got a glimpse of the great diving on offer, however our hosts at Skopelos Dive Center in Panormos treated us to some brilliant sites just a few minutes from shore. From nudibranchs, shoals of damselfish, large groupers and shy octopus to caverns and swimthroughs featuring rainbows of light. The variety of marine life and topography we encountered was outstanding.
One of the most incredible experiences was the chance to dive the wreck of the Christophoros, an 83m long cargo ship sitting upright on the seabed, with the deck at 32-35m. The large, well preserved and stunning wreck is a joy to dive. It is also located just a 2 minute boat ride from shore in a sheltered and current free location with great visibility, creating the conditions for a great dive. We had a few days of truly wonderful diving and we could certainly spend much longer in this fabulous holiday destination!
What makes Skopelos special?
This island is one of the less visited Greek islands with a very relaxed and friendly feel, even though it is really easy to get there – many airports in the UK offer flight connections directly to Skiathos (the hub of the Sporades) May through October. The diving is excellent and there are many dive sites to enjoy. Lastly, the variety of non-diving activities makes for a full vacation experience. Boat trips into the National Marine Park take you to visit secluded beaches and give you a chance to see some amazing wildlife, the Mamma Mia! tours are excellent fun, and numerous small, beautiful seaside villages with great tavernas and beaches are a delight to visit.
As a destination, Skopelos really has everything you could ask for both for a diving holiday and a fun summer vacation. Look for our full print article in an upcoming issue of Scubaverse’s own Dive Travel Adventures magazine!
Municipality of Skopelos (https://skopelos.com/)
Skopelos Dive Center (https://sporadesdiving.gr/)
Ionia Hotel (https://www.ioniahotel.gr/en)
Dolphin of Skopelos (https://dolphinofskopelos.com/)
Ta Kymata restaurant (@takymata)
The Muses restaurant (https://www.facebook.com/TheMussesMousses/)
Aktaiov resturant (https://skopelos.com/listings/aktaion-taverna/)
Amazing Alonissos – The all round dive vacation destination
In early summer we were given a wonderful opportunity to visit Alonissos in the Sporades Islands in the northern Aegean Sea. This green and forested island sits at the edge of the Alonissos National Marine Park, the largest marine protected area in Europe. Our main focus was to be scuba diving, but during our short stay we were especially impressed with all of the other activities and experiences available on Alonissos for the discerning vacationer.
The scuba diving was really outstanding. In contrast to some areas of the Mediterranean, the marine biodiversity here was impressively diverse and abundant. Our short stay meant we just had a small taste of the diving available, however our hosts at Alonissos Triton Dive Center treated us to some exceptional sites from their impressively long list. The variety of marine life we encountered was a delight: large Gorgonian sea fans, many species of nudibranchs, small pipefish to large groupers, octopus, and much more.
One of the most incredible experiences was the chance to dive the oldest accessible shipwreck in the world, the Ancient Shipwreck of Peristera underwater archeological site from 500 BC … an amazing dive site with a very unique automated underwater museum monitoring system in place to protect its archaeological heritage. It was a busy but hugely satisfying few days of diving and we could certainly spend much longer on this idyllic isle!
Greece has a huge number of beautiful islands to visit, so why choose Alonissos?
This island is one of the quieter Greek islands and as such has a very relaxed and welcoming feel, where you can find an authentic slice of the Aegean region. And, it is really easy to get there — so many airports in the UK offer flight connections directly to Skiathos (the hub of the Sporades) that you should not have to drive more than 100km in the UK to an airport.
Finally, the variety of non-diving activities is hard to beat. There are boating day trips into the National Marine Park, taking you to visit secluded beaches and giving you a chance to see some amazing wildlife (such as monk seals, Eleonora’s Falcon, and several species of dolphin to name a few). Both the main port town of Patitiri and the old village of Chora are full of interesting shops, charming alleyways, and restaurants with delicious meals. As an added bonus, the Alonissos cheese pie is a particularly moreish local specialty!
As a holiday destination, Alonissos really had everything one could ask for. Look for our full print article in an upcoming issue of Scubaverse’s own Dive Travel Adventures magazine!
The Municipality of Alonissos (https://alonissos.gr/en/)
Alonissos Triton Dive Center (https://bestdivingingreece.com)
Alonissos National Marine Park (https://alonissos.gr/en/marine-park/overview.html)
Paradise Hotel (https://paradise-hotel.gr/)
Albedo Travel (https://alonissosholidays.com/)