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.
Jeff chats to… Ana Filipa Sobral, Founder of The Manta Catalog Project in the Azores (Watch Video)
In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Ana Filipa Sobral, Founder and Project Leader of The Manta Catalog Project in the Azores.
Ana Filipa Sobral is a marine biologist and conservationist based in the Azores Islands. She moved to the Azores in 2011 and once there, realised that this was one of the few places in the world where Sicklefin Devil Rays (Mobula tarapacana) gather in large groups, making it a strategic place to study them. She started the The Manta Catalog Project and through this project, collects photo ID and occurrence data on Mobulid Rays, with the precious help of divers and dive operators as citizen scientists.
Ana is also finishing her PhD which focuses on population genetics and connectivity of migratory elasmobranchs in oceanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The main goal fueling my research has been to help fill the knowledge gaps on elasmobranch biology and ecology to ultimately assist in the design of effective conservation and management plans aimed at protecting their populations in this remote region of the North Atlantic Ocean.
You can find out more about Ana’s important work at: https://mantacatalogazores.wixsite.com/mobulaid/project.
Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.
Jeff chats to… Arlindo Serrao, Founder of PortugalDive.com about diving in Portugal, The Azores and Madeira (Watch Video)
In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Arlindo Serrao, Founder and General Manager of PortugalDive.com. They talk about diving in Portugal, The Azores and Madeira, as well as The Diving Talks International Diving Congress 2022.
Arlindo describes himself as “a father of three, a cave diver, and I love to share what Portugal, the Azores archipelago and Madeira islands have to offer.”
“After 25+ years working in multinational companies, I decided to start doing it for fun! I founded Portugal Dive, the “We worry, You dive!“ concept: a boutique dive concierge that organizes group and solo trips for guests to experience Portugal’s underwater highlights on the mainland and in the Azores and Madeira. More recently I founded Diving Talks, an international diving congress that brings Portugal divers, explorers, scientists, researchers, to share with the diving community their most recent subaquatic achievements and discoveries.”
Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.