My instructor, Alex Diamond, and I were checking out what was around La Fourmigue, a large rock formation by the bay’s lighthouse. The weather that weekend wasn’t exactly the greatest for diving – it’s hard to believe the French Riviera would be capable of anything other than superb weather, but in fact it was somewhat miserable and the water was cold and lumpy. On the plus side it made diving all the more interesting.

Clad in 15mm-thick neoprene to insulate my body from the post-winter waters, sporting extra weights on my belt to counteract the buoyancy of all that rubber   and trying to silence my nervous giggles so I could get the regulator in my mouth, I rolled backwards into the sea, flapped around like an upturned turtle for a few seconds, gained my composure and then gave my instructor the all-clear signal.

Then down we went, into the depths of the Med to explore its underwater scenery. As a beginner, the choppy waters played havoc with my limited capabilities and therefore my ability to relax. The only way to counter this was to go even deeper where the sea was calmer.

But before we could do this, I suddenly felt someone pin me to a rock and begin fiddling with my weight belt. Scared I was victim to an underwater mugging I began thrashing around, terrified. Of course, no one was trying to attack me at all – it was just Alex trying to stop me shooting to the surface after my weight belt had come loose. It had slipped down around my thighs and I hadn’t even noticed because of all that rubber. I probably wouldn’t have felt it if a shark had tried to bite my leg off (it would have had a hard time getting through the two wetsuits I was wearing anyway).
I held onto the rock with all the strength I could muster while Alex tightened up my weight belt. It wasn’t an easy feat with the currents in the water.

If that wasn’t enough, I got a cramp in my leg too. Normally your diving buddy would stretch out the cramp, but since mine was busy adjusting my weight belt, I had to stretch out the cramp myself, while desperately holding onto the rock to stop myself from bubbling to the surface like a Michelin man. Crisis averted – time to get in the swim of things.

As we descended, Alex pointed out all manner of marine life and underwater formations.

He showed me a mini village that was built in the ’60s, complete with a Roman amphitheatre, fort, churches and bridges.

There may not have been the array of colour I was used to seeing on the Great Barrier Reef, particularly with the weather conditions that day, but the different marine life was certainly enough to keep me amused. Among the creatures we saw were spiny starfish, painted wrasse, flabellina (tentacled sea slugs), spirographe (plumed sea worms), scorpion fish and a moray eel.

After half an hour of swimming around checking out the local submarine delights, I’d almost forgotten my underwater drama.

The following day shaped up much better. The weather was kinder, the water was smoother, I was more relaxed and this time I kept a check on my weight belt.

Sitting on the deck of the boat heading back to shore after my fourth dive in two days, that familiar feeling swept across me.

I was riding the blissful post-dive sensation. I looked at the cloudless sky, the glinting water and picture-postcard scenery. What more could you ask from a diving weekend?

» Amanda travelled to the Côte d’Azur with Diamond Diving who offer a range of PADI courses. Weekend diving packages start from £229, including transfers, four nights’ B&B accommodation and five dives (no flights).
See or call 01908-234 030 (UK) or 061-530 5223 (France).

For beginners

If you’ve never scuba dived before, it’s wise to do a ‘try dive’ before shelling out money on courses and equipment.
Many dive schools linked to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) offer Discover Scuba courses, which last about two hours and take you through the basics of scuba in a confined environment, like a swimming pool. It costs around £40 and some schools will give you a discount if you join up for another course afterwards.
If you decide you want to learn how to dive properly, get in touch with a local PADI or BSAC (British Sub Aqua Club) dive school or centre to find out about the courses they offer.

The most common starting point for beginners is the PADI Open Water Diver course. You’ll need to complete a series of competency-based exercises during confined water dives, as well as a number of theoretical tasks in the classroom to obtain your Open Water Referral, before being let loose for the second part of the course – four open water dives.
Some people complete the theory and confined water dives in London and then do the open water dives in an exotic location abroad. The great thing about doing it that way is you don’t waste your holiday time stuck in the classroom or pool, when you could be checking out the underwater world.

» See or

Gearing up

If you’re serious about scuba diving, you’ll probably want to get your own gear. Using rented equipment is like wearing someone else’s shoes. It takes a bit of getting used to and it probably won’t be the best fit. Similarly when you have your own gear, it’s more likely to fit properly and you won’t need to adjust it every time you wear it or spend time trying to work out how it all fits together.

If you’re looking at buying equipment, the first things you’ll want are a mask, snorkel and fins. The two most important things when shopping for these, as with all scuba gear, is fit and comfort. The last thing you want when you’re 25m beneath the surface is to have a poorly fitting mask or uncomfortable fins.

The next piece of equipment worth thinking about is the buoyancy control device (BCD), which is the inflatable jacket that you strap your air tank to. Again, make sure you choose one that fits properly and is comfortable to wear.
You might also want to consider a wetsuit. Remember what you buy will depend on where you intend to dive. If you’re diving in warm tropical waters, you’re unlikely to need a full-length suit, but if you’re diving in cooler waters you’ll be best served by a full-length suit or even a dry suit.

While your own equipment will probably fit better and be more comfortable, it might be inconvenient and expensive to take if you are travelling to exotic locations. Weigh up the pros and cons before you go shopping.

Places to dive

Le Donator,
Porquerolles La Londe

A classic wreck dive located at Les Îles de Porquerolles. This is a very sizeable cargo ship that was sunk by a mine in stormy weather just after the end of World War II. It often benefits from excellent visibility and is home to much life, most noticeably forests of purple gorgonians that carpet the sides of the hull, creating a stunning sight.
Wow factor★★★★★
Marine life★★★

Le Rubis, Cap
Cavalaire St Maxime
Le Rubis is another quintessential wreck dive on the South of France . A mine-laying submarine that saw extensive service during World War II and accounted for a large number of ships as casualties, Le Rubis was scuttled by the French navy to serve as a navigation marker for submarine exercises. She lies between 34 and 41m and is often exposed to currents.
Wow factor★★★★
Marine life★★★

L’Enfer de Dante,
La Fourmigue
Golfe-Juan (Antibes/Juan-les-Pins)

A deep-rock dive, possibly the finest in Antibes. The head of the rock is at 15m and the site descends down to 60m and beyond. Spectacular topography gives the slightly scared diver the impression of spiralling down the layers of hell, hence the name (which translated means Dante’s Inferno). It’s a great spot for big barracuda and dentex hunting.
Wow factor★★★★
Marine life★★★★

Le Poisson Lune
St Raphaël

Circling in an outer arc around the L’île d’Or (inspiration for a Tintin book!) are a number of deep pinnacles that start at a depth of anywhere between 15 and 35m. This site is particularly rich in marine life, but is reserved for divers with good deep-diving experience as the shallowest point is at 30m. There are a number of rocky outcrops and a drop off that descends down to 50m. Keep
a lookout for lobsters, mostelles, large scorpion fish, grouper, gorgonians and much more.
Wow factor★★★★
Marine life★★★★

Cap Estel Nice
A favourite dive out of Nice, this is extremely diverse and rich in fauna and flora and with a fascinating topography of
swim-throughs, canyons, tunnels and pinnacles. There’s loads to see and masses of ground to cover with a maximum depth of 35m.
Wow factor★★★★
Marine life★★★