Italy, often overlooked by visitors as a diving area due to the rich culture and history found on land. In spite of this divers can explore caverns, a multitude of wrecks with historical significance, all found beneath the water’s surface.
Diving in Italy
Italy is one of the most visited countries in the world, and for good reason. The boot-shaped country has a myriad of UNESCO heritage sites, is rooted deep in the history of the Roman Empire and of course, incredible pasta and pizza. Situated in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea and with 7,600km of coastline, Italy and its 450 surrounding islands are the perfect place for some underwater exploration.
As the Meditteranean Sea has seen plenty of ship traffic, wreck diving is popular, with many wrecks having historical significance. The Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia offer clear waters alike to those in the tropics while if you sail the Tuscan Archipelago, there is plenty of pelagic action to discover. The dive sites around Italy vary significantly, with the opportunity for technical divers to descend beyond recreational limits or beginners to soak in the unfamiliar rush of a drift dive. Explore caverns and caves, statues and artefacts from the past, or ditch the saltwater and enjoy a spectacular freshwater wall dive in Lake Garda. Near Naples, it is possible to dive the sunken city of Baia, where divers will encounter mosaic floors, villas belonging to Emperors and rising columns all while underwater - pure magic! At certain times of the year, the awe-striking ocean sunfish basks in the cool waters of Italy while dolphin can often be seen cresting with the waves.
While scuba diving in Italy, a whole host of dive centres can be found along the lengthy coastline, with inland dive centres found in the north close to the freshwater lakes. Surrounding Italy’s best dive locations there are several impressive dive resorts providing dive trips to nearby dive sites. To explore the Tuscan Archipelago and the larger pelagic marine life, liveaboards sail the area where eagle rays and barracuda are witnessed. Italian dive centres offer a full range of dive courses and with a number of wrecks lying on the seabed, it is the ideal place to become a technical deep diver or complete a wreck diving speciality.
Best time to dive
The weather in Italy is typically mild by European standards with water temperatures ranging from 15°C to 26°C dependant on the time of year, location, and depth. While there is only a few degrees difference between the northern and southern areas of Italy, Italy’s largest island - Sicily - offers the warmest waters and is home to some exceptional dive sites. Italy diving is best from April through to October when the water temperature is the most comfortable. July and August is the height of summer with the surface temperature peaking at around 29°C while during winter, surface temperatures drop to less than 10°C. Visibility also ranges widely, with some of Italy’s best diving at the Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
Scuba diving in Italy provides the chance to see the majestic spotted eagle ray, swooping onto the seabed to find the next meal. Venturing into the Tuscan Archipelago, it is very likely that divers will encounter eagle rays from April through to October. During March through to May, when the Italian waters are cooler, oceanic sunfish have been spotted and seahorse can be witnessed clinging to seagrass from April through to October. Dolphins are regular visitors to the Mediterranean Sea and are most prominently seen in the months of June, September and October.
Types of diving
While travelling from the north to the southernmost tip of Italy, the type of diving varies greatly. Liguria is a region of northwest Italy, with the capital of Genoa, and a popular tourist destination. Portofino is the centre of diving here and is considered the birthplace of Italian scuba diving. Located nearby are the villages of Santa Margherita Ligure and many impressive dive sites. The most famous site is the Abyss of Christ, installed in the bay at San Fruttuoso in memorial to the diver Dario Gonzatti. The sculpture lies at 16-metres and makes for some excellent underwater photos.
In the Tuscan Archipelago, Elba provides megafauna lovers with their fill of pelagic action as well as breathtaking drop-offs. Elba can be reached via ferry from Piombino or on a visiting liveaboard. Further south, Rome has the incredible Costacuti Reef with a wall that plunges well beyond recreational limits. Close to Rome, the Merro Sinkhole can be found. Here, the second deepest underwater vertical caves can be found at the bottom of an 80-metre conical pit. Situated between Rome and Naples, the volcanic archipelago of Isole Pontine offers interesting topography, including caves, caverns, grottoes, and wrecks.
The region of Puglia provides the chance to discover the Turkish shipwreck of Tevfik Kaptan and several cave systems while a ferry ride to Sicily will find divers among shipwrecks which originate from the Roman Empire to WWII. In Sicily, it’s possible to take another ferry to Sardinia to explore dive sites with caves and caverns such as Elmo’s Rock.
What to see
The Meditteranean Sea holds a unique array of creatures. While diving on wrecks, statues, and pristine reefs divers will discover giant moray eel and the venomous scorpionfish - so make sure not to touch! Lobster, octopus, conger eel, and seahorse are seen among incredible coral formations and fabulous gorgonian sea fans that are unlike any other found in the world. While sailing via liveaboard on the Tuscan Archipelago, diving Elba and its surrounding islands will find divers encountering pelagic species. Schooling barracuda, groupers, yellowtail tuna and amberjack are often seen at these offshore dive sites as well as eagle rays arriving from the deeper blue. During the right season, lucky divers may experience dolphin and whale sightings!
Best places to dive
Elba Island, Tuscan Archipelago
At Elba, Punta Di Fetovaia will find divers surrounded by stunning red, white and yellow gorgonians which carpet the seabed at 20-metres. After passing the spectacular array of soft coral, at around 40-metres divers will reach the entrance of a cave which is teaming with lobsters and scorpionfish. Pelagic fish including barracuda and amberjack coast past while large schools of chromis flit around. With excellent visibility and the possibility to stay shallow or head deeper into the cave, the site provides both novice divers and experienced with an incredible dive.
Those looking for an adventure should head to St. Elmo’s Rock as well as the Grotta del Nereo in Sardinia. The Grotta del Nereo is a series of caves and tunnels reaching over 350-metres. There are three used entrances to the caves. Two are quite shallow and suitable for less experienced divers while the deeper entrance is at 30-metres. Usually, the dive takes the form of entering through the deeper entrance with its swim-through chimney before exiting through one of the shallower openings. Slipper lobsters, octopus, red coral, nudibranchs, and the largest mussel species in the world, the Pinna nobilis fan mussel, can be found here.
Located between Milan and Venice, Lake Garda offers spectacular freshwater dive experiences. Encounter the ‘Silent Christ’, a giant statue by the local artist Germano Alberti, which is located 15-metres deep. Swimming along in waters with low visibility before the ghostly figure of the Silent Christ appears surrounded by deep blue water and tiny lake shells. After seeing Christ it’s then necessary to come back and see Madonna! Descend again to 15-metres deep where you will encounter a statue of the Virgin Mary. Advanced divers can continue to follow a line that reaches a 40-metre deep amphitheatre with several rock formations attracting a variety of fish.
Located just off the coast of Sicily are the three column-shaped rocks of Aci Trezza. Known as the Cyclopean Rocks, according to mythology, this was the land where the cyclops Polyphemus lived - the son of the sea god Poseidon. One day, the Polyphemus flung rocks at Ulysses resulting in the spectacular rock formation of the Aci Trezza. While diving here, giant gorgonian sea fans and colourful basalt can be observed. The site is home to numerous wrecks which date back to the Roman Empire and as recent as WWII. If you want to uncover history while scuba diving in Italy, Aci Trezza is the site to visit.
If you are interested in wreck diving, make sure to visit the Saint Lucia wreck. Situated off the coast of Rome, the wreck, which was sunk in WWII, is no longer in one piece. However, the anchor, propellor and stern handrail are all intact and provide excellent photographic opportunities. Lying at 44-metres deep, the Saint Lucia and its abundant marine life is a well-known dive highlight when visiting Italy.