Try something new this summer: go underwater
If you’ve never done it, why not add snorkelling to your holiday bucket list? The simple act of entering an otherworldly natural environment with nothing more than a mask, fins and snorkel is life-enhancing.
It’s also an enjoyable form of exercise for all ages. Travel expert Sophie Pither picks out Europe’s top snorkel destinations – why not choose one and dive in?
This idyllic little Maltese island (14km by 7km) is well known in snorkel-circles as Europe’s best snorkel and dive destination. The dramatic coastline provides caves, tunnels, arches and wrecks in clear, warm and strikingly blue waters. The spectacular north-west has Dwejra Bay and the Blue Hole, an underwater rock formation, once marked above sea by the Azure Window limestone arch, which sadly crumbled in a storm earlier this year.
Getting there: UK flights to Malta take around three hours, then it’s a ferry hop to Gozo. Many holiday companies will meet you at Malta airport and escort you to Gozo.
Off the coast of Pozzuoli, around 9km north of Naples, the Mediterranean holds a secret marked by an orange buoy. It’s the 37 BC sunken Roman remains of Baiae, a seaside town where emperors Nero and Julius Caesar once had summer villas. Sixteenth-century volcanic activity submerged Baiae and today it’s an underwater archaeological park. Gleaming marble, mosaics, columns and statues can be seen by snorkellers and divers, or from a glass-bottom boat.
Getting there: UK flights to Naples take around two and a half hours. Operators run snorkelling trips to the archaeological site.
São Miguel, Azores
The tiny part-submerged volcanic island Ilhéu de Vila Franca, a kilometre offshore from Azores island São Miguel, is an enchanting natural phenomenon. Classified as a Nature Reserve, the volcano’s crater has formed a wave-free pool linked to the open sea by a narrow channel. The calm, shallow water (1.3m to 3m deep) makes it good for families. It’s a unique snorkelling spot, with marine species including wrasse, parrotfish, moray eels and octopuses.
Getting there: UK flights to São Miguel take around 10 hours, via Lisbon. For Ilhéu de Vila Franca, take a small ferry from Vila Franca do Campo’s marina for just a few euros.
Mljet Island, Croatia
A green and fertile environmentally protected island, Mljet boasts clear, clean sea with a rich underwater life of sea urchins, sea cucumbers and coral reefs. Snorkellers also head for the island’s saltwater lake, Veliko Jezero. And for divers, Rikavica and Odysseus caves are fascinating and home to sponges, octopuses, scorpion fish, crabs and anemones.
Getting there: UK flights to Dubrovnik take around two hours 45 minutes. Ferries to Mljet from pretty Prapratno take 45 minutes each way, or one hour 30 minutes from Dubrovnik port.
Zakynthos’ Navagio Beach is strikingly photogenic, with sheer cliffs, turquoise water and a charismatic wreck on the sand. It’s only accessible by boat and is great for snorkellers, as the nearby cliffs have eroded into multiple caves and inlets, ideal for a nose about. It can get crowded in summer, so arrive early or head there in October or June.
Getting there: UK flights to Zakynthos (also called Zante) take around three hours 30 minutes. Boats for Navagio Beach leave from Port Vromi.
Prussia Cove’s rugged, grassy-cliffed, stony bay is a snorkeller’s haven. Walk half a mile down from the car park, then swim straight out to sea until you hit sand and a submerged island. Dive down over the kelp forest to see sea squirts and jewel anemones. There’s a grey seal colony nearby and the friendly mammals sometimes join you. You may even see a basking shark. Pick a calm day to avoid swell and pop on a wetsuit – it’s Britain.
Getting there: turn off the A394 at Rosudgeon, between Penzance and Helston, onto the road signposted Prussia Cove. There’s limited parking, so arrive early.
Sardinia’s rocky north-west coastline is good for family snorkelling. Costa Paradiso – between Santa Teresa di Gallura and Castelsardo – has 8km of jagged red-hued rocks providing inlets and pools for exploring straight off the various bays. In the coral reefs and clear waters, you can see starfish, shellfish, moray eels, and maybe dolphins or turtles. Local dive centres do PADI courses galore, and take divers out to wrecks and other sites, including the coast of Corsica.
Getting there: UK flights to Cagliari, Sardinia, take around two hours 45 minutes. Costa Paradiso is a three-hour drive from Cagliari.
Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Lake snorkelling has the advantage of current-free water. Lake Silfra’s clear glacial – yet warm thanks to geothermal geysers – Icelandic water also offers exciting deep fissures on the lake bed, where two continental plates meet. You’ll see freshwater fish but it’s the geographically wild location that draws visitors. There’s also a 120m lagoon carpeted with golden sand, making it clearer than a freshly run bath.
Getting there: UK flights to Reykjavik take about two hours 20 minutes. Thingvellir is a 35-minute drive from Reykjavik.
Safety tips: Snorkel in twos. If going into deeper waters, attach a bright buoy to yourself so boats can see you. Always get travel insurance before you go and seek expert advice where needed.
Remember that Benenden members can receive up to 15% off Benenden Travel Insurance, which covers you for snorkelling up to 10m and scuba diving up to 30m. Always check policy documents prior to purchase as conditions apply. Find out more here.