A FRIEND OF MINE commutes to Barcelona. He gets on a plane early Monday morning and returns on Friday night. While that’s not something I’d like to do every week, it made me think.
Long weekend trips are all the rage with city-break enthusiasts, but few divers join in the fun. The ethos is that a dive trip needs to be for at least a week.
But with the Mediterranean Sea so close to the UK, and no-frills airlines running several flights a day to many destinations, the short dive trip is set to be a new discipline in dive travel.
There is, of course, an elephant in the room – the 24 hours’ grace required before flying after diving, but with careful planning it’s possible. Fly out late Thursday or early Friday morning; dive Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and be back on the plane after a day of sunning yourself with an ice-cream or two on Monday, ready for work on Tuesday. Three days of diving for a couple of days’ holiday.
Many dive centres these days are offering special long-weekend deals that include diving, accommodation and even airport transfers in some cases. Out of season, the deals are even better, and think of the conversation when you’re back at work:
“Had a good weekend”
“Yeah, I dived a World War Two aircraft.”
That certainly beats the usual: “Didn’t do that much really.”

WHERE TO GO
Choosing a short trip is not as easy as sticking a pin in a map, because travel time is all-important. So I’ve based my suggestions around the north-western Mediterranean, with Malta and Gozo as the furthest destinations.
Flying time is 2-4 hours, and the locations all offer fairly easy access to airports served by no-frills airlines that operate at least daily flights.


GIBRALTAR
Fly to: Gibraltar.
Diving: £68 for a two-tank dive (eight-dive package £200).
Accommodation: From £90 in a 4* hotel.

Sadly, like the British Empire, Gibraltar has seen better days. The Rock is crumbling and straining a little, but it’s still a great place to dive.
Don’t expect it to be a hustling and bustling destination, because these days most holiday-makers opt for the resorts along the coast in southern Spain.
The shopping district still gets busy, however, as does the cable car up to the fort to see the Barbary apes.
However, the dive sites are exceptional, and classic Mediterranean reefs are joined by a profusion of real wrecks that will keep you amused for a good long weekend.
Night-diving is awesome in Gibraltar, and the harbour provides a safe environment, with little or no current.

SPAIN
COSTA DEL SOL
Fly to: Malaga.
Diving: Four-dive package 140 euros.
Accommodation: Self-catering apartments to 5* hotels. Most dive centres have access to accommodation options.

The Costa Del Sol is the natural home of the British holidaymaker. It offers a vast range of accommodation choices and, with the housing market currently in the toilet in Spain, good deals on private villa and apartment rentals can be found.
Ask around your friends, as chances are that they will know someone with an apartment in the area.
Popular dive resorts include Marbella, Estapona and Malaga, although there are a host of smaller resort towns along the southern coast.
The area is not a renowned diving destination, but has a good number of wrecks and marine life ranging from sunfish to nudibranchs and other small critters for divers to photograph.

L’ESTARTIT
Fly to: Barcelona or Girona.
Diving: Four-dive package from around 120 euros, depending on season.
Accommodation: Prices start around 40 euros per night in a guest-house, although other options are available.

MAINLAND SPAIN’S BEST-KNOWN DESTINATION is found in the Girona region, commonly known as the Costa Brava. The Medes Islands have been a marine reserve for many years and provide a glimpse of how the Mediterranean should be. Diving permits are required, so book in advance to ensure that you don’t miss out.
Best avoided is the busy summer season of July and August, when booking a bed and a dive space may prove impossible.
The place is superb for diving, one of the few off mainland Spain where Mediterranean grouper are common. You can sit in clouds of sardines, swim through gorgeous geography and see plenty of other fish too.
I once sat in the middle of a swirling group of Mediterranean barracuda as they hunted smaller damselfish bunched into a cleft in the ridge along which I was swimming.
With only 400 divers allowed in the marine park a day, and more than a dozen dive centres, you need to book.
But if you go on the spur of the moment and find all the spaces gone for one day of your trip, don’t despair – outside the marine park you’ll find several good wreck dives that are better than nothing.

MURCIA
Fly to: Alicante.
Diving: Dives cost 30-45 euros depending on whether it’s a boat or shore dive.
Accommodation: Self-catering apartments to 5* hotels. Most dive centres have access to accommodation options, and some have short-break deals with prices around 250-300 euros, including diving.

MURCIA IS THE GATEWAY to the diving around Mar Menor (Inland Sea), which encompasses Cartagena in the south to Alicante in the north, and includes famous areas such as Torrevieja and La Manga, which is famous among golfers.
For serious divers the area is good for wrecks, although many are over the 40m mark. They take their wreck-diving seriously here, and because it’s the Mediterranean and can be exceptionally clear, depths can seem deceptive.
The depth has however kept many of the wrecks intact, so serious wreck-divers will be pleased with what’s on offer.
The shallower dives tend to be classic Mediterranean rocky reefs, with plenty of gorgonian sea-fans but otherwise sparse marine life. For a few dives, this suffices.
Being reasonably close to Madrid, this area sees a huge influx of local divers in summer, so September and October are the best months for quieter weekend breaks, although it’s still best to book in advance.

SPAIN
MINORCA
Fly to: Mahon.
Diving: Four-dive package from around 140 euros.
Accommodation: Prices start around 80 euros per night in a hotel, although other options are available.

OF SPAIN’S BALEARIC ISLANDS, the best for a short break is Minorca. With its cave systems and wrecks, it provides the best diving of the three.
The island survives on the tourist trade, so amenities such as accommodation, restaurants and so on are easy to find and fairly inexpensive, although as you’re on an island you will find prices a little higher for some things.
There are a wealth of dive sites, some accessible from the shore, others boat dives. Most people go to see the limestone caverns, of which Pont en Gil is the most impressive, and a personal favourite.
It has to be one of the easiest real caves to dive.
There are others, but most have been cut by the sea and lack the slap-in-the-face scenery of
the true flooded caverns. Hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites are found, and in calm conditions you can surface at the back and climb out to investigate the cave. At this point, you are almost 200m inside the island.
There are also several wrecks. The Malakoff is always the one people talk about, a French cargo steamer that slammed into a large rock and sank to the 40m seabed within minutes.
This genuine wreck has been down long enough to become covered in marine life. Sadly you never get that long to explore it, so for a short break the Francina may be a better bet.
It’s rather smashed up, with its remains scattered from the surface down to about 22m, but there are no currents, good visibility (in calm weather), plenty of life – and you don’t have to worry about a too-short dive time.


FRANCE
FRENCH RIVIERA
Fly to: Marseilles or Nice.
Diving: From 40 euros per dive. Some centres offer dive and accommodation packages.
Accommodation: Prices start at around 70 euros per person per night in a hotel, although other options are available.

FROM MARSEILLES IN THE WEST to Nice in the east, the French Riviera offers a good range of easily accessed diving opportunities.
This is the birthplace of modern diving and now, it seems, one of the homes to long weekend diving breaks.
There are dive centres all along the coast, although if you don’t speak French the diving opportunities are a little limited.
It’s no different to a French-speaker visiting the UK and expecting to deal with boat-skippers.
However, in recent years a few French centres have seen the benefit of attracting foreign visitors, and one or two British-run centres have also opened up.
Diving-wise the area is classic Mediterranean, with rocky reefs and caverns to explore, and
the standard sort of marine life.
But most divers come to see the wrecks, and get the rest as a bonus.
This being the Med, the best wrecks can be reasonably deep, but nitrox is commonly provided, as are technical diving facilities.
Most French Riviera wrecks are real in that they met their demise either through collision, bad weather or war. Wrecks such as the submarine Rubis, freighters Grec and Donator (pictured) plus a handful of WW2 aircraft are in easy reach, and it’s possible to plan a mini-tour to get the best dives in without too much hassle.

FRANCE
CORSICA
Fly to: Bastia (north) or Ajaccio (south).
Diving: From 30 euros per dive (slightly more for Lavezzi Islands). Dive packages are available from a few centres.
Accommodation: Prices start at around 60 euros per person per night in a hotel, although other options are available.

AS THE FRENCH RIVIERA is a wreck destination, so too is Corsica.
There are wrecks all around this Mediterranean Island, which the French bought from Genoa.
The Lavezzi Islands are shared with neighbouring Sardinia, which is Italian. Across the Bonifacio Strait these islands are home to lots of dusky groupers (see Sardinia). However, the wind often blows down that channel and makes diving the islands tricky, if not impossible, as I found out a couple of years ago.
So a better option is to hope for the Lavezzi Islands and plan for something else.
If you are an aircraft-wreck nut, Corsica has just the tonic for your ailment – a virtually intact WW2 B17 bomber in just 24m of water. It’s off the northern town of Calvi.
If the wind is whistling around the southern reaches of the island, Calvi has access to several decent sites, some of which are wrecks. On the other side of the island are a couple of other aircraft wrecks off Bastia, so you could make an aircraft-wreck pilgrimage and base yourself in two locations.
That would be a cool weekend to brag about!

ITALY
SARDINIA
Fly to: Cagliari (south) or Olbia (north)
Diving: From 45 euros per dive. Some dive centres can offer package deals.
Accommodation: Prices start at around 60 euros per person per night in a hotel, although other options are available.

IF YOU LIKE BIG GROUPER, Sardinia is great for a long weekend. The Lavezzi islands to the north are among the best places in the Med for getting close to dusky grouper. They are fed, so associate divers with food, but being protected, there are lots of them.
The dives in the Lavezzis cost a little more, as the islands are further from shore, but well worth it. The dives around the northern archipelago are OK, but Lavezzi outclasses them.
Apart from the big fish, Sardinia is a great place for cavern-diving and has a superb wreck, which could be a target for a wreck-diving weekend.
The KT12 was a German cargo transport taking supplies to North Africa when it was pounced on by a British submarine in 1943.
The British torpedo broke the KT12 in two. The bow is not that exciting, but the larger midships and stern sections are a great dive, and off to the side, leading eventually to the bow, is a trail of military logistics and engineering vehicles and lots of oil drums.
At around 30m deep and in clear water, KT12 makes an atmospheric dive, and is large enough to concentrate on for a whole long weekend. But it may take a group of you to persuade a dive centre to go back to the same site time and again.

MALTA/GOZO
Fly to: Malta – take the ferry to Gozo.
Diving: 35 euros per dive (most centres have diving and accommodation packages). Gozo: From 130 euros per person with three days’ diving, airport transfer and accommodation from some centres.
Accommodation: Prices start at around 40 euros per person per night in a guest-house, although other options are available.

MALTA AND GOZO are at the fringes of a long-weekend dive trip. Because both are shore-diving destinations you can dive from the moment you set foot in the dive centre until the 24 hours before your flight, and cram in as much as you like.
A dive centre with a set schedule will make logistics of just a few days tricky, so hire a car, go it alone and use the centre just for air-fills and equipment hire.
If you prefer to be shown around, joining a dive centre’s schedule is a must, which might mean that an extra day is needed.
Malta and Gozo have so many dive sites that it would be hard to pick out any specifically to dive. Malta is the larger island and tends to be better for wrecks (in fact it sells itself as a wreck destination these days) and Gozo is more for scenery aficionados.
While most of Gozo’s dive sites can be reached by car or minibus, to see the best Malta has to offer requires a boat. The famous sites of the Blenheim bomber, HMS Stubborn and even the P29 require a boat to reach them, but make good dives.
For shore-diving wreckers the HMS Maori, Rozi and the large Um El Faroud are all accessible from shore.
Not much is left of the Maori these days, but it remains in my opinion the best wreck on the island. It is smaller than the Um El Farou, less exciting than the Blenheim bomber and less-visited than the Rozi, but it has a hell of a story behind it.
Gozo’s wrecks are tame in comparison, and unless you like looking at submerged VW Beetles or delicate nudibranchs hardly worth the effort, as there are plenty of other sites around Gozo.
The Blue Hole and Inland Sea are the small island’s most popular sites and they get busy during the summer, so dive them early or late.
Most centres on the island run a fleet of minibuses, so you will see a varied set of sites no matter where you’re based.

IN-FLIGHT
AIRLINES No-frills and scheduled airlines serve many of the destinations here. If you plan on using your own equipment, check the baggage restrictions carefully and pay for the right amount when you buy your ticket, because it will cost more at the airport.
Of the no-frills airlines, divers are best served by Easyjet, because it has a decent sports-baggage voucher system.
However, don’t discount British Airways or other scheduled airlines.
BA has a reasonable luggage allowance and can work out cheaper than the no-frills companies in the end.
BAGGAGE For a couple of days’ diving, do you really need to hump your gear around Do yourself a favour and rent from your dive centre.
Most main European centres these days are well-run and stock up-to-date rental gear.
PACKAGE DEALS Many centres are waking up to the long-weekend-break system and have package deals in place that include diving, accommodation and even airport transfers.
If the centre doesn’t indicate that it does a package deal, ask. Many might surprise you. If they have access to accommodation, chances are they have a package price worked out.
INSURANCE Even a short trip can turn and bite you. Frequent travellers should take out annual insurance cover, but if you plan to go only once or twice, your dive centre may offer UK-based dive insurance by the day.