I WENT TO PAXOS for the first time last year, and fell in love with the place. It’s very laid-back, and offers spectacular scenery and great food. What more could you ask for? Well, how about some great diving?
Paxos is a small island off Greece’s Adriatic coast, just south of Corfu. A variety of craft ranging from hydrofoils to car ferries from the bigger island are the only way to get there, average crossing time being about two and a half hours.
As soon as you disembark in the little fishing port of Gaios, the dry heat and relaxed atmosphere hit you. Everything seems to slow down, and you feel the urge to adapt to that new pace of life.
My first dive was arranged through the local PADI dive centre I had found while still in the UK. It turned out to be a very small set-up, run from a garden shed.
After a somewhat unorthodox (virtually non-existent) checking of my diving credentials, I chose to dive the only wreck on offer.
The Old Father, a cargo ship carrying hundreds of tons of metal tubing, sank in 1982. It hit a reef following a failure in the steering mechanism and sank rapidly, luckily with no loss of life, and now lies at 25-70m. Local gossip tells us that it was an insurance job, but I couldn’t possibly comment.
The ship has broken in two, and the stern lies at depth. The bow and cargo holds looked interesting, but it was clear that my guide was not that interested in showing this wreck off.
A shame really, because there was quite a bit to explore, and some very large moray eels hiding among the scattered tubing. I came away from the dive feeling slightly short-changed.
That evening, while strolling along the beautiful natural harbour of Gaios,
I came across Oasi Sub, run by Angelos Mourmouris, a former Greek Navy SEAL.
Angelos claimed to have the best dives Paxos could offer, so I decided to give it another go, in the hope of finding something a little more interesting.

I MET ANGELOS the next morning in Lakka, on the northern tip of the island, and was immediately impressed by the very well-organised and spotlessly clean dive centre.
Although I always travel with my own dive equipment, I did notice the quality of the kit available for visiting divers. 
Angelos made me feel welcome. This time my credentials were checked properly and I was presented with the usual waivers and medical questionnaire.
Having established that I was not a novice diver, Angelos asked me: “Do you fancy something a bit challenging?”
Intrigued, I asked what he had in mind. The first dive, I learned, would be a WW2 German naval mine lying at 35m, and the second a cave system, where we would surface inside a mountain!
Being particularly interested by wartime wrecks and suchlike, I was intrigued by the naval mine.
Surfacing inside a mountain would be a first too, so excitedly I agreed.
Angelos had discovered the mine about half a mile off the entrance to the small fishing harbour of Logos. He showed me photos of what resembled a spherical rock, but assured me that it was a mine.
Off we set. Angelos was bemused by my 3mm suit – he was wearing a 7mm with hood. Navy SEAL? Please!
We dropped anchor on a reef half a mile off the coast. Water temperature was 25° at the surface, but down at about 15m a thermocline dropped that figure to 17°.
It was quite a shock to the system, and made me wish I had brought my 5mm, but no matter, it was tolerable. 
I was later told that water temperatures were much lower than normal last year.
We descended slowly on a shallow gradient in a clockwise direction around the reef. The bottom was fairly green at first, with a covering of algae swaying in the gentle surge.
Not much fish life, but the Adriatic is not the first place you would visit for that. The reef was covered with plant life and scattered with Dalmatian-style white-spotted rocks.
Angelos had previously explained that he thought there must be an ancient wreck in the vicinity, as he had found broken amphoras scattered over the reef. He would show me these on our ascent.
Down at about 28m, the algae gave way to pure white sand, transforming the ambient light. Angelos had said that he would let me descend to the mine first, to avoid sand particles being kicked up and spoiling my photos – very thoughtful.
He pointed down to the seabed, where the spherical object loomed. I was struck by the sheer size of the mine – it was big.
You could only imagine the damage it would have caused a ship unfortunate enough to come into contact with one of its hedgehog-inspired detonation triggers.

ONCE AN INSTRUMENT of death, the mine had taken on a new role as a reef. Covered with life and colour, its long steel cable tether was wrapped around it like a dormant serpent. The mine looked well beyond its sell-by date, but I refrained from tapping it with my torch.
Mines are a rare sight in our waters these days. The closest I had been to one before was in a museum. It was an eerie site – such evil weapons should have no place in our world, but Mother Nature had taken care of this one in her own way.
We ascended slowly to look for the amphoras – I love interesting safety stops. The amphoras were all broken up and fairly hard to spot at first among the nooks and crannies on top of the reef, but once pointed out they started appearing everywhere I looked.
The fragments were scattered over a large area in about 5m, presumably where a ship had once hit the reef and shed its load, though where the remains of the vessel now lay was a mystery. Angelos scours the area for clues as to how these amphoras came to be there.
I felt that I had been shown something special on the dive, and Angelos was clearly proud to guide me around.
It was time to cruise slowly to the north of the island and our next dive-site.
On this cave-dive we would surface inside the rock, but “on no account remove your regulator once we surface”, insisted Angelos. The air inside the mountain was very sulphurous and liable to make us ill, he warned me.
We kitted up and dropped to 26m, where a huge opening in the rock-face appeared. As we entered, the light quickly faded and our torches took over.
Swimming around the vast antechamber of the cave with its huge rockfaces made me feel very small.
We slowly started ascending between two walls covered in beautiful orange- and yellow-coloured life. The colours in this dark environment surprised me.
Towards the back of the second chamber we came to a wall that appeared to be moving. We were now at about 14m, with the enormous opening of the cave glowing a beautiful shade of blue behind us. As we got closer to the rockface, what had seemed to be an illusion turned out to be millions of shrimps scurrying all over the wall. I had never seen anything like it.
We carried on upwards through comfortably wide gaps in the rock. It was strange, because where before I had been able to make out the roof of the cave, now I seemed to be beneath clouds.
Suddenly the visibility disappeared altogether. We were in a halocline.
For those who have never experienced one, it’s quite a sensation. Just as a thermocline occurs where the water temperature suddenly changes, haloclines form where salt meets fresh water, and the water becomes white.
Once you emerge through to the other side the water becomes gin-clear, as if you’re now diving in thin air.
I could see the surface once again, and beyond it the roof of the cave.
When we surfaced, I had to put quite a bit more air into my BC to stay afloat. Why? We were now in fresh water. Duh!
It’s a strange sensation to be at the surface, where your natural instinct is to remove your regulator, but knowing that you can’t.
The rusty yellow-coloured rock loomed about 5ft above our heads and was rather beautiful. My computer was reading a depth of 6m – weird! We were still below the surface, yet at “the surface”. 
The inside of the mountain explored, we descended to 10m and swam along the roof of the cave towards what looked like an enormous blue pharaoh’s profile. The colour was vivid. We exited the cave and headed back to our boat.
Exciting, challenging, thought-provoking – that dive had it all, and I yearned to do it again.

I SOMETIMES HEAR dismissive remarks about Mediterranean diving. While Paxos may not have the wealth of wrecks that Malta has to offer, it does have a variety of dive-sites to appeal to both experienced and novice divers. It's a very relaxed, friendly place with beaches that could be mistaken for those in the Caribbean.
I explored several more beautiful caverns as well as repeating some dives, such as the wreck of the Old Father – interesting dives are often more enjoyable the second time around, and in this case in better company.
Plans are already afoot for a return to Paxos, because Angelos assures me that there is a lot more beneath the surface just waiting to be discovered.

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE A range of budget airlines fly to Corfu (time about three hours).
A 20-minute transfer takes you to the port to catch the ferry to Paxos. Crossing time is about 2.5 hours with Kerkyra Lines or one hour using the Dolphin hydrofoil. Scooters can be rented in Gaios and are a popular way of getting around.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION Oasi Sub, Lakka, www.paxosoasisub.com. The dive centre can help arrange a nearby hotel or apartments, or go to www.eritha-vassiliki-apartments.gr
WHEN TO GO May to October.
MONEY Euros.
PRICES Return flights London-Corfu from £190. Ferry to Paxos 15 euros each way. Apartments 40-60 euros a night. Two boat-dives 110 euros including kit hire, a 10-dive pack 480 euros.
TOURIST INFORMATION www.visitgreece.gr