Pearl of the Atlantic

Only a few leagues from the French coast, emerald or ruby in the silver ocean, there is a happy island that providence seems to have carved with a touching care.

So goes an old local song from LIle dYeu, a small, warm-weather isle lying off the coast of South Brittany.

Southernmost of a string of isles including Les Glenans, Ile de Groix, Belle Ile, Houat and Hoedic, Yeu is known as The Corsica of the Atlantic for its kind climate, beautiful flowers and whitewashed villages.

Divers, though, can appreciate the islands other great beauty - its underwater scenery. The picture above was taken by French diving photographer Francis Le Guen on a recent visit to Yeu, which he affectionately terms a pearl of the Atlantic.

Yeu offers all that you might expect of an Atlantic seaboard island, rising from a rocky bed and washed constantly by the ocean currents. Its waters, says Francis, are usually very clear and contain a wonderful array of marine life.

Until recently, he says, not many divers visited Yeu, because of the lack of a diving infrastructure. But now this is changing. I went to Subevasion at Le Meule, a port in a natural cove halfway along the south coast.

Diving with his camera gear, assistants and lighting equipment, Francis was staggered by the number of bass, bibs, conger eels, red mullet and other fish that abound.

They inhabit both the big, heaving kelps and the more open spaces which make up a subterranean landscape of rocky floors, ledges, gullies and shoreline caves.

Even hanging in open water during decompression stops, the divers could admire fencing schools of garfish, and silver shoals of giltheads flashing swiftly by.

But you know, says Francis, above all Yeu is an island of shells and crustaceans. I mean, every restaurant ashore offers big cockles with cream!

In less than 20m of water you find all sorts of crabs, including spider crabs; and lobsters of different kinds as well, such as sleeper lobsters and squat lobsters.

This happy state of affairs is, he says, due largely to a repopulation policy agreed by Yeus fishermen, to protect their way of life. By contrast, divers are somewhat newer to the scene. In fact, concludes Francis, underwater exploration of LIle dYeu, pearl of the Atlantic, has only just begun.

Divers can reach LIle dYeu from the French mainland by boat, hydrojet or helicopter. Details of travel services, diving facilities and accommodation can be obtained from:

  • Tourism Office, Place du Marche, Port Joinville 95350, Ile dYeu, France (tel. 00 33 51 58 32 58; fax 00 33 51 58 37 60).
  • French tourism offices in Britain may, too, be able to help with enquiries.

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