Posted 16 August 2018
SURPRISE MAINLAND PACKAGE
You don’t have to stay on a Greek island to enjoy Greek diving with all the trimmings, and ‘best-kept secret’ Epidavros offers its own argument for a mainland base. STEVE WEINMAN reports
Posted 16 August 2018
You don’t have to stay on a Greek island to enjoy Greek diving with all the trimmings, and ‘best-kept secret’ Epidavros offers its own argument for a mainland base. STEVE WEINMAN reports
SURPRISE MAINLAND PACKAGE

IT’S EXCITING TO VISIT ancient ruins and let your imagination run riot. The less you know about a site, the more riotous the imaginings. Whether it’s Pompeii, Carthage or Stonehenge, it’s easy to lose yourself in the mystery of history – yet somehow nothing matches seeing the remains of the past beneath a layer of sea water.

Call it the Atlantis Factor, but somehow the experience seems more exclusive. Years ago I was conducted with great ceremony to dive a site off the Greek island of Kalymnos referred to as the Lost City of Potha, said to have remained unseen to all but a few archaeologists for 1500 years. It was fun but to my untrained eyes little resembling a city could be recognised.

But now here I am drifting excitedly over a network of finely paved roadways and walls, interspersed with a clearly defined well (full of water!) and the remains of massive embedded globes, all broken at the top. In ancient days these were called dolia, earthenware vessels far bigger than amphorae and used for bulk storage of wine, oil or wheat.

It’s exciting in a way that exclusive Potha was not, and yet I must come clean, because the sunlight dappling what’s left of a 2nd-century BC Roman settlement in Greece indicates the truth – these remains lie no deeper than a couple of metres, and I am merely snorkelling over the top to take in the view.

We’ve come to associate Greece with jealous preservation of its wealth of historic underwater remains, yet this site, known as the Sunken City, can be visited freely by anyone who cares to do so.

There has been talk of encasing it in a giant glass cage, but everyone knows that will never happen. Greece has so much to preserve but so few funds to spare for the task, so pragmatism rules.

 

I’M STAYING in the town of Epidavros in mainland Greece, an easy two-hour car-ride south-west of Athens and on the other side of the Saronic Gulf, so straightforward to access from the UK.

I realise that Greece probably has more “best-kept secrets” than most places, but Epidavros is one, and it’s outstanding.

If my archaeological snorkel was a shallow experience for a scuba-diver, many other experiences offered by the town’s only dive-centre Epidive are on the deeper side of the recreational spectrum – not necessarily because they have to be but because Epidive likes it that way.

During my week we’ll veer between 40m dives to visit a modern wreck and another with a single amphora (which I won’t get to see, as I’ll explain) and an outstanding cavern with unusual occupants that would have been worth the trip by itself.

The dive-sites are scattered along the coast or off the nearby islands of Kyra, Agistri, Egina to the east and the volcanic peninsula of Methana to the south.

I often get a good feeling about places before I visit them – in this case I wasn’t sure at first, but by the end of the week I was already planning in my head a return non-working visit to Epidavros.

Epidive has been run for the past few years by Yves le Jannou, an accomplished French diver who tells me he has been diving since he was eight (which means about half a century’s experience).

Yves wants his guests to have fun both on the boat and under water and, as far as I could see, they do.

Yves employs an almost entirely female team, with a rotation of youthful interns, some learning to dive as part of the experience, and some permanent.

He also had two British assistant instructors, James and Vicky Martin, who were not only excellent company on dives, on the boat or on dry land but worked hard to put Yves’ plans into practice.

I would say that there was at times a certain “creative tension” between Yves, who works tirelessly from dawn till late but does have a tendency to try to communicate his plans using telepathy, and his crew who, as a consequence, have become good second-guessers.

For all that, it appeared to be a rewarding relationship (though I did hear later that James and Vicky had moved on). 

Kalymnos gave me my first taste of Greek-island diving, and my Epidavros trip came not too long after my first mainland experience near Athens (In The Lap of The Sea Gods, January 2017).

I enjoyed all of these and other trips, in large part because Greek diving becomes part of a seamless package that includes spectacular scenery and ancient ruins, plentiful food and drink, the culture and the native generosity.

The latter really shows itself in Epidavros, which seems to have attained a certain status by word of mouth yet where, as several people told me, the cost of living can be half that of the fashionable islands.

Despite the country’s economic woes, this is a place where they’ll insist on supplying overflowing starters, salads and sweets even if you only asked for a main, and you’ll barely notice the difference on the bill. If such hospitality gives pleasure, I’m grateful to be a recipient.

Epidive’s centre is close to the jetty and right next to the comfortable Posidon Hotel, where I was staying. It’s good to be able to stroll onto the front for breakfast and watch everyone hard at it preparing the kit and the boats – there’s nothing like watching others work. We cast off at a civilised 9.30 or 10.

The deep amphora dive I mentioned was definitely an odd one. I’ve seen quite a lot of amphorae over the years and wouldn’t go out of my way to see a single one, however beautiful the sponge growth I was told decorated it.

In this case we descended to 38m or so and were regrouping when it transpired that a very experienced guest diver, who had opted to try out a drysuit in earnest for the first time, had misunderstood his instructions and omitted to put any weights in his BC pouches.

Fearful of any attempt on his part to ascend in this delicate state, weights were sent for and duly dispatched and fitted, while other divers made sure that the guest didn’t go involuntarily ballistic.

By the time everything was sorted out, I for one was about to go into deco and, as it didn’t seem worth staying, thumbed up.

There had been no sign of the amphora, so I had fired off a few snaps of what appeared to be an abandoned cephalopod midden of discarded shells.

Only later did Vicky tell me that she had seen the site-owner, an octopus “almost as big as me”, scrambling to conceal itself beneath its detritus on my approach.

It needn’t have hurried – I hadn’t captured so much as a protruding tentacle on my memory card.



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