The garden does not stop at the water’s edge. Bormes-les-Mimosas is a picturesque Provençal hamlet and one of the world’s best dive travel destinations where the ocean is considered part of the greater garden. It’s home to the first marine park in Europe, a flourishing vision of what the Mediterranean could be, given a little time and protection.
DIVING IN BORMES-LES-MIMOSAS
Port-Cros is Europe’s first marine park, uniting terrestrial and maritime protection zones, and the result is spectacular year-round diving in the Mediterranean. Here you will find a flourishing marine-scape of sea grass beds, rocky landscapes, and wrecks, circled by large, healthy schools of barracuda and bream, and patrolled by respectably-sized grouper.
There is a wealth of dive sites in the area, most within a 30- to 45-minute boat ride. There is diving for all levels, although divers with some experience will probably enjoy it more, due to currents and depth.
DIVE SHOPS IN BORMES-LES-MIMOSAS
We dove with Bormes Plongée, a very professional outfit based in La Favière (a few miles from Bormes), offering everything from guided dives to training (new divers to more advanced certifications) from April through November; diving is by request from December to March. Most European diving centers expect divers to be fairly self-sufficient. If you need a little more attention, request a private guide. Also, the meeting point for the shop is in the harbor, via a rabbit-warren of alleyways. It’s not a bad idea to scope the location prior to dive day.
THINGS TO DO IN BORMES-LES-MIMOSAS
Perched on a hillside overlooking the sparkling sea, the 12th-century village of Bormes-les-Mimosas is a living, breathing town—not a preserved historical spot—with cafes and shops springing to life as the morning wears on.
Bormes is surrounded by 12 vineyards, and overlooks a natural coastline of more than 10.6 miles (17 km) of secluded, sandy beaches and coves, shaded by wild pinewoods. The area is a hiking paradise, with more than 100 miles (161 km) of paths.
The gardens of Domaine du Rayol, a 49-acre (20 ha) protected natural area about 10.5 miles (17 km) east of Bormes, contain Jardin des Méditerranées—more than 12 Mediterranean landscapes from around the world, including a high-altitude Chilean garden, flora from New Zealand (manuka, flax, and Nikau palm trees), and a Marine Garden. Don’t miss a guided garden tour of this underwater Mediterranean landscape. Equipped with swim fins, masks, and snorkels, explore Posidonia seagrass beds and examine the life that lives there.
No visit to Bormes is complete without day-trips to two meccas for ocean lovers. To the west is Sanary-sur-Mer, just beyond Toulon, about one hour’s drive from Bormes. Sanary-sur-Mer is where a group of friends—including Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Frédéric Dumas, and Philippe Tailliez—pioneered scuba diving techniques and equipment.
The Musée Frédéric-Dumas is a divers’ treasure trove, containing information (much of which is in French, but English translations coming) and early equipment, including the Aqua Lung designed by Cousteau and Émile Gagnan, and the first moulded weight belt, with weights designed in circular shoe-shine tins for size consistency. (Even the very first belt was designed to be a quick-release with one hand.) This place provides fascinating insight into the beginnings of scuba diving, as well as the love these pioneers held for the ocean.
About two hours’ drive to the east of Bormes is Monaco, home to the extraordinary Musée Océanographique de Monaco, an elegant institution built into the very rock of the coastline. It has kept a watchful eye on the oceans for more than 110 years.
This dazzling museum holds exhibits, historical collections, and aquariums intermingled with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sea, marble staircases, and mosaic floors. Displays are informative, interactive, and insightful.
BEST PLACE TO STAY IN BORMES-LES-MIMOSAS
We loved our stay at Hotel de la Plage. It has a traditional feel to it, with owners who really make an effort to get to know their guests. Centrally located and an easy 10-minute walk to the harbor, we met a lot of fellow divers here. The hotel has 43 comfortable rooms, with an on-site restaurant and half-board options (room with breakfast and lunch or dinner included). Closed October through April.
BEST RESTAURANT OR BAR IN BORMES-LES-MIMOSAS
Restaurant De L’Hotel De La Plage feels like dining with friends. Set on an indoor/outdoor terrace, and sometimes in the garden, the dinner menu (tasty and traditional) changes nightly, as do the bottles of wine they choose to open.
TRAVEL ADVICE (INSIDER TIP)
In France, divers need to have a medical certificate of fitness to dive that is less than one year old. You’ll be asked to present this at the dive shop before you’ll be permitted to dive. Get this sorted before you travel.
In 1902, Albert I of Monaco said: “The duty of Oceanography is to detect the hazards caused in all countries by the overexploitation, whether poorly regulated or improperly monitored, of the resources of the sea.” Since its inception, the Musée Océanographique de Monaco has dedicated itself to science, research, education, and the sharing of ideas. Today, its main focus is advocacy and outreach, connecting science to the general public and decision-makers. (Donation and sponsorship opportunities at the museum or via their website.) The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation is dedicated to environmental protection and sustainable development on a global scale, with a special eye on the Mediterranean. (Donations can be made via their website.)