Taking the plunge in France Dive right in: The Federation Francaise de Plongee can provide general information on scuba clubs.

Travel Q&A

January 14, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

I am an avid scuba diver who will be in the south of France around the third week of May.

Are there any dive boat operators in the area near the coast? And dive shops for renting equipment?

For general information on diving clubs it is best to contact the Federation Francaise de Plongee in Marseilles.

It can recommend centers along the coast that organize outings for beginners and experienced divers who wish to explore underwater ship and plane wrecks, caves, or simply rocks and marine life.

Divers must have a copy of their certification with them. They also can take their own equipment or rent it when they arrive at any of the recommended locations.

The following sites can be recommended:

* The island of Porquerolles, off Hyeres, near Toulon, is close to Port-Cros, a marine sanctuary. The Langoustier diving club, (33) 94.58.34.94, fax (33) 94.58.34.87, is open from April to October. Rates, calculated at 4.7 francs to the dollar, are $28 a dive, plus $6.50 for an instructor and guide and $17 for all the equipment you will need. Four dives cost $98, 10 dives $213.

* The village of Cassis, just east of Marseilles, sits between dramatic white, rugged cliffs called calanques that are full of good diving sites. The Centre Cassidain de Plongee, (33) 42.01.89.16, fax (33) 42.01.89.16, is closed in winter, but information is available by fax at any season.

Dives are held from mid-March to mid-November.

A single dive costs from $31 to $49, 10 dives from $278 to $458.50, depending on how much equipment is rented. Prices include a supervisor and guide.

* The area around Banyuls, another protected marine reserve, provides good opportunities to study life under the Mediterranean.

A good place to start is nearby Collioure, a charming port close to the Spanish border, where the diving club is C.I.P. Collioure, (33) 68.82.07.16, fax (33) 68.82.44.74. Dives start in April. Daily rate is $38 a person. Equipment is $4.25 a piece.

* Most divers agree that the most beautiful sites in France are to be found on the island of Corsica, a few hours' boat ride from Marseilles or Nice.

Information on Corsican diving centers can be obtained from the Association Grand Bleu Corse in Ajaccio; (33) 95.21.14.47, fax (33) 95.51.15.28.

Bonifacio, to the south, and Porto, to the west, are close to reserves.

* In Bonifacio, Atoll Plongee, (33) 95.73.02.83, fax (33) 95.73.17.72, organizes expeditions to the nearby Lavezzi sanctuary. Rates are $60 an outing, including all equipment, or $52 with just the air tanks. Each 10-dive package includes two free dives.

* The Gulf of Porto, known for its spectacular red cliffs, is a short boat ride from the Scandola marine reserve, a Unesco-protected site where the Centre de Plongee du Golfe de Porto, 95.26.10.29, fax 95.26.12.49, organizes outings. Rates are $32 to $47 a dive, depending on how much equipment is rented, or $296 to $423 for 10 dives. Open early May to mid-October.

My family and I will be vacationing in Trinidad and Tobago, in the West Indies, at Carnival time in February. Could you suggest some locations to view the celebrations and hear the steel bands?

Carnival, held this year Feb. 19 and 20, officially begins at 4 o'clock Monday morning and ends at midnight Tuesday. But for weeks before, visitors can hear the sound of calypsos being rehearsed and steel bands practicing.

At daybreak on Carnival Monday the streets of larger towns, including Port of Spain, the capital, are filled with masqueraders in various forms of elaborate dress for the Jour Ouvert Parade, a name that points to the event's origins among French settlers in 1783. Those of African descent began to take part in 1833, after passage of the Emancipation Bill. Monday evening beautiful costumes appear on the streets for the parade of the bands competition; Tuesday the masqueraders parade for the entire day.

More than a hundred groups of masqueraders, steel bands and calypso singers dance through the streets of Port of Spain on the second day, with the main route this year along Richmond Street. The spectacle is duplicated in towns and villages throughout Trinidad and Tobago.

Wherever you are it will be hard to escape the Carnival. If you are in Port of Spain, reserved grandstand seats and free bleachers will be available along Richmond Street. The parade ends in Queen's Park Savannah, also a good viewing area.

Grandstand prices have not yet been determined; last year's ranged from $7 to $8.50, calculated at $5.86 to the Trinidad and Tobago dollar.

More information: National Carnival Commission, 82-84 Frederick St., Port of Spain, Trinidad; (809) 623-8867, fax (809) 623-8880.

We recently learned there was a festival in Siena, Italy, last year on July 2. Is it an annual event and how many days does it run?

The festival you have in mind is the Palio of Siena, a noisy, exuberant and sometimes frightening horse race around the Piazza del Campo that dates to July 2, 1656.

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