Whenever we go on holiday we love to take our diving masks and snorkels with us to use on the beaches, so even before we visited Banyuls Sur Mer we were keen to visit the ‘snorkelling trail’ we’d heard about at nearby Cerbère marine reserve on Peyrefite Beach, just up the road from Banyuls Sur Mer.
There hadn’t been much to see underwater at the beaches we’d been at the week before around Barcelona so we were looking forward to trying out these new full-face snorkelling masks we’d bought – and the snorkelling trail at Cerbère definitely didn’t disappoint us, it was brilliant!
About 15-minutes’ drive south along the coast from Banyuls Sur Mer you’ll find the small village of Cerbère and Peyrefite Beach. It’s a small cove accessed via a rough gravel track with fairly minimal parking in a gravel car park, with some spaces along the roadside.
This isn’t a typical tourist beach with rows of loungers – it’s a far more natural (and beautiful) rocky cove and pebble beach with water as clear as glass.
Although it’s a pebble beach, it’s mainly small, soft-edged pebbles that were still comfortable to lay on (on beach towels) for the day – and being stones and pebbles means the water is clearer and more attractive to fish – ideal for the snorkelling trail.
It’s a beautiful beach to visit and spend the day at anyway, even if you’re not interested in the snorkelling trail – but ideally you should be as it’s fantastic.
To the left side of the beach (as you face the sea) you’ll see a roped-off area, which is the underwater marine reserve, and a row of five bright yellow buoys which mark out the snorkelling trail.
On the beach is a small hut where you can rent snorkelling equipment including flippers, diving masks, snorkels and, by far the most popular, the full-face all-in-one snorkelling masks.
It was only 3 Euros to rent one of these but, as it happens, we’d bought our own before the holiday, so were able to just head straight out to the snorkelling area…
Following the numbered buoys will lead you through the marine reserve area, across a variety of underwater terrain created as the surrounding cliffs drop dramatically in to the perfectly clear sea.
As soon as you get in and look beneath the surface there are fish all around you, right up to the shoreline before you even get to the first marker buoy – way more than we’d seen anywhere else we’d been so far this holiday.
From the beach, the distance between the buoys doesn’t look huge but, as we started swimming for buoy number one it was obvious the swimming distances were much further than they looked from the shore!
There were two of us to start with – me (Andy, dad) and our 14-year old Luke. We’re both good swimmers used to being in the sea and it was warm, calm and clear so we were quite happy swimming the distances between the buoys.
Bear in mind though, that if you’re not so confident or if conditions aren’t so good, that it’s a lot of swimming in some very deep water in places. As you progress along the trail there are some parts that are shallow where you can stand but, mostly, you’ll be out of your depth and in some places a long way from the shore with nothing to hold on to.
If you’re with younger children or not such strong swimmers, it’s worth having some kind of floatation aid like one of those swimming ‘noodles’ or a buoyancy jacket of some sort, just to take the strain of the long swim.
Having said this though, there were literally hundreds of others doing the trail when we were here – of all ages and abilities and everyone seemed to be getting on fine and having a brilliant time.
As we approached buoy number one the sea bed below us changed and began to fill with all different types of fish. It was so clear, as you looked down beneath you there were multiple layers of fish swimming below – from larger individual ones to big schools of small ones. None seemed to be phased at all by the swimmers floating around amongst them.
Each of the five yellow buoys has a handle you can grab on to for a rest and, if you look beneath them, each has a signpost under the water with information about the types of fish you’re seeing (all written in French, which we couldn’t understand at all!)
As we followed the trail the seabed beneath us changed from rocky outcrops covered in vegetation to ravines that suddenly plunge away in to the depths below, giving a great variety of underwater terrain.
It was really spectacular and the whole time, everywhere we looked, we were surrounded by beautiful, varied and colourful fish all over the place.
At a couple of points on the way we found places we could crawl out of the sea for a rest on the rocks (much easier in the calm conditions than when the waves picked up).
By the time we’d reached buoy number five (the final one) and got back again to shore, we’d been out for over an hour-and-a-half but we’d totally lost track of time as we were loving it so much.
We were especially pleased we’d bought a GoPro with us as it was perfect for testing out the underwater filming – and attaching it to the mount that was built in to the snorkelling masks we’d bought. Check out some of the footage we got from the GoPro in our video below…
A couple of things made the snorkelling trail extra perfect for us: Firstly it was really calm, flat water at the time. I think also the fact it was mid-day with the sun directly above us illuminating even the deepest parts of the trail clearly.
We stayed at the beach all day and went back to the snorkelling area again later in the afternoon, this time with our younger daughter (aged-10) and conditions had changed slightly.
It was still brilliant and full of snorkellers but perhaps the tide had changed and it’d got a bit more choppy. This made swimming a bit harder and the waters didn’t seem so clear and serene as first time around.
Younger children will definitely benefit from having something to help them float on the long swims between the buoys.
This was such a simple activity – completely free of charge and just a day spent in a beautiful, natural place enjoying nature – but was probably the highlight of our whole holiday.
If you’re staying in and around Banyuls Sur Mer, we’d strongly recommend taking the trip down to Peyrefite and the snorkelling trail – it was a brilliant day we won’t forget in a hurry!