Mediterranean Living (and flying)

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Suss prepares for some evening soaring in Gourdon

The drive from Chamonix through to the Southern French Alps on the French Riviera is long and expensive. The drive was mostly uneventful and not particularly scenic after we left Courmayeur. Arriving to the smell of salty air where Alps meet the Mediterranean however was quite refreshing. Having grown up on the West Coast of Australia, salt air is in my blood and I always feel a special affiliation when it fills my lungs.

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Scenic is an understatement

We drove directly to the small mountain town of Gourdon which is mostly known for its castle that is perched high on the edge of a cliff that overlooks the flatlands that spread down to the ocean. It is also a well known flying location and we were all keen to try soaring off the parapets of the castle which was a touristic centre well known for its perfumes and soaps.

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Fuego getting comforatable

The weather predictions were looking positive and we settled a small camp on one of the paragliding landings. The small opening in the dry foothills surrounded by costal mountains was a beautiful place to camp and we cooked under the stars with the lights of Cannes and Antibes spread out in front of us.

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Waterbottle + headtorch = campfire

The next day our flying plans were foiled by strong wave winds from the north and massive salty fog rolling in from the sea. It was still nice to hike up to the take off 30min above our camp and check the view and read our books out of the wind!

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    Some days you walk down and try to smile while doing so
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Funky wave clouds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day we hiked up early and managed to take a flight in the weak morning thermals. As the days progressed the thermals became stronger and challenging. Having to hug close to the cliff face to get the unpredictable lift can be sketchy and it was hard work to gain any real altitude. After a few hours of flying I managed to push further up the ridge to a big golfball looking military radar where I caught my first real thermal of the day and raced a group of vultures up the thermals into the forming clouds. From there the view over the Mediterranean was incredible, coastline stretching around the French Riviera in a big arc as far as I could sea before the sea haze blocked my view. After that I pushed out over the Gourdon Castle and appreciated the scene from several hundred meters above. After a late lunch we went for an evening soaring session but just missed out as the wind died away to a calm and spectacular sunset.

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A real campfire and dinner with a view over the Med

We had an amazing few days of flying in Gourdon. The highlight for me was scratching back up the side of the cliff below the castle after coming back very low on a return glide. It was a tricky position because I was too low to glide to the official landing field and emergency landing options were very limited. The pressure was on. Flying close to the terrain, known as “scratching”, I gained only a metre or so every pass along the rock cliff in the unreliable lift. It was hard work and it took a long time to work my way up to the walls of the castle. Breathing a sigh of relief as I flew past the surprised tourists standing on the parapets who quickly upholstered their expensive cameras and fired volleys of pictures at me. On my last pass, I was close enough to give the smiley kid with snot running down his face a “high 5”. Spiralling higher and higher above the castle, back into the clouds was a wonderful experience. Our last night in Gourdon we camped on the Kennedy take off that overlooked the flats all the way to the Mediterranean. Cooking by our small campfire, drinking a glass of local wine and looking out over the valley was spectacular. The sunrise the next morning was even more impressive.

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Morning view from Kennedy

We had arranged to stay with some friends of friends when we arrived in Roquebrune, just outside of Monaco. The wealthy and tightly packed country of Monaco is a sight to see. Expensive looking skyscrapers and buildings all crammed together along the Mediterranean coastline. Huge mulit-million dollar mega-yachts anchored just out of the harbour that look like they have just arrived from a James Bond set. And against odds, paragliders hanging from the sky as they soar the evening sea breeze and occasionally come down to land on the narrow stony beach.

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People hype themselves up before the fly down. 

The friends of friends turn out to be Guille and Leo, a couple of instructors and tandem pilots from Annecy who are both friendly and relaxed. They have invited a few friends over that evening and food, beer and conversation is shared freely. The vibe is relaxed as they discuss the next days competition as we had arrived just in time to watch the French Championship of Acrobatic Paragliding!

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It was warm for October. New and old friends alike 

The next days were a blur of fun. Flying over the beautiful warm waters of the Mediterranean with good friends and watching some of the best acro pilots in the world throwing down some of the best and cleanest manouvers I have ever seen in person. If you don’t know what acrobatic paragliding looks like I recommend youtubing it or clicking HERE to see the highlights of the actual competition.

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Fuego contemplates the intricacies of the universe while looking out over Monaco

The parties in the evenings were a lot of fun and all the French pilots were friendly and inclusive even though we didn’t parlais le France (speak French). We were, more or less, the only foreigners at the event so we didn’t always understand what was happening with the events but we enjoyed it none the less.

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Making new friends during a flyby on a castle in Roquebrun

The flying was somewhat limited for non-competitors but Jon and I had several memorable flights of soaring over mansions and castles along the shoreline before coming in low to skim over the crystal clear salt water and land on the beach where someone was already waiting for you with a beer in their hand. On the last day we ran into a friend who had been coming to Voss for Ekstrem Sport Veko (https://ekstremsportveko.com/)  for several years and he invited to us to visit him in his home town of Dignes after the competition was finished

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The start martial was of course dressed like Jack Sparrow

After the exciting weekend was over we were on our way NW again into the well know cross country area of St Andre les Alpes. Arriving to a crowded landing at Aero Gliss we were greeted by dozens of pilots drinking beer and packing wings after what appeared to be a great day of flying…….the view wasn’t bad either…..

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Suss catching som Zzz’s on the drive

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Arriving in St Andre les Alpes

Vive le France! Flying in Annecy!

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Suss prepares for her first flight!

Annecy! I had heard the stories from friends back in Voss but I didn’t really get it until we arrived! We had arranged our first AirBnB of the trip and had booked for 2 days sharing a little house with a lovely French family in Les Clefs (about 25min from Talloires and the Annecy take offs). We arrived late and settled down to bed in anticipation of the next days flying.

 

The next day after the ritual coffee, we made our way to the Planfait take off where Jon and Suss tried out the early thermals (warm air bubbles). When we arrived for the first flight their were a handful of pilots on take off, mostly students and beginners. Both Suss and Jon were wearing big smiles after their first flights in the sunny conditions.

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Colourful on landing!

Arriving at take off for their second flight the number of pilots had tripled and they had to line up to use the take off. The warmer conditions meant that people were soaring along the wall in front of the launch and it was getting a rather “busy” in the air. They both had a fantastic soaring flight! Jon landed complaining of too much traffic and suffering from road rage (people not respecting the flight rules in the sky).

As we approached the take off again a little after midday it was obvious that it was CROWDED. There were dozens of pilots in the air. Different wings, skill levels and flightplans causing a chaotic myriad of wings flying backwards and forwards in a small area. The number of “almost collisions” I saw in the 5 minutes after take off was astounding and it was a miracle nobody was hurt.

After waiting in line to launch, dodging all the clueless pilots in front of launch I managed to climb above launch on the small thermals and make my way to the main face of the Pointe Centrale. From there I traversed across to Col des Fretes and finally over to La Tournette. The view was incredible to say the least. I then toplanded Col de la Forclaz to take a break. After chatting with the locals for a bit I flew back to the Planfait and down to the landing to meet the others. Not an epic cross country flight I was hoping for but a lot of fun considering the time of year, the traffic and the conditions. We celebrated the successful flying day with fondue and a few beers in Annecy. Unnaturally full of cheese we waddled back to Les Clefs to stomach rolling night of sleep.

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Lac du Annecy

The next day was raining so we decided to explore the centre of Annecy, eat some churros and feed the ducks. From there we decided to camp out at the take off and managed to catch a beautiful sunset. The next day was again bad weather so we decided to move on to Chamonix.

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Sunset from the the backdoor

We spent the next half of the day hanging out in the mountainous ski resort of Chamonix which sits right beside Mont Blanc. An old speedriding friend joined us for burgers an then we set up a rainy camp next to the resident donkey.

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Resident donkey. I called him Eeyore.

The next morning it was an early start in order to make the long drive south to warmer weather…..