Autumn trip to Provence 1999

Chrille, Johan and Håkan over the take-off at Gourdon

This was the time to finally squeeze the final drops of summer out of the flying season. We were a group of nine Swedish paragliding pilots who went to Provence in southern France. Some of us has been here several times before, for others it was the first visit in this beautiful area.

Where were we flying?
Most of the flying took place around and above the small beautiful village of St. André les Alpes, some days we flew from Mount Lachens, a mountain about thirty kilometers to the south of St. André. We also spent one day flying at Gourdon and another at Col del Bel Homme just outside the village of Bargemon. The record flight of the trip was when Håkan, Ola, Johan, Chrille and H-P flew from Mount Lachens to Corsegoules (38 km) and then about half-way back again. If you want to see aerial pictures from this flight i can strongly recommend Johans Sjöströms page.

Anna over the village of St. André

Esko landing on the main landing in St. André

On the picture to the left you can see the main landing area in St. André where on of the guys, Esko, just landed.

I had landed just minutes before, and when I heard on the radio that Ola, another in the group, had landed in the next valley I jumped into one of the cars and went to get him. I now so well how it is to hike back along a deserted highway, 40 lbs. of paragliding equipment on your back and sweat trickling in your eyes.


But, as it turned out... When I found Ola he did not seem to have to much of a hard time. His biggest problem was to handle the beer and the ham radio at the same time.

While we are discussing the matter of working under pressure: All pilots know how much stress it can be on a take off. Equipment all over the place, people running around and you have to get your gear in line to not block the take-off for other people. A lot of stress.

Ola Orädd is very busy.

Johan and Chrille experiencing stress before take-off

Then it is a good thing to be flying late in the season. More peaceful and a lot less crowded on take-off. This is the main westward take-off in St. André.

In general, September and October is a nice time in Provence, the thermals are more human then during peak summer, and the heat is at a more comfortable level.


In spite of the calendar is yelling autumn, it is for example still warm enough for a pleasant swim in the Mediterranean.

Some days we could not fly because of high wind speeds up in the mountains. But then you have a good reason to visit the warm and pleasant Mediterranean coastline instead.

Chrille going for a swim

Johan is preparing to take off in Gourdon

Lets present a couple of flying sites: Added to St. André we also flew in Gourdon. This site is a bit odd: when you first see it you kind of wonder where the take-off is. You stand in the middle of a lot of hostile looking rock formations on a hillside that is everything but steep. It does not at all look like a promising place for flying.


But, once you get airborne the thermals compensate for the lack of steep mountain sides. The day when we were in Gourdon we saw local pilots fly cross country, disappearing into other valleys, and then returning a few hours later.

The view is something extra: The small beautiful village Gourdon sits on a steep rock right in front of the take-off (you can see it on the picture). And by the coast you can see the large city of Nice, and of course, the Mediterranean.

Johan is thermalling just by the take-off

Håkan and H-P practicing on their alternative hobby

Mount Lachens is another great site. If Gourdon looks pretty QQQ oansenligt, there is no doubt about Mount Lachens: A large mountain with take-off in three different directions (N, W, and S) The grassy fields on the mountain top can accommodate a large number of pilots unpacking their gear at the same time. Or practicing golf as Håkan and H-P is doing on the picture. The rest of us saved our energy for later.


But, after a while the Cumulus clouds started to grow and we had to get back to work: Time to unpack your gear.

Lachens is a great place to fly and you often fly together with all other flavours of free-flyers (non-powered flying). It is very common to share the thermals with both hang gliders and sailplanes. The sailplanes often use Mount Lachens as a place to get really high. Altitude, that is.

Preparing the gear at Mount Lachens

Anna with Mount Lachens looming in the background

Mount Lachens not only offers three large take-offs, there is a official landing zone in front of each take-off, and also a huge landing down by the village of La Roque Esclapon, just next to the paragliding school.

This late in the season the view when flying around Mount Lachens is something extra: To the south you see the clear blue Mediterranean, to the north you see the snow capped Alps, and below your feet you have a beautiful green valley with picturesque old villages and lots of open fields.


The LZ down by the paragliding school in the village La Roque Esclapon: a huge green field surrounded by other fields. There is quite a glide here from the mountain, but who care about glide when there are plenty of thermals to use?

Johan is testing the airbag

After-fligh debriefing: Chrille telling a story

After a day of flying it is very rewarding to relax a while at the landing. Time to tell the stories of today's flight. If you have been flying you always have a story to tell.

And of course, being in France, you have to carefully plan the highlight of every evening: The three to five course dinner at a nearby restaurant.


Just when the weather is getting really nice with sunshine, the right kind of clouds, then you have to return to home again. Johan and Ola who had arrived a few days earlier then the rest of us, of course had to leave a little earlier as well. And according to all known laws of meteorology the weather at their last day was wonderful. Johan could not refrain himself from a cross-country flight, but wisely he made sure to land along the road to the airport...

Ola is packing while the thermal clouds grows above

Me and Anna packing the gear after the last thermal flight of this millennium

And then finally, after two weeks of wonderful flying we had to pack our gear for the final time this trip. Probably my last thermal flight during this century, not to say millennium. The last day we had soft, peaceful flying conditions which was perfect for the unbelievably beautiful view over the valley: I was flying around in front of the west side of Mount Lachens, the low afternoon sunshine created long shadows on the green fields on the ground. Down in the valley it still was green and summer, gradually the colors turned to autumn red and yellow higher up on the slopes. A perfect end to a great flying vacation.

Images and text by Martin Agfors  -  feel free to link this page if you first notify me by e-mail.