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Guide to Laragne, France

Wednesday 5 February, 2014
A classic day on glide in Laragne. Photo: Martijn van Dijk

A classic day on glide in Laragne. Photo: Martijn van Dijk

 

WHY GO?
The dry skies of Provence provide a free flying theatre of unparalleled quality

WHERE IS IT?

WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Booming thermals and lofty cloudbases cartwheel you high above sharp ridges, vertical limestone faces and deep-forested valleys in a circuit-friendly arena perfect for XC pilots of all levels. Laragne has hosted everything from FAI world championships to the friendly and popular annual Chabre Open, when pilots compete to learn.

With the landing field in the town campsite itself, Laragne mixes consistently good weather, stunning XC routes and a great atmosphere to deliver a perfect flying holiday.

Laragne is a small town on the western side of the southern France Alps. Dry and arid in summer, the terrain is a mixture of pine forests, sharp limestone ridges and wide valleys. Take-off is from Montagne de Chabre to the west of the town; a partly metalled road takes you to the summit.

From Chabre, routes lead in almost every direction: west along lower forested east-west running ridges, south, hopping along a series of similar ridges, or north into the much higher rocky peaks of Pic de Bure and eventually the impressive Ecrins, the largest gathering of high peaks in France. On any good day the cloudbase is high above the peaks, allowing relatively secure flying over a wild landscape.

Climbs are typically 3-5m/s, with the odd real ripper coming through. In general the valleys are open and wide, making for safe landings and explaining why the hang gliding and sailplane communities have held Laragne in such high esteem for many years.

The main landing at Laragne’s campsite has a bar/restaurant and a lively flying scene throughout the season. A shuttle service runs at times to launch, but check first. Laragne is a typical Provencal town and has a weekly market, several good bars and restaurants, supermarkets and all the amenities that you’ll need.

FLYING CONDITIONS
Strong, but generally smooth, mountain thermals in a drier airmass than the northern Alps give high bases and reliable XC flying. Chabre is influenced by air drawn in from the plains to the west by the anabatic circulation of the day, so you need to get away before the westerly arrives in the afternoon.

Chabre has take-offs facing south and north: the south is an easy scrub launch, but the north is a short steep cliff launch where deft ground handling skills are essential. Nearby the sites of Bergies, Buc and Aspres make up for days when Chabre fails you due to wind direction or cloudbase height.

WHEN TO GO
April till October

ALTITUDE
Cloudbase: 2,500 – 4,000m
Launch: Chabre 1,304m
Landing: Laragne campsite 735m

HANG GLIDER ACCESS
Laragne is a famous hang gliding venue, and both launches are driveable by normal car.

MUST BE FLOWN
Take a trip north to the Pic de Bure, a moonscape mountain with vertical cliffs and a table-flat top. Once you’ve been blasted up the south face you get to look down on the summit with its huge observatory and collection of massive telescopes. Or straight north and hook up with the big Grenoble valley and ride it north to Mt Blanc 200 km away.

DANGERS AND ANNOYANCES
Although there’s no major airspace close by, this is sailplane country and the skies are humming with them. The drop zone in Gap is also very active and must be avoided, and you need to know where the active sailplane airfields are in the area.

ACCOMMODATION
Laragne has a selection of low to mid range hotels and hostels to choose from, see www.tourisme-laragne.fr
Camping Monteglin is where many pilots stay, as you can land next to a bar and your tent, see www.camping-monteglin.com
Or try the very popular www.allez-up.com, a beautiful gîte run by knowledgeable local pilots David Owen and Rachael Evans, who offer a full pilot support package to boot.

GUIDES AND COURSES
Ex-world champion Judy Leden and husband Chris Dawes offer thermalling and XC courses through www.airways-airsports.com as does Jocky Sanderson through www.escapexc.com.

EXPERT’S OPINION
“Laragne is fantastic! It’s that rare go-anywhere site with inviting XC routes in every direction. All the trigger points work as expected, so you learn a lot from flying there. Plus you land smack in the campsite where the cold beer awaits. It’s right up there among my very special favourite places in the world,” says Mads Syndergaard – PWC pilot and delegate and UP PR man

TAKE THE FAMILY
This is a great venue for a holiday in the sun. The Gorges de la Méouge, the river valley beneath Montagne de Chabre, has many pools to play in and there are several mellow manmade lakes dotted around the place.

Aerial rope parks, excellent rock climbing, tandem skydiving, karting, horse riding, nature trekking and tons of water-based sports on the lakes make up a great holiday location. And you can visit culturally beautiful towns like nearby Sisteron.

RAINY DAYS
Sisteron with its stunning citadel has much to offer, or visit the local markets that France is so famous for.

WEATHER INFO
Daily forecasts are posted at the campsite, or use
www.meteofrance.com or www.para2000.org.

GETTING THERE
Marseille Provence airport is the nearest airport, one and a quarter hours away and has good bus and train connections. Nimes airport is just over two hours’ drive, Grenoble and Nice both three hours. Many of the budget airlines fly to them.

A car is useful at Laragne, not least to access take-off.

USEFUL CONTACTS
www.flylaragne.com has lots of flying information, and the local tourist office www.tourisme-laragne.fr details other things you may need.

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