Europe, July/August, March/April, May/June, September/October, Travel Guide

Guide to El Yelmo, Spain

Friday 14 March, 2014
Soaring the castle ramparts at Segura de la Sierra. Photo: El Yelmo

Soaring the castle ramparts at Segura de la Sierra. Photo: El Yelmo

The season starts early in southern Spain with thermalling from February. Pilots flock here in July for a week of chilled-out flying and late-night partying at the El Yelmo Festival.



Tucked away in a beautiful valley in remote northern Andalucia, El Yelmo is one of southern Spain’s most beautiful sites. El Yelmo means The Helmet, and from the air you can see why. This 1,800m whaleback mountain is one of the highest in the region, an area of reserves and protected zones that, taken together, makes up one of the largest protected areas in Spain.

The mountain is famous for its festival. Held over one week each July, the El Yelmo festival attracts pilots from across Europe.

The route to the top is a 14km tarmac road that wends its way up the back of the mountain before topping out at a series of antennas with a stunning view across the valley below. The take-off is large and the official landing field is 1,000m below you. If you don’t have your own vehicle (preferable) a shuttle can be arranged through the local school, OlivAir.

The biggest launch faces west, and with light winds aloft the evening breeze creates ideal take-off conditions every day. A smaller, more technical launch faces due east for XC pilots keen to get in the air early.

A typical day starts with a morning flight before landing for lunch and to allow the strongest part of the day to cool down. It’s not so much that the air gets too much (although in summer it gets strong), it’s that angry thermals roll up the valley in midsummer, making landing problematic. The launch also gets blown out.

After lunch and the obligatory siesta, it’s back to the top for an afternoon or evening flight. This is when you’ll experience the magical restitution, a “breathing out” of air that lifts you effortlessly high above the landscape.

You can find yourself at 3,000m or higher here as the sun starts to get low. There’s a reason the Rodriguez brothers used to train here, and it’s not only because it’s relatively close to their Albacete base.

El Yelmo is a perfect site for finessing thermalling skills and experimenting with XC. Tours of the valley and small triangles are the thing to do – preferably with a landing close to a bar at the end of the day.

February to November; the festival’s in July.

Launch: 1,809m
Landing: 764m
Cloudbase: 3,000m, but 3,900m is not unknown.

Yes, you can drive to the summit.

Make a mini XC from El Yelmo to the medieval village of Segura de la Sierra and soar the castle ramparts. If you find yourself in restitution orbit by the time you get there, simply extend your tour around the valley and come back later. Land in the fields at the foot of the hill.

If you’re up for risking a rough, afternoon landing try to fly to the reservoir Embalse del Tranco, a 20km out-and-return.

The east launch is small and technical – there’s not a lot of room and no running space. It works in an easterly, known as the Levante here, and it must be bang-on for it to be ok. In the valley, watch for electricity lines, and on landing be aware of switching winds and the possibility of dusties in the heat of the day. In strong wind on launch remember to avoid the antennas behind you.

Check out for places to camp, stay or rent in and near the village of Cortijos Nuevos.
Also see:


This is inland rural Spain, so you won’t find the diversions that you would at the coast. That said, if you’re happy with village life while exploring forests, lakes, mountains and trails by foot or horseback, then you’ll be kept busy. It’s very chilled and quiet outside the one week of festival.

Just look for light winds without too much instability and it will be great:

You need a car here. Granada, Murcia and Alicante airports are all about three hours away, Malaga is four-and-a-half and Albacete is closest at two hours 30 minutes.

El Yelmo Festival:

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