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

Guide to Piedrahita, Spain

Sunday 16 February, 2014
Winging it down to Piedrahita town after another big XC day. Photo: Jerôme Maupoint

Winging it down to Piedrahita town after another big XC day. Photo: Jerôme Maupoint

It’s Europe’s flatland Mecca – and one of the world’s most reliable comp venues


Piedrahita is a small, ancient town on the edge of the Castilian tablelands, where the ground abruptly rises up to the Gredos mountains. It’s perfectly placed for latching on to the 300+km convergence line that sets up here. A lively market town, Piedrahita doubles in population during August when it hosts a series of fiestas.

The principal launch, Peña Negra, is directly above the town and easily reached in 20 minutes by tarmac road. It faces NW, yet the shallow slope of the mountain allows heating and thermals from late morning. Classic XC flying can be had from April to the end of September, with the most booming conditions from mid-June towards the end of July. August tends to be very reliable, but with a later start as the inversions break later… not so bad for those dedicating themselves to late nights and fiestas!

The classic route follows the N-110 highway north-east across the flatlands and parallel to the mountains. A flight of 50km eastwards to the medieval walled city of Avila is a regular run for even inexperienced XC pilots, and 100km out-and-returns and even 200 km open distances are regularly achievable.

Fast and easy access makes for quick re-launches, and the smooth magic air that sets up over the valley on most evenings is the perfect antidote to anyone feeling blue because of an early bomb-out.

Although famed for long distance flatland flying, there’s also great potential for mountain flying in the Gredos mountains to the west and south. However, be aware that the area is isolated, and bombing out can involve lengthy retrieves.

Good thermic conditions with little breeze in the open flatlands, though generally stronger at the pass some 20km from launch. Base in August is generally above 3,000m, and often in excess of 4,000m. You need to be in the air by 1.30 pm as the thermal breeze at launch can become very strong by mid-afternoon. Normally reliable thermals start from 11.30 am, later in August.

April to October offer good thermal flying and XC potential. May to September for epic cu-filled skies. August tends to be bluer and hotter but reliably flyable.

Cloudbase: 3,200m
Launch:  1,900m
Landing: 1,000m

Easy. There’s a tarmac road to launch and a large car park right next to the rigging area. The site was dramatically improved in 2009, with the launch slope angle increased for improved light wind launches.

Fly amongst huge gaggles of migrating storks in July. Lose yourself in the vast flatlands of Castile chasing the convergence clouds to the north-east. Look down first on the castle of Avila, then later the Roman aqueduct in Segovia, and know you’ve flown a long way. Tick off your first 100km – or maybe 200…

With strong easterly winds the take-off is sheltered, but winds further out can be strong and turbulent. With a westerly the wind will be stronger at the pass and in the next (Ambles) valley. For both strong east and west winds the safest area to land is in the flatlands near to Piedrahita. The winds increase as you move towards the pass with a westerly, and beyond the Col at Santiago de Collado with an easterly.

There’s airspace beyond Avila which can be easily avoided by flying further to the north.

There are four hotels and many houses to rent, but no official camping site.

Steve Ham has lived and guided in Piedrahita since 1991 and has been meet director for some big competitions.

“Easy flying with a great mix of the best of flatland and big mountain flying.” Steve Ham

Piedrahita is a popular summer destination for Spanish families escaping the oppressive heat of the cities in August. There are many mountain rivers and forests, or there’s an open air swimming pool in Piedrahita in the grounds of an 18th century palace, modelled after Versailles.

Salamanca, 60km to the north, is the cultural capital of Spain with its historic university and range of monuments. The historic towns of Avila and Segovia are also well worth visiting. In spring the River Tormes offers the best white water kayaking and rafting in central Spain. The area is bordered by a number of regional parks with excellent walking trails.

Seven-day local forecast

Madrid (Barajas) airport is 200km away. You can get a bus from Madrid direct to Piedrahita for €14. (Take the metro from the airport to La Estacion Sur de Autobuses – the metro stop is called Mendez Alvaro). By car Piedrahita lies on the National highway N-110, some 50km east of Avila. Hitchhiking in central Spain is uncommon and takes time!

Local flying club
Steve Ham
Town hall and accommodation

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