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Guide to St Andre, France

Tuesday 18 February, 2014
Gliders climb away from the south-west launch into another epic sky. Photo: Benoit Morel

Gliders climb away from the south-west launch into another epic sky. Photo: Benoit Morel

St Andre combines everything you need to have a stunning Alpine flying holiday in one sunny package.


Knock off another brilliant circuit riding the complex valley winds of this maze of a flying area. Then land at the lake with a grin on your face, grab a beer and plunge into the refreshing turquoise water. St Andre is considered by many to be one of the best flying sites in the world.

Steeped in flying legend, St André-les-Alpes is a small village at the head of Lac de Castillon in the southern French Alps. Host to numerous competitions over the years, including FAI Cat 1 events, St André is blessed with not only reliable flying weather but all the necessary ingredients to give you the perfect flying holiday: a tarmac road and shuttle to take-offs that work from nine in the morning to last thing at night, and intriguing and exciting terrain worthy of any XC pilot’s dreams.

Better still, as you blast yourself into orbit in powerful thermals, the family can while away the day in the cool waters of the lake.

Aerogliss, the local school, offers a great support service for pilots including daily weather reports, a navette/shuttle to launch, experienced tuition and guiding and, most importantly, a bar when you land.

St André itself is a lively place in summer, with a thriving village square serviced by two bars and several fêtes throughout the season to entertain visitors.

Booming thermals carry you high above a complex set of valleys that offer sublime circuits through spectacular and sometimes remote terrain. Understanding valley wind circulation is paramount to your success and safety in St André.

Once you have that knowledge, you’re free to explore a stunning mountainous area laced with valley wind convergences that form invisible bridges to help you hop from ridge to ridge.

Mt Chalvet sits just above the town to the north-west and has take-offs facing south-east and south-west. Use the south-east early in the day. Once the valley wind starts blowing from the Digne basin to the south-west, you have to use the south-west-facing launch. Be aware that once the valley wind combines with the thermals the south-west launch blows out. This can be as early as 1.30 pm.

Land in the big field at the end of the lake next to Aerogliss. Watch out for switching valley winds in the landing, which catch people out all the time, especially hang gliders.

April to October. September is calmer and less crowded than high summer – good for a first visit.

Cloudbase: 3,000– 4,000m
Launch: 1,540m
Landing: 883m

Both take-offs are drivable and excellent for hang gliders.

Surf the sheer walls of Cheval Blanc before tiptoeing across the boonies to the north, on to the lunar landscape of Tête de l’Estrop and the motorway to Dormillouse. Getting home in the evening takes you back over the wild country to wrap up a satisfying 100km.

The Montagne de Coupe 50km triangle: head north to Cheval Blanc, then west to connect with the Montagne de Coupe and surf the sheer cliffs on a long glide back home.

Thermic turbulence in the heat of summer: St André has a powerful reputation, the classic T-shirts that read “I survived St André” that were available from Aerogliss for many years are testimony to its well-earned reputation.

The main launch gets blown out during the heat of the afternoon, making launching dangerous.

The valley wind in the landing can switch 180 degrees in seconds as the two valley winds fight each other. Watch all the windsocks as you approach, give yourself plenty of room, and be prepared to run it off if necessary.

St Andre has several hotels and gites run by locals.

Mark Taggart, a very experienced pilot, runs a beautiful gite just a few hundred metres from the landing.

St André has two great campsites: the municipal campsite is 100m from landing and has a lively flying scene during the summer. Camp under a pine tree to keep your tent or van cool. Camping De L’issole, more secluded and quiet, is at the bottom of the take-off road just out of town.

Local school www.aerogliss.com offer guiding and courses as does Jocky Sanderson

“Best place to race paragliders in the world! Bar none!” Russell Ogden, ex-British champion and 2009 PWC Superfinal vice-champion

St André has lots to offer families with the lake to play in, tennis, mini-golf, rafting and plenty of fun in the forests.

Visit the Verdon Gorge, a 700m deep limestone canyon that stretches for 25km and has some of the best rock climbing, canyoning and rafting in the world.

Take the narrow gauge railway to Nice and bask in the sunshine of the Riviera.

Aerogliss post daily weather at the school. Or go to www.meteofrance.com or www.para2000.org

Fly to Nice or Marseille. From Nice, a narrow gauge railway winds its way slowly through stunning countryside and sets a tone for your flying adventure. Trains also run from Marseille, or hire a car form either airport.

For flying information go to www.aerogliss.com

Local information www.saintandrelesalpes-verdontourisme.com

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