- Home to the famous Coupe Icare festival – free-flying’s Woodstock
- Good Alpine flying site in its own right
- Beautiful location high on a valley
- Go in April-June for XC, September for the Coupe Icare
It’s a party and everyone’s invited. Join the 100,000 visitors that come for the Coupe Icare flying festival in September.
WHERE IS IT?
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
It doesn’t get more French than the picturesque town of St Hilaire du Touvet. Baguettes, fromage, bon vin and some excellent flying. The site is one of the main flying hubs in the French alpine foothills sandwiched between St André-les-Alpes and Annecy and is in sight of Mont Blanc. With a bit of height the valley visibly connects tantalisingly with a network of XC potential.
A charming antique funicular railway (the steepest in France) connects the LZ in Lumbin at the base of the valley with the north and south take-offs, just a short walk from the arrival station. Get a pass for 10 one-way journeys if you’re staying for a while. On good days you can reliably count on being able to topland back from the ridge near the tourism office.
The Coupe Icare festival takes place over the last weekend in September and draws a global crowd of 100,000 people who come to see the carnival costumes in flight, the latest releases from all the big manufacturers, and the flying film festival.
In the middle of June St Hilaire is the start and end point of the AirTour race, a seven-day hike and fly challenge open to allcomers.
The North and South launches cover the range of prevailing winds, although the house thermal out in front can sometimes produce a tailwind on the vast astroturfed south launch. In spring it starts working early in the day and after climbing out from a ratty start above the white cliffs below launch you can relax and pick your route.
In calmer autumnal weather take the two-hour hike up to Dent De Crolles above the town for some high mountain soaring and a float back down to your start point.
WHEN TO GO
April, May and June have the best XC weather, but the Coupe Icare is in September.
Launch: 900m (Dent des Crolles 2,040m)
Easy access from both main launches. Also hidden among the trees a kilometre to the south of the south launch is a short steep ramp. An access road goes past the campsite and leads right to it from the main street through town. There’s enough parking and set up space.
MUST BE FLOWN
The ridge is long enough to keep most intermediate pilots entertained. After take-off go to the south and follow the cliff past the Manival, a small valley opening. Work the first thermal beyond it and go up to the crest of Saint Eynard following it along to the south until you’re over a cute antique fort. Come back the same way.
Alternatively, from the Manival valley you can soar up to the Dent de Crolles and follow the big ridge to Le Granier’s summit to the north before heading back to topland in St Hilaire.
DANGERS AND ANNOYANCES
Expect a bumpy ride close to the cliff face especially in spring and be prepared for unpredictable gaggle flying from less experienced pilots that you can find scratching below launch. Southerly wind brings turbulence to the toplanding area near the tourist office and puts the hang glider launch in the lee.
There are airspace restrictions over airports in Grenoble to the south and Chambery to the north, which add to the challenge of connecting with the next ridges in both directions.
Just a 10-minute walk from the north launch is the laidback Camping Petite Roche, which caters for tents, camper vans and has some bungalows too. It’s popular with visiting pilots and has hard-to-find free WiFi. The French language version of the Tourist Office website has listings of hotels, guest houses and apartments for rent.
TAKE THE FAMILY AND RAINY DAYS
Plenty of gourmet restaurants and cheese-making dairies here will help you bulk up if you’re light on your wing, but if you are already over the weight range the Via Ferrata just below is a good workout. Hire mountain bikes and follow one of the many signposted treks. The Tourist Office between the two take-offs has more suggestions.
EasyJet flies into Grenoble, or take the TGV from Paris, Nice or Marseilles. From Grenoble a local bus gets you to Lumbin in the valley from where you can ride up in the railway. There’s a special bus service from Grenoble to St Hilaire du Touvet during the Coupe Icare. For the rest of the year catch the number 6550 from Grenoble direct to St Hilaire du Touvet, it leaves from La Tronche, north of the river in Grenoble.