France & Italy Tour (2014)

The Team

Another outstanding trip this time to Italy, together with David Maddison in my Sportcruiser G-XERO and Gary Fearon and Jason Williams in Gary’s Sportcruiser G-IBUZ.

Day One

Set off from Headon on Monday 21st   April after a slight delay on our flight plan and take off time due to low cloud and poor visibility. We finally took off at 10:18. The intention was to make a stop at Meaux just to the South West of Paris, have some lunch and then on to Gap Tallard in the French Alps ready for a crossing into Italy early Tuesday morning. With the delay in take off time and the excellent meal at Meaux plans were modified to just one more shorter leg to Oyonnax, 25miles North East of Lyon. Landed there at 19:00 local time to a deserted airfield. Aircraft tied down and secured we took sight of a Buffalo Grill adjacent. After entering and looking forward to a good steak we were told that due to the Bank Holiday there would be no Taxis available later that evening to take us into town to find accommodation. With the skies looking darker and rain on its way we decided our priority must be to find a hotel and abandon the steak! We were kindly offered a lift into town by one of the local Diners. I think later he may have wished he hadn’t offered, as finding a hotel proved somewhat difficult to say the least. Everywhere was closed up and on top of that the rain started to come down as well. We finally found somewhere and by this time we were tired hungry and somewhat damp! Our initially eager lift was by this time less eager and ready to return to his family at the Buffalo Grill. Although we rewarded him well for his efforts I would think his wife may not have been too happy when he returned at least an hour later. The meal that evening set out as a steak and ended up as a Pizza! Things could only improve.

Day Two – Gap Tallard, French Alps

Tuesday 22 April 11:20 and we took off for Gap Tallard in the French Alps. A well renowned airfield for all kinds of aviation.  We arrived there at 12:48 after a very scenic flight through some of the foothills of the Alps.

Gap Tallard is in a beautiful location with snow-capped mountains all around and with its own renowned micro climate which usually gives them 300 flying days a year. Well worth a visit. After having lunch at the airfield restaurant and gaining local knowledge from the British Microlight Instructor based there we decided Italy was best left until the next morning as thunderstorms were developing around us. The hotel was within walking distance from the airfield so we booked in and set off sightseeing.

Day 3 – Castiglione Del Lago

Wednesday 23rd April and an early take off at 09:56 (early for us)! Parachutes were raining from the calm blue skies above and everyone was out flying. A different day  altogether to yesterday. It was a flight that would always be remembered. Magnificent views, still air and excellent visibility through the passes of the snow- capped  Alps into Italy. As we emerged from the Alpine terrain we encountered the typical Italian humid hazy air. Arrived in Speziana in Northern Italy at 11:48. Only a small  field but we received a warm welcome from some of the local fliers working in the hangars with an offer to eat in their seemingly excellent restaurant. Fuelled up and  thirsts quenched we decided to press on as we particularly wanted to spend the evening at Castiglione del Lago which was highly recommended and lies by a lakeside in  Northern Central Italy. Arrived there at 15:00 after flying over some beautiful Tuscany countryside. Received a really warm welcome again. We were told that if we  had arrived a few days later they were having a large Fly In and Air Display with up to 700-1000 aircraft expected. With the amount of preparation they were doing  and the size of the field I don’t think he was exaggerating. Castiglione Del Lago is a beautiful medieval town with a large Pentagonal castle on the hill overlooking the  city. We spent most of the day sightseeing here. A beautiful city.

Day 4 – Fano

Thursday 24th  April and we were to fly to the South and Sicily but after looking at the weather forecast we decided it wasn’t a good idea so a change of plan and we planned a flight to Fano on the Adriatic coast. An excellent seaside resort that brought back memories from the days with the ‘Geordie Moth Squadron’ where we had to land with the flexwings due to high winds. We had a memorable couple of days then and I was sure it could be repeated. Took off from Castiglione at 12:00 and after a low level flight around the shoreline we set track for Fano arriving there one hour later. Fano is a very pleasant resort but not as busy as I remembered it previously, but it was still April I suppose.

The rain started to come down later in the afternoon and we took stock of our situation with the weather forecast.

The forecast in Italy generally over the next few days was bad and with warm humid conditions it wasn’t the place to stay around. We made a phone call to Nice in the south of France to see if they would take us and how much the landing charges would be. We were told €230 each! No thanks. However, Cannes were more accommodating and quoted us €40 for a two nights. So that was the plan for the next day as long as the weather held off.

Day 5 – Cannes

Friday 25th April and another relatively early start at 10:15. 330miles and 3 hours flight time and we were in Cannes. Weather was deteriorating by this time though and some of the flight had to be above cloud to clear the mountains near the coast. As we came along the Mediterranean coast line it cleared although was still very misty. This was ok though as we had wanted to fly along the coastline at low level to take in all the sights. In fact as we passed Nice Control they asked for us to stay below 500ft to keep clear of their traffic. Was quite an experience passing several super Yachts as they sailed beneath us. You have to dip a wing to take in a view of their decks! Cannes and Monaco were well worth the experience over the next couple of days. Fascinating places with immense wealth.

Weather was deteriorating by this time and some of the flight had to be above cloud to clear the mountains near the coast.

The Yachts moored up in the harbours were so impressive, not quite what you would see at Brayford Wharf! We took a train to Monaco where everything was being set  up for the forthcoming Grand Prix. We walked through the ‘Tunnel’ up to Monte Carlo where we sat outside the Café de Paris and had a pint that would go down in living  memory. It was the most expensive pint ever at €16 a pint! However we thoroughly enjoyed it as we sat watching all the Ferraris and countless other super cars that  were parked outside the Casino.  We also went up to Prince Rainier’s Castle and had a look around. The views from the top are amazing. All told we had a very enjoyable  day.

Day 7 – Macon-Charnay

Sunday 27th   April and we decided to head back home. Took off from Cannes at 10:30 into strong head winds and unstable weather. We had wanted to make it to the Paris region in one flight but due to the strong winds and poor weather only made it to Macon-Charnay. Here we were met by Croses, whose Father developed the ‘Flying Flea’. A well known French Bi Plane with one wing forward and the other one aft. Very distinctive. He had also built around 40 of these aircraft himself. He gave us a tour of the hangar and was very informative and interesting to talk to. He asked us to let him know when we plan to come back and he would help us plan a route along the Loire. Flying at low level he said it would be a flight to remember. So that’s in the books for another time. One more leg to Compiegne which would leave us a relatively short hop back home the next day.

Day 8 – Home

Monday 28th   April with a take off time of 10:30 we were to be home two and a half hours later having encountered the usual British type of weather in the North of France and Southern UK. We were above the clouds for most of it to maintain reasonable visibility apart from around the London TMA where we had to struggle through it.