Flying the Hautes Alpes & Drome

Allez-Up Holidays are based near Laragne France, in the Hautes Alpes region, an area which offers excellent paraglider, hang glider and sailplane flying with excellent sites and reliable weather. We provide luxury accommodation in our Gites near Laragne for flying schools clubs and groups who wish to visit the area. Below is a selection of the local sites we regularly fly, these include Laragne Chabre, Sederon, St Geniez, Aspres, St Vincent les Forts. Additionally Orcieres-Merlette. Les Richards, Digne, St Andre les Alpes sites are all within an hour and occasionally visited for a little variety. The area has incredible safe cross country flying potential in reliable flying conditions.

Laragne Chabre

Laragne a busy day during a hangliding competitionLaragne a busy day during a hangliding competition
Laragne is our local site and the take off is only an 8km glide from the house. Most Paraglider and all Hang glider pilots will have heard of Laragne Chabre though information on this site has been misleading and only recently have British paragliding pilots discovered how good it is and that it is suitable for both para and hang gliders, a fact much better known to the Germans, Swiss, Czechs, Belgians etc. who make up the majority of visiting paragliding pilots here at present. Conditions can be strongly thermic in early afternoon in mid summer as is the case with most other popular French Alpine sites which allows substantial XC flights to be made from here. Laragne has two faces and is effectively a spine back ridge with the main take off facing South East.

The site has a Balise on top giving weather information every 15 minutes on the FFVL frequency being a ridge this information can however require interpretation.

Laragne - looking  North from  800 metres above take off, time to go XC
Laragne - looking North from 800 metres above take off; time to go XC
The main, South East, take off at Laragne only really works in thermic conditions, flying in soaring mode means flying in relatively strong wind, not generally advised on a spine back, Take is huge with plenty of room to lay out lots of gliders, the 30 or 40 hangliders (or more) often found on take off in July and August set up clear of the main paragliding launch and tend to launch later than the ‘floppies’ they use as wind dummies. With three take off spots and room for at least 10 paragliders to lay out on them take offs are happily not overly pressured, unlike some sites further North. The site often has gentle breezes in the mornings and is often used by schools, however thermals become strong after midday hence the site's enormous potential for cross country flights (see tales of Bob, Marcus and Sophie’s 110km flight over the Ecrins from here climbing to over 4000m or Rachaels regular 80+km XC's on her DHV1 Atom). The terrain to the North West through South East consists of big flat open valleys with lots of fields for a ‘Vache’ (out landing) between the Orchards, but with big hills in, amongst and around them to find that second thermal source making the site ideal for safe departures from the hill. Indeed a recent article in a French magazine listed Laragne to Aspres (and back), as one of the five best ‘cross countries for all’, the article title having been changed from 5 easy cross country’s. For those days when the first thermal proves elusive or you miss the cycle there is a huge bottom landing beside the access road allowing rapid retrieves and a second attempt (Top to Bottom 500m). Like Bergies (see below) Laragne can suffer from dust devils on some days and care needs to be taken, also the wind often goes Westerly at some point in the afternoon necessitating a quick change of site if you don’t get off soon enough.

The North take offs at Laragne are more committed and, while fine for hangliders, require a level of confidence and competence on a paraglider, happily the wind generally blows from the South and if it doesn’t then there are several gentler North facing sites in the area. Laragne North has no less than three huge official landing fields (two are big enough for light aircraft and used for such).


From Bergies looking East - lots of landing options
From Bergies looking East - lots of landing options
Sederon is approximately 30km to the West, (a good cross-country home), and has the advantage of 7 take off and landing sites catering for all wind directions. Like many such sites it has its own weather pattern and a good days flying can often involve flights from three different take offs. A morning flight off Le Fort, a lunchtime XC from Bergies and a nice evening restitution flight off BUC. Also it is blessed with very friendly locals, farmers included, enabling a ‘vache’ (out landing) in almost any non-crop field, of which there are plenty with no worries about the farmers reaction - he's more likely to offer you a lift than tell you off. The local school here trains well over 200 pilots a year and also has excellent training slopes and sites for first high flights which can be used by prior agreement.

Specifically the Sederon sites are:

Bergies (North and South)

The main site with a Balise on top giving wind direction and strength every 20 minutes. There is a road to the top and the North landing is an easy glide some 560 metres (1850 ft) below. The northerly take off is gentle and grassy and used as a morning site by the local school for first high flights, it is also the main take off for cross country flights at about 1pm. The wide open valley to the East makes this site excellent for first cross country flights with lots of landing options and a gentle 6 or 7km glide if that second thermal remains elusive. The more ambitious can emulate Ingmar or Rachael and fly to Colmar or St Andre les Alpes just over 100km. away or just head for home. The Southerly take off is steep over a cliff and reserved for more experienced pilots. Again the wind usually turns Westerly in the early afternoon and caution is required during and after this transition. This is the time to go for a coffee and wait for the westerly wind to establish itself so you can head off to BUC.

Buc West (and East)

For us as English pilots Buc took a bit of understanding. Due to the influence of the Rhone valley to the West, the wind almost invariably veers Westerly on the site in the late afternoon, even on an Easterly day, and at any time from 3pm onwards (usually later) Buc starts to work. After an initial couple of hours of thermal chasing, another chance to get to cloudbase and away if Bergies has proved difficult, it generally smoothes off giving the opportunity of an evening of gentle restitution flying, ideal for confidence building for low airtime pilots. The big challenge of Buc is knowing when and where to take off, the site can involve a walk up, though the long awaited road has now been built, it is only really suitable for 4x4's or hire cars. The lowest take off known as ‘Jacques tree’ after the first pilot to get up from there in the days of less buoyant canopies, is at 1050m and only a 15 minute walk up, less if you let the 4x4 take your canopy up, the skill is picking the moment to allow you fly up onto the ridge or finding someone else to use as ‘fusible’ (wind dummy) to see if it's possible. Alternative a longer walk up to ‘le goulet’ 100m higher up or to ‘le sommet’ at 1440m greatly improves the odds in your favour, the reward being gentle restitution soaring till the time to retire to the bar arrives. The landing is a large area at the foot of the bowl at 950m where the cars are parked, unless of course you achieve enough height to go over the back to the Bergies landing or fancy a wander over to Le Fort and the school landing field behind.


The other take offs are La Trappe, South facing with a road to the top and a landing field amongst the lavender and Le Fort for those Easterly morning glides to the field below. Buc east may well be available for 2004 if the take off gets cleared.

St Geniez

St Geniez with take off centre photoSt Geniez with take off centre photo
This was the first site we flew in the area and is a very British type site (but bigger), the locals mainly fly it in the late afternoon and evening in a light Southerly wind in gentle conditions when flights generally involve soaring on the ridge west of take off or on the summit behind if you can get there.. As the balise is sited behind take off some 200 metres below the summit readings can be misleading and are not indicative of summit winds. The site is also used in thermic conditions and opens up the mountains to the East of the Durance towards St Vincent and St Andre without the need to cross the Durance valley. In weak conditions the site can get congested in French terms if everyone is soaring the lower ridge. The landing field is immediately below take off beside the road from which the track to take off leads. The main take off and landing areas are a little small for hang gliders and the site is rarely used by them. (Top to Bottom 200m)


View  from Take off to the South East from AspresView from Take off to the South East from Aspres
Aspres has 3 take offs South, West, and North but only the southerly gets much use. This take off is a large grassy bank at the top of a huge (600m) hill with enough room to lay out several hundred gliders. the site is regularly used by the local schools for morning and evening training flights both on paragliders and hangliders, however the site also has lots of XC potential and Grenoble is only some 50km to the North!. There are a couple of landing fields in the large valley below one directly below take off, the other at the sailplane airfield, there is also lots of out landing potential. The site is also used by sailplanes from the airfield below, not to mention aeromodelistes, but is plenty big enough for all, top landing is relatively easy, unusual for a French site and the Balize is generally the most reliable around. Again the wind often goes West in the afternoon but due to the shape of the ridge this is not so much of a problem as the other take off faces West, unless of course strength increases.

St Vincent Les Forts

A good day at St Vincent les Forts
A good day at St Vincent les Forts
St Vincent is the furthest away site that we fly on a regular basis being about an hours drive to take off, however it is an extremely valuable site due to its unique and amazing meteorology. The site is sheltered from the mistral wind and so on days when the wind is hoolying (a strange Welsh term that) down the Buech and lower Durance valley from the North at 100km/h plus St Vincent is often flyable, the biggest problem being staying up in the melee of pilots who descend on the site from far and wide. It can often be the only flyable site in the alps in these conditions, which accounts for it being very busy at times. It is the only site in the region we have found that competes with Northern Alp and British sites for congestion at take off and in the air. Take off is interesting and has become more interesting with the addition of the hotel 'à côte' the take off, Most British pilots seem to cope reasonably well as the take off is reminicent of many British ridge tops, but some visiting pilots can be most entertaining. Landing is either in a field beside take off (top landing) or on the lakeside beach 450m below out of season, or in a newly designated field within the forest below. St Vincent in the right conditions offers the opportunity to fly up to the Dormillouse behind (1200m above) and thence XC to who knows where, St Andre and Digne via Tete de L’Estrop being favourites, if experience permits. Again a site used regularly by schools for training particularly in the evening.

Other Sites

Whilst the above are the sites we regularly use there are numerous others in the area which we only fly occasionally. Digne, Les Richards and Banon are under an hour away and St Andre les Alpes only just over the hour. Orcieres-Merlet is a recent discovery giving direct access to the Ecrins and the opportunity to ski and fly in the Winter.

The area therefore has great potential for itinerant flying and site bagging for the more experienced or for expanding the window for lower airtime pilots. We feel the local topography with big wide open valleys, generally without strong valley winds and with lots of landing out potential (and no angry farmers), coupled with exceptional weather conditions to be ideal for learning and developing cross country flying skills safely. It has certainly worked for us.