Air Junkies in Paradise (in English)

Air Junkies in Paradise – By Kim Galvin (kim@flyzephyr.com)

When most people think of a holiday in Greece, they think of the islands.  But I’d been there and done that.  I wanted to get a taste of the real Greece, so I started researching mainland Greece.  The Peloponnese, a large peninsula in southern Greece that covers about 8,300 square miles, is known as “the heart and soul of Greece.”  The Peloponnese is rich in history and natural beauty.  It has a mountainous interior, an enchanting coastline and charming villages.  With dry, warm summers, mild sea breezes, good food, a fascinating culture, friendly people and plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation, including paragliding, the Peloponnese has everything I look for in a vacation destination.

Last year, the Peloponnese suffered devastating wildfires that will impact of the region for many years, but that didn’t deter us.  We started our trip with some hiking and sightseeing in the Mani region of the southern Peloponnese and then we headed back north for some paragliding and more sightseeing.  I Googled “paragliding and Peloponnese” and found Flying Paradise at the top of the list.  Just for fun, I Googled “paragliding and paradise,” and got over 30,000 hits, including places as diverse as the Alps, Columbia, Bali and Jackson Hole.  Paradise is in the eye of the beholder, so I was a bit skeptical about Flying Paradise.  I started an email correspondence with Christophe Dubois, the owner of Flying Paradise.  I was so impressed with how responsive and helpful he was, that I bought two tickets to paradise.

Base camp for Flying Paradise is Epidavros, a small village on the Aegean Sea, about eighty miles southwest of Athens. There are literally hundreds of archeological sites in the area.  But Epidavros is most famous for the fascinating Asclepios archeological site, a renowned healing center, built in the 4th century B.C.  The ancient amphitheater at Asclepios seats 14,000 and the view, aesthetics and acoustics of the theater are remarkable.  From the top row of the theatre, you can actually hear the unamplified sound of a match struck at center stage.  What a thrill is to get a birds-eye view of the site as you fly over it under a paraglider.

Flying Paradise operates out of the Hotel Apollon, a relatively small hotel on a quiet beach, with views of the mountains and the sea.  The hotel is modern, clean and comfortable.  The restaurant serves great food and the bar is open for drinks and coffee at all hours of the day or night.  They also have shaded lawns that are perfect for folding your glider.  The staff is especially friendly and accommodating to pilots, who made up most of their guests, when we were there.

When Christophe first came to Epidavros, he surveyed the area by motorcycle, looking for potential flying sites.  He moved tons of rocks to create and open eight private paragliding sites.  All the sites, exclusively for guests of Flying Paradise, are within a twenty-to-forty minute drive from the hotel.  The launches are rocky, but well groomed.  I love the fact that you can land almost anywhere, due to a good system of roads, maintained for the farmers to care for their goats and tend to their olive trees.

The staff of Flying Paradise understands that their guests come to fly, so their first priority is to see that everyone, regardless of skill level, gets to fly as much as they want.  On a typical day, Christophe will meet the pilots at the hotel after breakfast, usually between 9:00 and 10:00.  Already having checked the wind conditions, he’ll direct the pilots to one of his “minibuses” and drive to one of the nearby launches.  With eight sites to choose from, the chances of flying are pretty good.  You can easily reach cloud base (6,000-8,000’ ASL) and fly as far 60 miles.  But the conditions are not so strong that you’ll feel uncomfortable in the air.  

My favorite flights were from a launch called “Ted’s Café.”  Although there’s a bail-out LZ in a clearing among some olive trees, about 2,000’ below launch, it’s not too hard to get high enough to fly around the hill with enough altitude to make it to the soccer field, a popular alternate landing site.  From here, you can fly on to the famous amphitheater.  If you still have some altitude, you can either try for an out and return flight or head over the pass to the hotel.  This is where I usually lost it, but next year, my goal it to make it all the way to the hotel.

Novice pilots can have as many sled rides as they please, with a driver available to drive them back to launch.  More experienced pilots can head out on one of the well-established XC routes, with a driver on-call for retrieves.  And the drivers are really terrific.  They are knowledgeable about the conditions and geography and they are truly part of the team.  Midday, you can fly back to the hotel (usually about fifteen miles) and land on the beach, or return in the minibus, for a tasty Greek salad and some fresh-squeezed orange juice (probably from one of the nearby orange groves).  After lunch, you can hang out at the hotel and enjoy the beach, go into town for some shopping or head back up for an afternoon flight or two.  The last flight of the day is typically from Tin Tin (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmIALkecuR8&feature=related) where you can land on the hotel’s beach and have a beer, swim and shower, before dinner.

Nightlife in and around Epidavros is relatively quiet.  I like to start each evening with “happy hour” at the Apollon’s open-air bar, overlooking the beach.  My drink of choice is Ouzo, an anise-flavored liqueur, widely consumed in Greece.  After a couple of drinks, you can either dine at the hotel or at one of several very good restaurants in Epidavros, approximately six miles from the hotel.  Our favorite restaurant, Kalojericho (“Monk’s House”) is just around the corner from the hotel.  Like many restaurants in the area, it offers open-air dining in a garden-like setting.  The cuisine goes beyond the typical kabobs and moussaka found on most Greek menus.  They offer subtlety-seasoned meats and fish, savory stews and garden-fresh fruits and vegetables.  The Peloponnese has one of the most historic wine-growing regions in Greece and the wines are an excellent compliment to the cuisine.  A perfect day in paradise usually ends back at the hotel, with more drinks, or coffee, in the bar.

The Flying Paradise team is passionate about pilot safety.  Christophe has a list of rules and he makes sure his guests follow them.  You must have a radio, a reserve and a speed bar and you should have good launching skills, including a strong forward launch.  Most of the visiting pilots are French, British and Swiss, but pilots come from all over the world to fly.  When we visited, the group was quite diverse and a lot of fun.  As you might imagine, by the end of the week, we felt like a family.  When I was there, the skill level of the pilots ranged from newly rated pilots to competition pilots and I can honestly say that everyone got what they came for.  Flying Paradise provides a supportive environment, where pilots of all skill levels can challenge themselves and improve their skills.

Flying Paradise charges a daily fee that is very reasonable for what you get.  The fee includes your hotel room with a full breakfast, airport transfers, transportation to and from the flying sites, XC retrievals, site intros and thermal, SIV and cross country guidance.  Your fee is based upon your experience level (beginner, intermediate, advanced or non-pilot) and the more times you visit, the less you pay.  Payment must be made in cash, but there are ATMs in nearby Epidavros.

This is an ideal place to bring your non-flying friends and family.  Use of Flying Paradise’s ten mountain bikes, sea kayaks snorkel equipment/wet suits (all in good condition), sightseeing trips and tandem flights for non-pilots, as well as transportation to and from the village every evening, and an occasional sightseeing trip, are included in the fee.  Who needs Club Med?  My only regret is that I didn’t make some time to kayak along the coast, do a little snorkeling or take a bike ride along the back roads.  Maybe next time…

Only twenty-five miles from the hotel, the town of Nafplio is definitely worth seeing.  Nafplio, is literally one of the loveliest towns I’ve ever visited, with its marble paved roads, stunning architecture and looming castles.  Formerly the capitol of Greece, Nafplio is a pleasant place to spend a day enjoying the excellent tavernas, bars, restaurants and shops in the steep and narrow streets overlooking the sea. 

What’s missing?  Well, there are no worries about rides to the sites, no worries about retrieves, no rainy days, no parawaiting and no paradriving.  Flying Paradise provides every pilot with a list of emergency numbers and contact numbers (for retrievals) and a list of key emergency phrases in Greek.  It was flyable every day when I was there and, if you choose not to fly, there are lots of other fun things to do and interesting places to visit within an easy drive of the hotel.

Flying Paradise is open for business when the conditions for paragliding are at their best in Greece, from March 15 through July 5 and from August 25 through November 5.  You really can’t go wrong if you plan a trip during this time, although May and September are usually the best months for flying.  As you might expect, it is cooler in April.  In May, the sea starts warming up, the days are longer and the thermals are stronger.  Although the water stays warm through October, the days start getting shorter.

Flying Paradise lived up to its name -- I had some of the best flights I’ve had in years on this trip and the entire adventure was great fun.  I intend to return to Flying Paradise in September.  Feel free to contact me, if you’d like more information.

Contact Information for Flying Paradise:

Christophe Dubois
Flying Paradise
21059 Palea Epidavros
Greece
By phone:  +30 69 76 77 47 17
By email:  info@flying-paradise.com

Born in Paris, Christophe Dubois has an eclectic biography.  A bit of a gypsy, Christophe lived and worked all over the world, until he discovered the Peloponnese, where he founded Flying Paradise, twelve years ago.  A true outdoorsman, Christophe is addicted to air.  In addition to paragliding, he is an avid skydiver, wing-suit flyer and BASE jumper.  He has also flown hang gliders, small aircraft and micro-lights.  A former street artist, Christophe is also an accomplished juggler, unicycler and tightrope walker, but that’s another story.