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A December trip to Southern France and Northern Italy

In the middle of December, Cheshunt (of this parish) sent me an email asking if I wanted to accompany him on an ad-hoc jolly down to Southern France and Northern Italy, on the last weekend before Christmas. By coincidence, my agenda looked good for that, and the weather also looked promising, in a season where this is not a given. “Sure”, I replied within seconds. This was intended as a pure “fun” trip, planned at short notice. These are always the most enjoyable ones.

We joined at Egelsbach (EDFE) around noon on Friday 18th, where he picked me up with his nice Cessna 210N. Here it is:


Our destination for the day was Montpellier (LFMT), about a three-hour flight from Frankfurt in the “Two-Ten”. An IFR (Zulu) flightplan was filed, on the “usual” routing via Basel, Geneva and Valence. High pressure was moving in from the west, so the flight was quite uneventful, but there was some medium-level stratus cloud that spoilt the views on this leg. By the way, this ended up being the only leg flown under IFR on this entire trip.

Here we are, lifting off from the Egelsbach’s runway 26.

As I said, there was a lot of cloud below. Also, on an early afternoon flight, in winter, towards the southwest, the low sun is obviously dead ahead, which makes it even more difficult to see something.


We eventually had to climb to FL150 to stay above it (freezing level was around FL90, so we could have cruised lower if required), but the TAS was still a solid 162 knots up there.

Finally, abeam Lyon, the clouds disappeared, but the visibility was still rather poor. Not even a proper view of the western Alps.

Here’s the river Isère (left) joining the river Rhône (right), just north of Valence.

We arrived in the Montpellier area at about 16:45 local time. Montpellier had been under an overcast most of the day which was just breaking up here and there as we were vectored over the Camargue, for the ILS to runway 30R. Interesting atmosphere though.



Established on the ILS, flying past Le Grau-du-Roi and other ugly “holiday resort” towns on the coast.

Gear checked down.


Field in sight.

By the way, whilst on about a 5-mile final, a Cessna passed right below us (by maybe 400-500 feet), right inside the Montpellier CTR, without a word of traffic info from ATC. We found this a bit disturbing.

La Grande Motte.

Looking west towards Carnon.

Short final.

Taxying in at LFMT, which is always nicely busy with a mix of airline and GA ops. A great example for how to make it work, with no fuss whatsoever.

Parking at apron Foxtrott.


We had to wait quite a bit for the fuel truck (the refueller was busy with that Kingair on the photo above) but we didn’t bother much, since we were waiting anyway, for a friend who landed 25 minutes after us in his Commander 114B (the next day, he continued towards Spain on a trip to Morocco and the Canaries).

We refuelled, walked to the GAT (no crew transport mandatory) and then walked to the airport hotel, where we spent the evening and the night in good company.

The next morning, the original plan had been to fly all along the French and Italian Rivieras, then “work” our way through Northern or Central Italy to be in Venice by early evening. However, we still had the same weather condition as the day before – a very persistent broken/overcast cloud layer at around 2000 feet and mediocre visibility below (between 5 and 15 kilometres).

So, we decided change plans a bit: fly coastwise only up to about Marseille, and then instead fly towards and through the Alps, which were in perfect sunshine. This proved to be a good decision. Our first stop of the day was Le Castellet (LFMQ), just east of Marseille. For who doesn’t know, it’s a neat and somewhat upmarket airfield, with the Paul Ricard racetrack right next to it. No flightplan required for this flight.

Departing LFMT runway 30R via the right-hand downwind.

The Camargue region again – unfortunately – in poor vis. Between Montpellier and the Italian border, there are prescribed low-level VFR routes along various waypoints, so it’s just a matter of following these.

Interesting scenery off the coast of Marseille.


Here we are on a right downwind for Le Castellet’s runway 31.

Final.


By the way, the racetrack (which is now owned by the Ecclestone family) was remoured to return to the F1 calendar in 2014, but it didn’t come true.

We walked to the small terminal building (always “nicely” staffed ), paid the landing fee and planned our next flight. Decision was to fly to Gap-Tallard (LFNA) in the French Alps, about 40 minutes to the northeast.

After departure, we climbed on top through a hole in the clouds and flew northeast (pretty much along the Durance river) at 5500 feet under radio contact with Provence FIS. As soon as we approached the foothills of the Alps, the clouds disappeared as expected.



Sisteron.


Following the famous “Route Napoleon” towards Gap.

Here we are, joining the downwind for runway 21 at LFNA.

The downwind is flown beyond a crest, over the river.

Tallard.

LFNA is a neat little airfield, with lots of mixed activity. It is also the first airfield I have ever seen which has an aircraft parking position reserved for disabled pilots.

As our lunch destination, we chose Torino-Aeritalia (LIMA) in Italy, a place I know very well as I used to be based there in 2002/2003. The VFR routing is straight forward: follow the Durance valley up to Lac de Serre Ponçon, then continue along the Durance up to Briançon and then cross the Montgenèvre pass into Italy. Then follow the Val di Susa all the way to Turin. This routing is very similar to the one I flew in February 2014.

Flying into the high Alps nicely demonstrated how little snow there is up there at this moment.

Mont-Dauphin (LFNC) airfield.

Just west of Briançon, a lonely (artificial) ski slope amidst green landscape.

Overhead the Montgenèvre pass, heading into Italy and the Susa Valley, which leads right towards Turin.

Aeritalia is Turin’s GA airfield, situated in the western parts of the city. The approach is quite spectacular; on base leg, pilots are supposed to fly at 500 feet AGL, with the residential buildings going up to about 200 feet AGL… I have flown this approach dozens of times in the past, but it’s quite exciting each time again. Since we were now back in the flatlands, the inevitable haze was back with us.



On final for 28R.


As we de-planed, an Antonow freighter flew past on the approach to Torino Caselle (LIMF), being on a collision course with the moon…

Some impressions from the airfield, which was quite busy on this sunny saturday afternoon – surprising, since it was the last saturday before Christmas…




Many memorable flights for me on this Cherokee 140…

Our last flight for the day was over to Venice (LIPV). Which may sound like a short hop, but is actually all the way across Northern Italy (over 200 miles). Still, since both departure and arrival airfields were “VFR-only”, we decided not to bother with a Zulu flightplan and instead go “no flightplan”, VFR. The downside was that the visibility all over the Po valley was only 5-10 km, so not a lot to see. In addition, all the VFR-traffic is squeezed down below 2000 feet under the Milan TMA and channelled around the various CTRs.

We crossed the Turin CTR eastbound via crossing overhead Caselle airport. The next waypoint worth mentioning was Pavia, a beautiful small unveristy city, south of Milan.

Past Verona, we were slightly surprised by low fog below…

…but were reassured by the ATIS of Venice, which still reported no significant cloud and 5000 meters of visibility. South of Vicenza, the Colli Euganei produced some spooky sights in the faint winter afternoon sun.


But sure enough, approaching Chioggia and the Venice Lagoon, the fog cleared again.

Approaching the Lido.



Short final to runway 05. The Centurion coped fine with the grass runway.

On the Lido, hotel prices are very low in this kind of season. We ended up booking two rooms in a very nice Grand Hotel for 63€ each.

The next morning, Venice was under dense, but rather shallow fog.

Nevertheless, we pre-flighted the aircraft, wasted another 15 minutes and sure enough, as we were ready to go, the sun came out and the visbility slowly started improving.

The plan for the day was to visit two more beautiful Italian airfields in the Alps (Belluno, LIDB and Asiago, LIDA), before heading back to Germany. The flight to Belluno was planned such as to avoid the Venice CTR, since we didn’t know if they would give us the required SVFR clearance.

We took off with a reported visibility of 1700 meters and proceeded initially towards Jesolo, which was half under fog, half in the clear, and then turned north.

As the terrain slowly rose higher, the fog/haze disappeared. Here we are, approaching Vittorio Veneto.

Following the road north towards Cortina, via the Valle dei Laghi…

…leads up to beautiful Lago di Santa Croce.




From there, it’s just a little turn to the west to set you up for the approach to runway 23 at Belluno (just behind the prop here).

Certainly one of the most beautiful airfields of Northern Italy.




The flight to Asiago was a very short one along the Piave river valley. Here’s Belluno city in detail.


Belluno airfield is right-of-centre on this photo.

Here we are over the plateau of Asiago, approaching the downwind leg for runway 26 at LIDA.

Final.

We had an early lunch at the airfield restaurant and sat outside, no jackets, in the middle of December, at an elevation of over 3400 feet.

During our lunch, more and more aircraft arrived. When we finished there were about 30 visiting aircraft parked on the ramp. Again, this was on the last Sunday before Christmas…

Then, just as we got ready to depart, the “Pocket Rocket” arrived.

We had a short chat with it’s owner Gebhard and then set off towards Germany. The intermediate destination was Memmingen (EDJA). A VFR flightplan was filed using SkyDemon.

On departure, avoiding the various villages of the Asiago plateau for noise abatement.

And a last look back before heading towards Trento.

Again, it became blatantly obvious that snow is very scarce right now in the Alps.


Even the Dolomites have no snow at all.

Overhead Bolzano. The valley to the right is the Eisack valley (with the northbound highway towards Brixen). The valley straight ahead is the Sarentino valley, home of the “Pocket Rocket”.

Detail view of Bolzano.

Now flying up the Adige valley towards Merano. More snowless mountains.



Overhead Merano: to the left, the Val Venosta (Vinschgau), leading towards the Reschen Pass.

In fact, our flight was orginally planned to route via Reschen Pass. But since the weather was so good, and the Reschen Pass is actually a bit of a detour, we decided on the spot to fly the Timmelsjoch instead (Italian name: Passo del Rombo – the wonderful sound of the name is reason enough to fly this pass). It also is one of the highest passes of the Alps at over 8500 feet. So here we are, heading up the Passeier valley towards Passo del Rombo.

A tiny bit of snow up there, blown about by the winds.

Here we are at the pass, which forms the border towards Austria.

Down in the valley: Sölden.

Natural snow available only in the highest parts of the Sölden skiing area.

Abeam Innsbruck, we pointed the nose towards Füssen, at the Austrian-German border.

The Plansee (Austria). By the way, the Cessna 210, with its flat side windows and strutless wings, proved to be an excellent photo platform on this trip.

The Forggensee (Germany).

Neuschwanstein Castle.

Fuel stop at Memmingen (EDJA).

The last leg to Egelsbach was an uneventful one-hour VFR flight. Departing EDJA.

Ulm.



And here we are on final for runway 26 at Egelsbach, at about 16:00 local time.

Thank you very much to Cheshunt for taking me along.

Wish you all happy and safe trips in 2016!

Last Edited by boscomantico at 30 Dec 23:06
Frankfurt (EDFZ, EDFE), Germany

Thanks for the very nice trip report.

Germany

Thanks very much @boscomantico and Chesthunt. Its nice to see people flying long trips at this time of year! Great photos thanks for sharing.

Alex
Shoreham (EGKA) White Waltham (EGLM)

Thanks it looked like a really nice trip. Excellent reporting. Have a Happy New Year!

KHTO, LHTL

What a great trip (and trip report).

EGTK Oxford

Those Italian fields look fantastic. Gotta visit there someday.

Great trip!

Just next to Montpellier LFMT is Nimes LFTW, a former airbase with a massive runway, full ATC and approaches on both sides, a worthy option. Much quieter than Montpellier even in the summer.

EGTF, LFTF

Great report, thanks! Brings back memories of my time in Italy….

A great trip! Thanks for posting it.

Especially amazing to have done it at this time of the year…

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Very interesting, thanks for posting.

Oxford and Bidford
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