Ian told me heÂ’d posted a link to the video, so I suppose this is a good moment to make my first posting here and to say hello. IÂ’m glad to see that people have enjoyed watching the film already.
I learned to fly two years ago on microlights (a type of aircraft somewhere between ultralights and the proposed sport aircraft category in the US) and packed in a couple of hundred hours on those before adding a normal light aircraft licence as well.
IÂ’ve been flying IanÂ’s SR20 for three months now and love it! It is the perfect machine for touring and it transported me and my parents around France quickly, safely and in style. This was the first time theyÂ’ve visited Europe since I learned to fly so was their first trip with me. Needless to say, they are now Cirrus enthusiasts too. Just in case they assumed that all light aircraft were like the SR20 I made them sit in a 25 year-old PA28 so that they could appreciate the difference.
Our trip started at Denham on the north west edge of London and took us over the English Channel to Cherbourg in France to clear customs. From there we headed south west to the old port town of La Rochelle (circling Le Mont St Michel on the way) for our first night. After a fine meal in the evening and a leisurely breakfast at a harbourside cafÃ© the next morning we flew to the mediaeval city of Carcassonne near the eastern end of the Pyrenees Â– only 2.5 hours to cover half of France which left plenty of time for the important business of sightseeing, eating and drinking.
The next leg was one of the highlights of the trip: the low-level VFR route over the Camargue delta between Montpellier and Marseille. The maximum permitted altitude is 700Â’ which gives you a tremendous view of a really remarkable landscape. The video (especially in its compressed online form) doesnÂ’t really do it justice, but if youÂ’re ever in that area then fly that route Â– you wonÂ’t regret it.
We flew over beaches and bays as well as the delta itself and some of the areaÂ’s well-known red rice paddies before ending up over the bay at Marseille with the city glinting in the sun at the foot of the Provencal hills. From there we flew along the now-rocky southern coastline past the famous Calanques (small rocky bays much prized by yachtsmen as secluded moorings) before starting to climb and turning inland over Cassis towards our destination of Aix en Provence. As we approached the city we had some great views of Mont Saint Victoire which CÃ©zanne immortalised in his many paintings of it.
We landed at the quiet field of Aix Les Milles and then spent the next couple of nights in Aix which must easily qualify as one of the worldÂ’s most beautiful cities. The warm Mediterranean climate, a laid-back pace of life, beautiful old buildings and an endless choice of excellent cafes and restaurants certainly puts it high on my list. We hired a car and drove up to the Luberon region just north of the city for a dayÂ’s exploring of the many lovely old villages there including Bonnieux, Gordes and Rousillon with its strange landscape of ochre cliffs.
Leaving Aix with some regret we headed northwards up to Burgundy and the famous wine town of Beaune, watching the landscape become gradually gentler as we flew. The airfield at Beaune was small and sleepy, but had a hard runway with plenty of room for the SR20. It was the only field on the trip where it was necessary to speak French on the radio, but fortunately I can get by in the language well enough to manage that. All the major ATC units in France speak English, but small fields often do not have towers and there you have to broadcast your movements to the other traffic, and you have to do this in French.
Beaune is a lovely town as well, and itÂ’s a place I been going back to for at least the last 15 years, but this was my first time there by air. The subsequent journey back to the Channel coast at Le Touquet took just over two hours, a big improvement on the five or six hours it takes by car. Even that means you have to maintain at least 100mph on the autoroutes (freeways) which is neither relaxing nor legal. The SR20 alternative wins by a big margin.
We had a final French lunch in Le Touquet before reluctantly heading back over the sea to England at the end of a really fantastic trip. For me the whole thing really encapsulated everything which made me want to learn to fly in the first place, and it has certainly turned my parents into Cirrus converts overnight.
It only remains to say thanks again to Ian for the use of N147CD and making the whole thing possible.