Icarus Lives

It was little over a month after moving to our new base in St. Hilaire du Touvet, in the Rhone-Alpes region of France, that this small mountain village became the focus of free-flight fanatics (no offence) from the world over. The 44th Coupe Icare was in play and we, the relatively earth-bound family of 4 (plus dog), were to be treated to four days of areal display, madness and spectacle. 

  With the beautiful Chartreuse Natural Park as the backdrop, crowds begin to gather on the first full-day of the festival

With the beautiful Chartreuse Natural Park as the backdrop, crowds begin to gather on the first full-day of the festival

For those of you not familiar with the world of free flight (which pretty much includes me), it refers to a variety of airborne activities that range from hang gliding, paragliding (what I would describe as a mash-up of hang gliding and parascending), microlights and gliders. Basically, anything that gets you up into the sky without, in most cases, any form of propulsion or a full pilot licence. One thing that many of these activities have in common is the effort involved with getting off the ground. 

  You gotta run before you can fly...

You gotta run before you can fly...

But, once in the air, there is a certain grace about the whole thing and one can easily see how such a sensation might be, on one hand, exhilarating whilst at the same time, somehow meditative.

  Even when the sky filled with gliders, it was easy to imagine the tranquility each must have felt as they searched the air for thermals

Even when the sky filled with gliders, it was easy to imagine the tranquility each must have felt as they searched the air for thermals

Of course, not all the flyers are completely without their own propulsion, as the Para-motors aptly demonstrated. Filling the air with a continuous, and only mildly annoying, buzz (imagine a swarm of angry hornets flying past at high speed), the speed and manoeuvrability of these motorised gliders allowed for some pretty spectacular displays.

  Whilst some were less tranquil than others

Whilst some were less tranquil than others

  Skimming close to the ground and performing precision turns; the para-motors enjoyed much of the limelight

Skimming close to the ground and performing precision turns; the para-motors enjoyed much of the limelight

But even these high-speed flyers had, eventually, to come-back down to earth.

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All this, set against a backdrop of dramatic and beautiful scenery, can only make for an excellent experience.

  A paraglider enjoys a close-up view of the cliffs

A paraglider enjoys a close-up view of the cliffs

One of the highlights of the event is the costumed-gliding competition, where a whole array of ideas take form and throw themselves from the cliffs and into the wild blue yonder. On the advice of a local Coupe Icare veteran, I had positioned myself below the launch site for this event and was able to get some compelling images of flying witches, gondoliers, Olympic canoeists and, of course, Smurfs.

  A modern-day witch flying without the aid of "  fly agaric"

A modern-day witch flying without the aid of "fly agaric"

  One can only assume this gondolier was a tad lost

One can only assume this gondolier was a tad lost

  An over-sized smurf searches for his village amongst the trees

An over-sized smurf searches for his village amongst the trees

However, it wasn’t all about flying (though mostly, it was), and there was definitely a family atmosphere to the whole event with a smattering of street performers, craft stalls, terrestrial acrobatics and fair-ground rides.

  Stilted street performers parade the grounds

Stilted street performers parade the grounds

  Free-flight themed wind chimes (the cat is part of the display) 

Free-flight themed wind chimes (the cat is part of the display) 

  Crazed medieval band challenges festival-goers to take offence (in the nicest possible way)

Crazed medieval band challenges festival-goers to take offence (in the nicest possible way)

  Setting-up for the slack-line show (which I missed)

Setting-up for the slack-line show (which I missed)

  All the fun of the fair - for those who want to fly whilst staying attached to the earth...

All the fun of the fair - for those who want to fly whilst staying attached to the earth...

And most importantly, plenty of time to sit down and take it all in…

  The family (with dog) absorb the atmosphere

The family (with dog) absorb the atmosphere

That all said, the day(s) belonged to those brave souls that took their skills into the skies and, as a result, my camera’s shutter count increased significantly during the festival – not least because much of what was on offer could be seen (and therefore photographed) from the comfort of my workroom.

  The view from the window...

The view from the window...

 ...is stunning on most days, but add a hang glider...

...is stunning on most days, but add a hang glider...

 ...or two...

...or two...

  ...and things start to   getreally breathtaking

...and things start to getreally breathtaking

But, of course, to really get the feel of the festival, to fully appreciate the experience (and experience the appreciation), you gotta get out there and be part of the crowd.

  Most (but not all) left the site in pretty good shape

Most (but not all) left the site in pretty good shape

The main events all happen during the weekend and each of those days were punctuated by displays from the world of powered flight. Aerobatics included planes from the past as well as the more modern ones.

  An old bi-plane comes roaring in form the clouds

An old bi-plane comes roaring in form the clouds

  Whilst some old acquaintances dropped in to see the show

Whilst some old acquaintances dropped in to see the show

  And a lone member of the Patrouille de France (the French Air Force's stunt team) wrapped the festival up with some death-defying flying

And a lone member of the Patrouille de France (the French Air Force's stunt team) wrapped the festival up with some death-defying flying

At the end of the four days’ extravaganza, it all proved too much for some spectators…

  A dog-day afternoon

A dog-day afternoon

Still, time enough to sit down with a (green?) beer and reflect; recounting the cautionary tale of Icarus to the young folk and speculating as to how we, earthbound souls, might go about experiencing the contemplation of free flight for ourselves.

  Drinks at the bar

Drinks at the bar

  The new, regular attendees at all French events today

The new, regular attendees at all French events today

  Calling home for a lift?

Calling home for a lift?

All-in-all, an action packed four days in this otherwise sleepy village. My only regret is that I wasn't able to clone myself to ensure I got round to see all the various shows and events (I didn't even get to see any of the entries to the film festival that was also showing for the entire festival). Ah well, there's always next year...

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