Top paragliding sites in the world
Paragliding and hang-gliding is possible almost anywhere in the world. If there's a mountain you can fly off it. If there's a cliff with some wind you can soar along it. Even if it's flat, you can winch up to altitude and then catch a thermal for a cross-country flight.
But where are the top places in the world to go paragliding? Here's a run-down of the most well known sites in the world in no particular order.
Host of the Paragliding World Cup in 2015, Bir is a village located in the state of Himachal Pradesh, northern India, and is a noted centre for ecotourism, spiritual studies and meditation. Bir is also home to a Tibetan refugee settlement with several Buddhist monasteries and a large stupa.
The Bir-Billing area is a popular site for paraglider pilots, for both Indians and visitors from all over the world. The flying season is from September to October, with some flying also done in November. The village continues to host periodic international competitions and events.
The launch site is in the meadow at Billing (14 km north of Bir) at an elevation of 2,400 metres, while the landing site and most tourist accommodation is in the village of Chowgan (also spelled Chaugan) on the southern edge of Bir.
Chamonix / Mont Blanc, France
Image courtesy of Hugh Robinson. © 2007
When it comes to paragliding the French are a dedicated bunch. With the most paragliding sites of any country in the world, it's no surprise that many of the top sites are in France.
Mont Blanc is the highest peak in Europe, located close to the border between France, Switzerland and Italy. There is some amazing flying in the entire surrounding region, and pilots launching from the peak of Mont Blanc at 4,440m (14,500 ft) can either glide down to the Chamonix valley or do some cross-country. Hard-core acro pilots can often be seen throwing their wings around here.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
© 2004 Craig Payne. All rights reserved.
If you have ever wanted to fly like Peter Pan past a fairy tale castle, then you've come to the right place. Walt Disney used the Neuschwanstein (New Swan Stone) castle near Füssen as his inspiration when creating his fairy tale castle, but this one's real and you can fly right over it.
There are multiple launch options, but the best one is the Tegelberg a bit further up the mountain. Just watch out for fog and other weather conditions which can roll in very fast.
Annecy is commonly used for SIV courses because there are multiple launches within easy proximity of the large lake, which makes for reasonably soft landings providing the pilot manages to avoid drowning. Pilots doing the SIV course generally take off from the Col de la Forclaz launch to position themselves over the lake before practising full collapses, spiral dives, wing-overs, asymmetric collapses, and other death-defying safety-related exercises.
Annecy is a very beautiful place, with large mountains and a scenic lake to fly over. Sometimes it's a bit crowded, but it's worth it.
© 2008 Craig Payne. All rights reserved.
Although Treh is in France, this site is so beloved of Germans that at least half the pilots on any given day can be heard speaking German, and the locals also speak German and French bi-lingually. There are plenty of cheap places to stay here, including chalets or tent sites at the local motor camps.
The Treh mountain is very thermic in summer, allowing pilots to fly long distances. The landing zone at the bottom of the mountain is in front of the local school, which also has a paragliding shop and very friendly staff. This is also where pilots can wait for the shuttle van to drive them back up to the top.
Babadag (Olüdeniz), Turkey
Pilots flying from the Babadag mountain in Turkey can fly over the Olüdeniz lagoon before landing on one of the top 5 beaches in the world. The weather is never below 25oC (77oF), and 80% of days are flyable making it a popular holiday destination for pilots.
The Olüdeniz Air Games are held here each year, and include paragliding, skydiving, base-jumping, hangliding, paramotor flights, remote controlled plane shows, microlites, hard core acrobatic competitions and accuracy landing competitions. If you're intending to attend the Air Games as a pilot or spectator, make sure you sort out your accomodation well in advance, because it's very popular.
View Olüdeniz on the map.
Dune du Pyla, France
© 2008 Craig Payne. All rights reserved.
Dune du Pyla is the largest sand dune in Europe - 500m (1,640ft) wide, 3km (1.86mi) long and just over 100m (329ft) high. It is also growing. So far, it has eaten a hotel and a major intersection, and it is steadily encroaching on the local motor-camp by a couple of metres per year.
Although this sand-dune is disliked by hoteliers and roading engineers, it is well liked by paraglider pilots for it's relaxing, easy flying. The people there are friendly, especially the local "Wagas" school. I forgot my helmet when I went, and they lent me one and simply asked me to return it at the end of the day!
There is a short piece of cliff to fly along, or you can practise your Wagas moves on the dune. This is a must-see location for pilots unfamiliar with beach flying. Just don't do what I did and go to the wrong end, because 3km is a long way to walk along the sand with a glider!
View Dune du Pyla on the map.
And that concludes the list, although there are many more amazing places in the world to fly, of course! If you think a site should be added to this page, let me know. For example, I know there are a bunch of great places to fly in the United States and India, but I know nothing about them.