5 of the best summer destinations for pilots | Mediterranean islands & cities

Calvi fortress and town from above

Five beautiful places to visit that are easy for GA pilots - Credit: Caroline Mathon

Our widely-travelled Jodel pilot, Alain Mathon, lists his top 5 destinations ideal for summer flying adventures; this time, we're visiting Mediterranean islands and city breaks. 

Our adventure continues from the islands and mountain retreats of Europe by exploring Mediterranean beach destinations and a couple of intriguing cities that you can reach easily with a GA aircraft.

Around ‘the Med’ 
Dreaming of heavenly sandy beaches, warm summer days and the dolce vita? Head to the Mediterranean Sea! The birthplace of European civilization is immersed in culture and archaeology. But that’s not all: recreational flying, sunshine, tasty and healthy food, beautiful sights and shimmering colours are all there awaiting you. What else could you ask for? 

Calvi island from above

On base leg to Calvi. The warm waters of the Mediterranean sea may make you want to relax, but you still need to land! - Credit: Caroline Mathon

1. Calvi (LFKC), Corsica 
Hard runway 2310m, 210ft amsl. PPR, avgas 100LL, restaurant, accommodation in town by bus or taxi.

Are you worried about spending too long over water? Do not worry! In fair weather, with a reliable engine, enough fuel for a safe diversion and permanent radio contact with Nice Information, there is no reason you’d get in trouble on this trip. And your patience will be rewarded by the enchanting arrival over Calvi.

As soon as you open the canopy, you feel that you are in another world. The subtle scents of thyme, almond and chestnut, the strong fragrance of pine trees, with a touch of mugwort and lavender, and the buzzing song of the cicadas−that’s Corsica! The whole island is worth a visit but among the many towns Calvi is especially scenic. It has something for everyone, whether it is snorkelling in the bay, sun bathing on the beach or hiking across the scrubland, not to mention the surprisingly delicious Corsican cuisine, based on wild boar stews, fresh seafood, and strongly flavoured cheese. There is something for beer and spirits lovers too (and if you listen to some locals, they will tell you that Corsicans created whisky!)

On the harbour, why not try a boat trip to Sandola or the Agriates desert, or rent a little boat to discover hidden coves and inlets for yourself? And, if you are afraid of getting sea sick, pay a visit to the ‘Citadelle’. Perched on its rocky promontory, it offers a 360° panorama of the city, the marina and the mountains sloping into the sea. Its cobbled streets and its typical Genoa-style houses tell you their history in their own way. And, if you really miss flying, take your aeroplane and follow the scenic western coastline to the pretty and quiet Propriano airfield, leave your aircraft on the apron, walk for a couple of minutes down the runway and dive into the Mediterranean sea for a refreshing swim! 

Runway 34 at Marina di Campo

Beautiful, though sometimes a bit challenging! Final for Runway 34 at Marina di Campo may present some turbulence due to the interaction of the wind with the surrounding hills. In this picture the slope appears exaggerated, although the runway still rises about twenty feet from one threshold to the other - Credit: Caroline Mathon

2. Marina di Campo (LIRJ), Elba
Hard runway 949m, 31ft amsl. Avgas 100LL, restaurant, accommodation in town, reached by bus or taxi. bicycles, scooters and cars available for rent on the airfield 

The island of Elba can be a travel destination by itself, or just a short hop over water while you visit Corsica. In any cases, Elba is a jewel in the middle of the Tuscan Archipelago and the only island in the area which has an airfield. Takeoffs and landings on the Northern side involve low flying over terrain while departures to and arrivals from the South are totally unobstructed. Once on ground, the first words you will hear from the handling agent will be “Benvenuti all’Isola d’Elba!” People here are friendly, helpful and smiling (probably thanks to their sunny and mild climate) and you’ll not fail to love this place.  

There are so many things to do on this small island and, thanks to an excellent bus network, everything is within easy reach. If you are interested in history, you will want to visit the National Museum at Portoferraio and Napoléon’s house, where you can walk in the footsteps of the Emperor−he was exiled here between 1814 and 1815. But Elba is also a paradise for nature lovers who will enjoy hiking in the national parks, or climbing to the Monte Capanne, where you can experience an outstanding view of the island−and, in clear weather, of the surrounding archipelago. If you want the view without the walking, you can also reach the top of the mountain with a cable car. 

Another option, being on an island, is taking a boat trip around the coast, or riding in a glass-bottom vessel to discover the various kinds of fish swimming in the clear waters without getting wet. The fascinating mood of Isola d’Elba can also be explored by strolling in the small harbours, the tiny Tuscan-style alleys or by visiting the many artists’ workshops. If your trip is meant to be a romantic one, your loved one will certainly appreciate a bottle of Acqua d’Elba, a perfume made on the island. This could be a good start to a romantic dinner on one of the numerous terraces on the island, where you can feast on a succulent fritto misto (fried fish) with a glass of Tuscan wine, and end your meal with an Italian gelato.  

Unije from above

It may look like a picture taken from a terrace sitting atop the old town, but it's not. Caroline actually shot this from the Mathon’s Jodel on short final for Unije (the wing is visible on the bottom right corner) - Credit: Caroline Mathon

3. Unije (LDPN), Croatia 
Grass 850m, 36ft amsl. Accommodation in the village within walking distance (but no camping on the airfield)  

We had just landed in Aosta in North-West Italy for refuelling when my good friend Mario came along. We started chatting and he told us that a few weeks before, he had discovered an idyllic little airfield on the Croatian island of Unije. We did not need to know more to change our plans: the planned trip to the Dolomites would be extended to Croatia to visit what Mario described, with typical Italian emphasis, as “the most beautiful airfield in Europe”. And, in my opinion, he was right!  
Unije is a little jewel on one of the numerous islands surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Adriatic sea. There are no motor vehicles on the island except boats, aeroplanes, and the one moped belonging to the AFIS. The place is really GA-friendly and popular with pilots from the neighbouring countries. Flying is also how this island is connected to the rest of Croatia: a Cessna 172 lands here every day from nearby Losinj to deliver goods, mail and newspapers, or for the occasional medevac.  

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When joining overhead, the airfield looks rather primitive, but the AFIS is really proficient. A frequent wind coming from the sea often forces you to do an unforgettable final approach over the village roofs. Once on ground, a voice welcomes you and directs you to the little apron. If you try looking for this man you won’t see anybody, until a backfiring moped rushes to the runway in a dust cloud: here is Drago, the man behind the voice, always smiling and helpful. There is no Tower and his “office” is the terrace of one of the taverns on the harbour. From there, with the help of two portable transceivers, he monitors the airfield traffic, and even the approach of the daily ferry boat. 

Camping is not allowed on the island, but Drago will quickly find a solution for your accommodation: he has so many acquaintances that, within minutes, he will find a charming and cheap guesthouse in the village. On the day of your departure you will usually leave with a jar of locally produced honey, as a gift from your hosts. 

From the airfield, you just need to walk a few hundred yards among wild fig trees and rosemary to arrive in the “town centre”. The village has around eighty permanent inhabitants and boasts several restaurants along the harbour, offering local specialties such as cebab cici or fresh fish. If you are fond of fish, the waiter will ask you what kind you would like for dinner, and will get a friend to catch it specifically for you. It takes a little time but this is guaranteed to be fresh fish!  

Unije marina and houses

On Unije, when you ask for fish at the local restaurant, it's not unusual for one of the boats to be launched so that they can catch whatever variety you ordered - Credit: Caroline Mathon

Unije is a perfect place to relax and enjoy the Mediterranean way of life during long nature walks or while swimming, snorkelling, or just sitting at one of the terraces with an ice cream or a fresh drink, observing the peaceful life on this little island. 

When you are ready to leave, plan to fly over the gorgeous Croatian coastline dotted with countless islands and islets, and include a refuelling stop at Losinj or Split which both deserve a visit.  

After the prolonged lockdown you may be fed up with being isolated and all you want is to meet people. If you are dreaming of urban life with lots of shopping, museums, café terraces, and good little restaurants, then Annecy and Venice are very good options that you can fly to. 

Annecy houses and river running through centre

The quaint city of Annecy has a rich medieval history and will be a ‘find’ for lovers of good food and culture - Credit: Caroline Mathon

4. Annecy (LFLP), France 
Hard runway 1,595m, grass runway 845m, 1521ft amsl, avgas 100LL. Restaurants and accommodation nearby, buses and taxis to town centre. Car rental available at the airfield
 

Despite being a controlled airfield located in Class D airspace, Annecy is mostly devoted to recreational flying, with an active aeroclub, a homebuilders group and dozens of privately-owned resident light aircraft, often used for mountain flying in the Alps. As often in France, ATC is helpful and proficient - albeit rather talkative in French, a little less in English! Annecy is a really popular destination amid the picturesque peaks of the French Alps. Its fame is due to its stunning beauty: the turquoise waters of the lake seem absolutely unreal in the green surroundings.

Visitors come here to marvel at the medieval architecture of the city, to take part in lake activities and to attend famous festivals. A small paradise on Earth, Annecy attracts people from all over the world every year. The city embraces a communal and pleasant way of life, with locals and tourists spending a lot of time sitting at the numerous bistro terraces, enjoying the mountain views, swimming in the lake (among the cleanest in Europe) and cycling. The typical local alpine food includes a variety of cheeses (raclette, tartiflette and reblochon are the best known), along with fruity local white wines like Chignin-Bergeron and Apremont. So, if enjoying wine and cheese in front of one of the most gorgeous vistas in the Alps sounds good to you, then Annecy should be on your list of places to visit. 

Runway at Venezia San Nicolo from above

Right base approaching the northeasterly runway at Venezia San Nicolò (Venice proper is on the left side, not visible in this picture). The small office building at San Nicolò is an interesting example of a 1930s terminal building, as the airfield served as the city's airport during those years - Credit: Caroline Mathon

5. Venezia-Lido (LIPV), Italy 
Grass runway 994m, 13ft amsl, avgas 100LL. Campsite within walking distance, restaurants and accommodation in the city by vaporetto very close to the airfield. Do not confuse with Venezia-Tessera (LIPZ), the city’s international airport! 

Approaching Venice in the golden light of a late afternoon is a flight you will remember for a long time. A few hundred feet below your wings, the laguna glitters in the evening sun and the city of Venice appears in the distance while you come in sight of the little grass airfield of San-Nicolò, as the locals know it. This is definitely the most famous of destinations among those described in this article. You will know that in the Serenissima you do not take a taxi but a waterbus to arrive into town. However, that is not the only surprise you may experience. You really have two possibilities to explore this exceptional city: either rushing from one tourist spot to the next one, discovering the Grand Canal, the Doge’s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs and Piazza San Marco in the process. Or, more appropriately in my opinion, you can go for an unplanned stroll to catch the timeless soul of Venice: watching gondolas on the narrow canals of the old town, exploring the flea- and antiques markets, looking at luxury shops selling Murano glasses, or just unearthing a quiet restaurant on a waterway to taste the local specialties−like sepia ink risotto.  

Staying in Venice for just one night is definitely too short and a two-day visit is an absolute minimum. But beware of hotel prices and make sure to inquire before: a friend of mine who wanted to please his girlfriend booked for two nights at the famous Danieli and gasped when he saw the bill, wondering if he would have to sell his aeroplane to pay for the stay. But a promise is a promise, so he reluctantly inserted his credit card in the machine and made a mental note to prepare his next journey more carefully. But do not worry, there are many possibilities to find decent hotel rooms at very reasonable prices, let alone the excellent campsite close to the airfield. And in any case, you will not be flying there every weekend, so enjoy Venice at least once in your life, and possibly more if you fall in love with it.

Gondolas in Venice with cathedral visible behind

if you want to do a bit of 'normal' tourism, Venice proper is just across the water and can be reached quickly with the Vaporetto (the local boat bus) - Credit: Caroline Mathon

Staying safe and legal 
“Get-there-itis” is as dangerous as “get-home-itis”, and possibly more because you will be flying to an area you are not familiar with. So, make a firm commitment before flying: if, for any reason, you cannot continue to your destination, divert to another airfield before it is too late. Being safely grounded on an unexpected aerodrome is always a better choice than tempting fate. And, most of the time, you will have the opportunity to discover a lovely place and perhaps write your adventure in the next issue of Pilot! 

If you have booked a hotel in advance, make sure your reservation can be cancelled until 6pm on the day of arrival. Why 6pm? Because more often than not, at 6pm, you should have reached your destination. If you plan a later arrival, choose a last-minute booking with an online travel agency right after landing. That will prevent another reason for a bad case of “Get-there-itis”. And of course, always check weather and Notam before departure, as those can be very different from what you are used to.  

In terms of legalities, if you fly a microlight or a “Permit to Fly” aeroplane, check before departure with the national Aviation Authorities that you are entitled to fly into their airspace and to land at their aerodromes. 

Do not forget to carry tie-downs for your plane, life jackets and all the aircraft documents, your licence, medical certificate and flight log. In France for example, the “Gendarmerie des Transports Aériens” does sometimes ask pilots to show their documents. A pre-filled flight plan template (leave all details which vary such as destination, diversion, and endurance blank) is also helpful if you have to file it by phone.  

Always have paper maps on board because, even if you are an addict to Nav Apps, remember that a paper map never fails, does not need a battery charger, and can even help protecting your costly avionics from the sun when the plane stays outside. And obviously, do not forget passport, currency, credit cards, mobile phone and power adapters.