Bridal Falls July 27

 A stable day at Bridal as there was more cloud shading the sun than we expected.  But after 30 minutes I was able to get high enough to topland and save Rob S from having to retrieve his truck.

After I top landed, it actually got a bit better so Tom was also able to topland and retrieve the other truck that showed up with a second load of pilots.

Macedonia July 11-16, 2023

After a week of flying in Drama, it was time for us to relocate to Krushevo in North Macedonia for a week of unstructured self-guided flying. 

Krushevo is the highest town in North Macedonia, and one of the highest in the Balkans.

Now, it’s difficult to get from Drama to Krushevo via public transit…there used to be trains and a bus, but since Covid those have gone away, or involve an all-day ordeal of bus transfers and missing connections.  And since North Macedonia is not in the EU (whereas Greece is), most car rental companies will not allow you to drive between the two countries.  So you either have to fly from Thessaloniki to Skopje and then backtrack via bus/taxi anyways, or hire a driver to take you directly.

Flying the flats north of Krushevo.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

I contacted the local school in Krushevo, “Paragliding Macedonia”, and got the contact for a local driver, who drove to Thessaloniki airport to pick us up, and drove us back across the border to North Macedonia and onwards to Krushevo.  For this service (up to 3 pilots in the car) it was a total of 150 Euro.  It was a great decision as our driver spoke the local language and was able to get us through the land border with minimal fuss (although there was a lot of gesticulating and animated language between our driver and the border guards…not quite sure why!).

If you show up at Krushevo in the summer, chances are you'll run into a comp!  
Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

Krushevo itself is situated up high above the Pelagonia valley at 1350m ASL, which means you can be a bit cooler, temperature-wise; as well you are already at launch altitude and it’s a short 10 minute drive to the main takeoff.  Many pilots stay at the Montana Palace Hotel, but this is situated outside the main part of Krushevo so you’ll be walking for any restaurants/food/groceries/ATM, so I think it’s better to stay closer to the town centre.  Most pilots will eat at the “Skar” restaurant (which does breakfast as well as lunch and dinner), located in the town centre next to the church.

Arriving back at Krushevo after a triangle, to topland in the fields behind town.

There are 2 takeoffs just outside Krushevo, and any taxi can take you there.  You can usually find a taxi near the “Roma” pizza restaurant, or inquire at the local paragliding info centre to see if they have any shuttles.  It’ll cost around 300 MKD / 5 Euro.  The main takeoff faces east and is the main comp/XC launch, with space for ~10 pilots to launch simultaneously, shade and benches to hang out under, and often a vendor selling water/snacks.  There is also a bathroom and water spigot which is unlocked for comps (and chances are, if it’s summer, there will be a comp going on!).  If, for some reason, it’s blowing over the back, or you want to fly later in the day, you may need to visit the other side of the ridge, facing west, where the smaller alternate takeoff is located.

Lots of clouds and pilots to mark the thermals on the flats!  
Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

As Krushevo is mainly an XC/comp flying site, most pilots fly out-and-returns to the south or north, or big triangles to the other side of the valley near Prilep.  There is also a flying site just below the Treskavec Monastery above Prilep for afternoon/west wind.

Lake Ohrid swimming.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

You have the choice of either mountain or flatland flying, or both, depending on stability and cloudbase.  Most pilots opt to fly the mountains first, and then when the first Qs start popping out on the flats, head out there, before returning to land at one of the LZs at the base of the road leading back up to Krushevo.  While we were there (late June) the flatland lift was plentiful even if there were no clouds to make things obvious.  You can fly quite far north until you hit the mountain range bordering Skopje, at which point you can commit to going deep (maybe for vol-bivy) or follow the curve of mountains around to the east.

Typical triangle flight from Krushevo.

Lake Ohrid launch in Galicica National Park.

If you want a change of scenery, you can always head to Lake Ohrid for some freshwater beaches or the resort town (we hired a local driver); there are actually flying sites there too!  The one we went to is in Galicica National Park; there is a small kiosk at the bottom of the road up and a person charging entry (I think it was 100 MKD per pilot). Stop at the St. George chapel on the side of the road, and launch will be anywhere in the meadow below the hairpin turn.

Lake Ohrid: the border with Albania just ahead of me.

Be aware there are powerlines to the north of launch and if you get up and behind launch and then low, you may need to topland back there.  Not a big deal, you can just relaunch from there, but it is in a bit of a venturi, so if it’s forecast to be windy, it’ll be windier here.  Plan accordingly!  There is an official LZ in one of the few fields between the mountain range and the Lake, or there are 3 beaches at the south end of the Lake.  According to the local tandem pilots, don’t land at the closest beach.  Choose the farthest-from-launch, and be prepared to avoid sunbathers, cars, bushes, etc.  But it’s very nice to land and be able to just jump in the water to cool off!

Lake Ohrid flight.

The beach landings at the south end of Lake Ohrid.

Watching the lenticulars form at the end of the day.

If you are looking for a place with reliable and varied flying, and want some infrastructure in place (other pilots to fly with, cheap busses/taxis, moderate climate), you should consider Krushevo.  Given that there are usually several weeks of comps in the summer months (I think for 2023 there was something like 6-in-a-row!), it's gotta be one of the more reliable spots for XC flying.

Drama Greece tour July 3-10, 2023 with Skygods Paragliding

It’s been a while since I did a paragliding trip in Europe, but this time I wanted to try eastern Europe.  I decided it would be fun to go paragliding in Greece and North Macedonia, as we had a family wedding to attend in Czechia already later in July.

One of the major industries in the Drama valley is marble, with numerous quarries in the surrounding mountains.  
Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont

There are many flying sites in Greece, many of them in the southern Islands and around Athens, but since it was coming up to high tourist season (July and August) I wanted to go someplace less busy, so opted for the Drama area.  This is in northern Greece, close to the border with Bulgaria and North Macedonia, and is the site of a previous World Cup.  There are multiple drive-up sites within 1-2 hours of Drama, with the main XC site being “Pyrgi”, situated atop the mountain overlooking the small town of Petroussa, about 15 minutes west of Drama.  There is also an afternoon soaring site located directly above Drama called “Korylovos”, accessible via paved road, with both a South (carpeted) and East (natural grass) launch to take advantage of the afternoon seabreeze originating from Kavala and the Aegean Sea to the SE.

Flying in the Drama area involves both mountain and flatland flying.  
Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont

The local club has a few members, but they rarely visit the Pyrgi site, preferring to fly Drama instead.  So if you want a day’s worth of XC, you’ll likely want to hook up with a tour group.  We chose “Skygods Paragliding”, run by a UK pilot named Owen Thompson.  He’s been doing tours to the Drama area for several years and has multiple excellent reviews from previous clients, so we joined him for one of his 1-week tours in the first week of June.

Crossing the gap from Myteros, the highest local peak, to the western flank of mountains leading to the Serres valley.  

As part of the tour package, Owen will pick you up (and drop you off) from Thessaloniki airport and drive you to Drama, about a 2-hour drive.  He can also get you set up with sim card, although if you have a newer phone you can simply download a Greek e-sim (Airalo or Ubigi are both good options) and skip the need for a physical sim card (just remember to turn off your home country sim card so you don’t get hit with roaming charges!).

Pyrgi launch has room for 5-6 gliders easily, more if you are willing to lay out on the rocky bits.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

Drama in June is hot, so bring clothing appropriate for hot-weather flying.  As part of the tour, Owen arranges with a local bed-n-breakfast operator in Petroussa, “Pension Katarina”, for everyone to stay.  It includes your own room with private bathroom, a large backyard, and daily breakfast.  And breakfast is fantastic!  The hosts, Deiter and Katarina, will put on a huge spread of various options to accommodate (most) dietary types.

The flatlands of the Drama valley.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

The actual takeoff at Pyrgi is a grassy meadow with a few rocks, room for multiple pilots to lay out at once.  Keep an eye out for the goats as they may wander over to take a look.  It’s a SE morning site so you’ll want to take off by 11am.  House thermal is usually to the east (left), along the ridge leading to Petroussa.

Flying back to Drama over the flats after tagging Skopia.  All those white spots in the mountains are marble quarries.

For XC options, the general route is to the west and around the curve of mountains, past Mytero towards Skopia, unless you choose to jump over the back to the Lise/Kato valley.  If you choose to do that, make sure you land before the border with Bulgaria, as landing past the border can be an issue as Bulgaria is not part of the Schengen free-travel area.

Typical out-n-return flight from Pyrgi to Myteros.

Typical triangle flight from Pyrgi.

The "windmill ridge" to the NE of Korylovos.  The valley beyond tends to be a bit windy so plan your route accordingly!

At some point you’ll hit the west wind coming over the mountains at Skopia, and you’ll have to decide if you are going to do an out-and-return, fly south to Paggaio, or flatland fly…it’ll likely depend on the clouds/wind/overdevelopment.  Generally there will be a west wind coming over the mountains from the Serres valley, plus the middle of the Serres valley can get quite stable, so plan accordingly.

Flying from Chionochori to Paranesti, approximately 90km flight.  
Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

There is also a takeoff just east of Serres called “Chionochori”, and Owen took us there on the last day of our tour.  This allows you to start from further west if you are wanting to maximize your open distance, and I believe the Greek distance record has been set from one of the launches around here.  Common destinations include Paranesti or Xanthi.  Paranesti will be a downwind flight (past the windmill ridge is generally considered the point-of-no-return if you are trying to fly back), but a few km’s past this town and within the Lekani mountain range, you’ll likely hit the seabreeze coming from Xanthi, making the final push to Xanthi an upwind battle.

Flight from Chionochori to Paranesti.

Surfing the clouds near Mytero.

There is also a flying site at Paggaio, suitable for days when the bigger mountains are overdeveloping or you want a shorter flight to the Aegean Sea.  There will a ridge between the takeoff and the ocean, so make sure you are high enough to clear it before the final glide to the beaches, as there are limited landings if you land short.  But once at the beach, you can shuck your glider and jump right into the bathtub-temperature water!  And it’s super-salty, so you’ll be very buoyant as well.

The south launch at Korylovos is carpeted!

If you are not feeling like a big XC day, you can simply land in Petroussa (there is a designated LZ with a shade hut across the road, about a 20 minute walk from Pension Katarina), fly over to Drama to land at the local club’s LZ at the base of the Korylovos south launch, or the alternate LZ across from the east launch, or topland the south or east side to chill and relaunch when the seabreeze kicks in.  If it’s soarable (usually every afternoon starting around 4pm) then there will likely be local pilots or tandems about.  Check in with the local club to find out where the no-landing spots are (there is some military land nearby) or have Owen point them out.  Here and here are two of the military zones near Drama…do not land here!

The LZ in Petroussa as a gust front rolled through.

Outside the military zones and a small airport to the south towards Kavala, you can pretty much land anywhere.  It’ll be hot, so choose a LZ with a tree for packing shade, and have lots of water.  If you are on the tour, you’ll need Telegram or WhatsApp installed on your phone, and have a Spot or InReach so the driver can track you.

Watch where you pack up!  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

Owen’s tours also include visiting the various restaurants in the Drama and Serres valleys.  It’s Greece, so everything tastes fantastic, and Owen knows where the good spots are!  Prices are cheap (‘cause it’s Greece!) so your Euros will go far…a big meal will set you back maybe 15 Euro if you share multiple dishes with the rest of the group.  At the end of the tour, Owen will take the group to a fancy restaurant in the hills for a big steak dinner so make sure to bring your appetite.

We visited the Philippi archeological site on our day off.

If it’s not flyable, Owen will give the group various options, including visiting some archaeological sites, mudbaths (note these are gender-segregated, so a mixed-gender group will get separated), going to a beach near Kavala, whitewater rafting, ziplining, go-karting, or hiking.  While we were there, we flew 6 out of the 7 days, and the day off we likely could have flown the afternoon site, but we were kinda flown-out by that point!

Despite being thousands of years old, the grounds are still in use for performances!  
Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

So, if you are thinking of flying in Greece, and want all the logistics to be taken care of, I would highly recommend Skygods Paragliding.  Owen will take care of everything and you can focus on getting some fun flying in…maybe combine it with a south Islands beach vacation or Athens if you want to bring a non-flying SO.

One of the many beaches along the Aegean Sea.

On the final day of our tour, we visited a local steakhouse for an awesome meal!  
Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.