by Andrea del Rio
From the air, the ski resort appears miniature, the perfect fairytale setting: wooden and stone buildings with gabled slate roofs, gardens and balconies covered in flowers in summer or a billowy snow cloak in winter, hiking trails that lose themselves in the thicket of the forest, and bell towers that move you with their transcendental simplicity. The ultra-light Jodel D140 Mousquetaire taxis on the runway at Aérocime, the altiport in Megève, a charming alpine village located in the Rhône-Alpes region. Through the headphones inserted in the protective helmet, the pilot’s slightly distorted voice is heard, repeating his routine speech. "Estimated flight time: 40 minutes. Maximum altitude: 3,000 meters. Final destination: the Mont Blanc massif." When the aircraft finally lifts off, your heart begins to beat to the drum of the engine. As the plane gains altitude, a postcard picture of the alpine lifestyle comes to mind–synonymous with authentic and timeless placidity. The valley is soon well below you, and your daydream continues: granite rock faces, glaciers as choppy as oceans and finally, Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps. Being face to face with this view leaves the senses in suspense–causing many people to forget about the cameras that they so carefully readied before takeoff. Megève, a luxury ski resort that was blessed by the affluent Rothschild clan in the early 20th century–challenging the indisputable Swiss leader up until then, St. Moritz–is sheer altitude. This is in part due to the governmental initiatives to care for the environment and the abundance of spas, beauty salons and other locales that offer relaxation and wellbeing programs using the area’s pristine melt water.
But it is also because Megève, like few other high-mountain destinations, offers an array of activities that are best enjoyed from the air. In addition to flying over glaciers in a small plane, it is also possible to hire personalized helicopter excursions: from a tour of lofty alpine restaurants to professional-quality photography and videography tours of the surroundings, private flying classes and in-air baptisms. If you are looking for more of an adrenaline rush, activities for the fearless include paragliding and skydiving, with free fall and tandem jumps. There are several clubs that will teach you the basic rudiments so that you can soar like Icarus, both for recreation and competitive sport. For a special trip through the air and time, a ride in a hot air balloon is your best option. The ceremony starts with the assembly of the equipment and the inflation of the balloon. Once you are in the basket, each meter that challenges the law of gravity (you fly to between 1,500 and 2,500 meters) will offer you a unique view of Megève. This allows you to focus on those magical details–the symmetry of a group of houses, the spontaneous bifurcation of the natural trails, the coherent flowing of the streams–that, when seen with the eyes of your soul, will never be forgotten.
Megève Resort : megeve.com
Rhône-Alpes Tourist Office : en.rhonealpes-tourisme.com