“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
So said inventor and polymath Leonardo da Vinci, who was fascinated by the phenomenon of flight, and sketched the plans for the first ever parachute some 500 years ago.
Things have moved on a bit since then, and now it is possible to soar through the air hundreds of metres above ground with only a harness and a fabric wing to keep you afloat. The best part: it’s possible to do at almost any age, whether you’re nine or ninety.
This is thanks to tandem flights, in which an experienced paragliding instructor pilots the paraglider, while the “passenger” sits back, relaxes and enjoys the view.
Paragliding over Interlaken
I was one such lucky passenger on a flight over the resort town of Interlaken, which straddles the glacier-fed lakes of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz in Switzerland. This once-holiday resort of wealthy Victorians in search of rest and relaxation now attracts adrenaline junkies and tourists hoping for a dose of adventure.
While there are plenty of activities on offer, from kayaking to mountain biking, Interlaken’s most popular adventure pursuit is paragliding.
This was to be my second tandem flight, having first flown over the Dolomites in Northern Italy as a young teenager. I was excited to try again as an adult, now that I have more of an appreciation for a beautiful mountain view.
We arrived at Paragliding Interlaken mid-morning on a perfect, clear day in early January. The sun shone through the odd cloud, casting a beautiful yellow glow across the town and surrounding mountain peaks. Those of us wearing inappropriate shoes grabbed a pair of walking boots from the shelf and we boarded the bus to Amisbuel, near the town of Beatenberg, around 800m above the town.
We were then introduced to our paragliding instructors, all of whom are trained and licensed by the Swiss Hang Gliding Association. My instructor, Drew, who hails from Cornwall and first started paragliding in South Korea, has completed more than 10,000 flights.
“After three summers in New Zealand I came over to Interlaken for a summer season and was immediately blown away with the mountains and the possibilities here,” Drew told me. “I have flown all over the world but Interlaken is definitely up there with the best views.”
We were then kitted up in our harness and taken through a safety briefing. The main point was not to take out our phones, as dropping one mid-flight could have catastrophic consequences should it fall on someone below.
If you’re concerned there won’t be any photos to remember your adventure by then fear not. Drew had a GoPro on a stick and took numerous photos and videos throughout the flight. He even got me to do a little interview and insisted I say hi to my mum.
As we prepared for lift-off, helmet on head and phone firmly zipped up in my coat pocket I was shaking with anticipation. We then started running down a hill with our instructor in tow until our paraglider caught the wind and took flight. I was in a comfortable seated position and felt very secure.
The next 12 minutes went by in a beautiful blur. We floated gently along the mountain’s edge, with the lakes and town in full view. I looked down to see pine trees below my feet and another glider descending to my right. Drew even let me take control of the paraglider for a minute or so – it’s important to avoid turning too much as this speeds up the descent.
After eight minutes or so of flying, the real fun began. Drew performed a series of electrifying turns, which included a controlled spin called a helicopter turn. I had to suppress my squeals of delight, and this was one of my favourite parts of the flight.
As we prepared to land, my only job was to stand up as we reached the ground. Interlaken has a large, open space for paraglider landings, and ours was less bumpy than I was expecting.
The whole experience was fantastic, and I really enjoyed the mix of the great views and high-octane turns.
Flight duration: Flights usually take between 8 and 20 minutes depending on the weather conditions. You can also opt for the “double time” flight at an additional cost.
How much: Prices start at CHF 150. You can receive a copy of the photos (via direct download to your phone or on a memory stick) for CHF 32 or CHF 40 for photos and videos. The current exchange rate £1 = CHF 1.26.
Where to stay: The Beatus Wellness- & Spa Hotel is located on the side of Lake Thun and has some impressive wellness facilities including an outdoor 35°C pool, indoor pool and seven different saunas. You can also rent rowing boats and pedalos.
Getting there: SWISS offers more than 150 weekly flights from London City, Heathrow, Gatwick (seasonal), Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh to Zurich and Geneva.
The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel System network. This includes all rail transfers and local buses. Interlaken is a 2-hour train from Zurich and 2-hours 40 minutes from Geneva.