We're a little ahead of schedule when we arrive at the Megeve Altiport, so we relax into some warm, fur-covered sun lounges under clear blue skies. It's a sparkling alpine afternoon and before too long, a cold beer arrives. I'm looking forward to my alpine scenic flight, but on the other hand, this is so comfortable, I could sit here for hours enjoying the goings on at the relaxed-but-buzzing altiport.
There are helicopters touching down across the way, depositing the beautiful people on their return from a morning flight across the Alps to Courcheval or Val d'Isere, maybe for a few hours skiing some different terrain, maybe just for lunch.
The sightseeing planes are coming and going, propellers buzzing. They're wearing skis for the winter as they trundle down the snow-covered strip. This is the nature of an altiport – it is designed with a descent to give some speed on take-off and that becomes an ascent to slow the aircraft on landing.
This altiport is about five kilometres from the centre of Megeve, a charming, well-to-do alpine village in France's Haute-Savoie region. There are creeks flowing through it, church spires here and there, beautifully prepared ski runs (or golf courses in summer), a year-round food and jazz scene and the spectacular French Alps soaring away in the distance.
We meet our pilot, Diane Farah, who is something of a flying ace in these parts. She's a commercial pilot with easyJet but also has mountain qualifications to make her part of the Aerocime team and put her in control of our aircraft, which is anything but a commercial jet.
Diane gives us the safety briefing and we climb into the cockpit, fitting headsets for the guided tour. She builds up the revs and then releases the brake or whatever it is they use to hold the airframe back while the propeller tries harder and harder to surge ahead. Before you know it, we're off and flying.
Our aircraft, appropriately for a nimble, reliable, high-flying French plane, is a Musketeer (technically a Jodel D140 Mousquetaire) which is favoured by the French Air Force for alpine and training purposes. For a scenic flight it is perfect, with a steady-as-she-goes disposition and a big, untinted panoramic bubble through which we can gaze and gasp at the mountains all around.
And there are more than a few gazes and gasps coming from the cockpit (although not from Diane – she's too busy flying and giving us the commentary). We fly past Megeve's Mont d'Arbois (a humble 1833 metres) and make our way to the Mont Blanc Massif above the Chamonix Valley.
The white mountain itself, the highest in the European Alps, reaches 4808 metres into the sky and Diane banks slightly and follows the glaciers Mont Blanc shrugs from its shoulders. We slip over a ridge and the Vallee Blanche is running beneath us, with the tracks of adventurous skiers showing in the snow way below.
They've descended from the Aiguile du Midi, a needle of a peak on rocky ridge line, with a cable car station seemingly bolted to the side of its summit.
Italy is just over the way (it's Monte Bianco over there) and so is Switzerland, but we follow the flight plan and turn back over the mountains to France and back to Megeve, scooting over its snowy fields and touching smoothly down at the altiport.
Emirates has regular flights from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to Dubai with connections to Geneva. Megeve is about an hour by road shuttle from Geneva Airport.
Les Fermes de Marie, close to the centre of Megeve, is made of timber reclaimed from the region, giving a rustic appearance that camouflages its thoroughly modern, five-star hotel reality. It opens for winter and for summer from June 30, rooms from €245, see fermesdemarie.com/en
The scenic flights operate year-round, weather permitting, and start at €160 for the 40-minute Mont Blanc Massif tour or from €80 for shorter tours; see aerocime.com
Jim Darby was a guest of Megeve Tourism