Wednesday, March 1, 2006
See Italy By Seaplane
Talk about fantasies on floats…
Cesare Baj dropped the first notch of flaps on the Lake Buccaneer as we circled Castelli di Cannero, a castle from the 13th century. The amazingly intact structure was built on a rocky outcrop in the middle of a lake 600 to 700 years ago as a means of discouraging unwanted visitors. That philosophy can be evidenced today as this late-medieval castle remains virtually inaccessible to almost all tourists who visit Italy. But not for us. Cesare set the amphib down, and we glided to a stop just a few feet from the main castle wall. “This is why we like to fly floats,” he said with a big smile.
Baj is a member of the 75-year-old Aero Club Como on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy, near the border of Switzerland. The club survived occupations by the Germans and then the Allies during World War II, and has proudly maintained itself as one of the most celebrated seaplane bases in the world. In addition to offering rides and instruction, Aero Club Como is one of the few remaining places in the world where you can rent a float plane to fly solo. And that makes for some remarkable opportunities.
“People take our float planes all over the place,” Baj says proudly. Lake Como itself offers 106 miles of shoreline, with countless villas (George Clooney owns one) and resorts (the original Bellagio is here) as well as restaurants, museums and an untold number of adventures. Within easy range of Aero Club Como are the Alps, the Mediterranean, Florence, Venice and Milan. St. Moritz, which has the highest airport in Europe, is a mere 35 minutes away.
Baj has just returned from a flying/floating adventure to the Greek Isles. “It was like that Nat King Cole song,” he says of his trip, then breaks into “It’s unforgettable….”
Aero Club Como has more than a hundred local patrons, and three times that number who come from around the world to fly float planes. The nonprofit club charges 150 euros for membership, which gives members access to the whole fleet of seaplanes, from Cessna 172s to the Lake Buccaneer, which the club claims is the only flying boat in the world available for rent.
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