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Days 17 to 18: Austria and Germany (Reutte-Höfen and Bavaria)

LAST night I left the balcony doors open to let in the fresh air and mountain silence. This morning I pull back the curtains to a piercing blue sky and have to pinch myself. Yes, I really am tucked in the Tirol mountains – and all on my own steam. So far, I’ve covered around 1300 miles.

Just over the border in Germany is Neuschwanstein Castle, the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle. Perched on a rugged hill in the Bavarian alps, and with chalk-white turrets, the fairytale castle is a sight to behold. It’s been a dream of mine to visit Neuschwanstein, and now I have the chance to fly over it, too.

Better still, I might be able to draw on the 25,000h flying experience of an airline pilot called Rene, who I met yesterday at Reutte-Höfen airfield. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Rene can find time in his busy schedule to join me.

That morning Rene sends me a text: “Can you do this afternoon?”

We’re off! We climb at 800ft/min in G-JG and head north along the valley. To the south, sharply-feathered cirrus clouds are rolling in. Rene sits alongside me looking very relaxed, while trees and crags pass the right wing-tip. I ask him how he is so cool flying around the mountains.

“You see, I react to the aeroplane – whether it’s an Airbus or a small plane, it’s the same.”

As we round a hill, Neuschwanstein comes into view: a bright white beacon against the green forest. I get instant goosebumps. We wind in closer and although we’re a few hundred feet away, the view is terrific.

“What would you like to do next?” Rene asks.

“Anything! It’s all great!” I say.

“Ok then, we could fly over Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. How high can your plane go – what’s her ceiling?”

“About 12,000ft” I estimate.

We go up and up – and up. Before long, Zugspitze appears in front of us. I fly at 90˚ to the peak and keep climbing. Rene calls Munich Information, giving what must be a position report in German – just in case.

We are at 9300ft now, and something inside G-JG makes a popping noise. I jump, while Rene peers around coolly. The small inset side vent on the passenger side has caught in the airflow and opened itself. Phew! I close it and relax back into the seat.

“You have to know where to look for the cables – see there,” says Rene. He points at the cable car wire vanishing below. The glacier on top still looks frozen solid, and a piste-basher is parked on top like a flake on an ice cream.

We soar effortlessly like a silver eagle, the engine purring. We are so close now that I can see right into the glass-sided building on the summit. It looks like it has been lowered onto the summit by a giant’s hand and could be the perfect Bond villain’s hideout. We orbit twice, getting closer each time.

“Would you like to fly low now, down the valleys?” Rene asks.

“Definitely!” I’m super-charged with adrenalin now.

We do a gentle spiral swoop down to 350ft and a lake becomes visible at the far end. The sky darkens and the air smells charged. A few valleys away, a lightning bolt illuminates the sky – our cue to head back. Rene tells Munich Information that we’re landing back at base.

As we round the corner, I’m relieved to see the familiar River Lech and the runway alongside it. Within minutes of us closing the hangar doors, 1cm hailstones are hammering down.