High Flying Above the French Riviera

Where active travelers can join the circus, in style.

Travel Features French Riviera
High Flying Above the French Riviera

Have you ever imagined leaping from a high-in-the-sky platform to swing through the air on flying trapeze? Of the 155-million-plus fans worldwide who have experienced a Cirque du Soleil performance, chances are many of us have indulged that fantasy, if only for a wild second.

A new venture from the circus arts company in partnership with vacation resort pioneer Club Med makes the dream possible for visitors and locals in southern France. Part of a 10-million-dollar investment in Club Med Opio en Provence, the aptly-named Club Med CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil is a 33,000-square-feet playground where all ages are invited to learn the ropes of circus feats from Cirque-trained instructors. “We have merged together our capabilities to create something totally unique,” says Daniel Lamarre, CEO of Cirque du Soleil.

The ambitious project aims to engage an increasingly-important travel demographic, families and couples seeking vacations plump with active participation and adventure. Industry leaders worldwide report a dramatic increase in travelers motivated by being physically engaged and learning a new skill during vacation. For Club Med, the trend seems a natural alignment. Since the founding in 1950 by a Belgium water polo champion, sports and activity have been at the heart of the resort village vibe.

Will vacation-seekers make the leap from skiing and golf to flying on trapeze? At the playscape’s opening last month, reaction was enthusiastic. As the state-of-the-art facility and circus infrastructure was unveiled, a sense of wide-eyed wonder rippled through the gathered crowd. When a woman asked, “What time does the show begin?” Club Med’s Sabrina Cendral, VP of marketing and digital, didn’t miss the opportunity to accurately frame the experience.

“You are the show,” she replied.

Dance on Walls, Walk the Tight Rope

?Entering the cirque zone, your eyes may need time to adjust. With 30 artistic and acrobatic experiences offered each week, there is a blur of activity and color in every direction. Safety is a primary focus for the multi-national, multi-lingual training staff, who patiently explain each apparatus and reassuringly point out security ropes and netting.

In the acrobatic realm, a giant bungee makes forward and back flips look easy and graceful, somehow even for newbies, and trampoline tricks become surprisingly complex once a few basics are mastered. You can test balance and core strength on a tight rope, hovering a few feet above ground. And, there’s a Vertical Wall – my personal favorite – for dancing and running while dangling from rope. Whichever activity you choose, expect to be sore in all sorts of places.

Artistically, face-painting and circus makeup are skills with endless real-life applications (imagine the costume parties). And, surprisingly the toughest feat of all to master may be the art of juggling. Pro-tip: don’t save this activity for last when arms feel like noodles.

Ready for Flight?

For awe-factor alone, the flying trapeze deserves spotlight. There’s no activity in the circus world more revered and feared. CREACTIVE trainers begin by teaching novices how to master a knee-hang from a bar near ground level. Follow their timing cues to swing legs up and hook knees around the bar. Release hands for the sensation of flying, even if mere feet above ground.

For those ready and willing, the next level is up. After being secured in a harness, you climb a ladder, 22 feet above to the platform, where a trainer is waiting to provide encouragement and a nudge. When the cue is given, remind yourself to breath and take the leap.

Challenge and Connection

?No question, Cendral is quick to admit she’s become obsessed with aerial feats. “Trapeze requires your full focus,” she says. “When your feet are halfway off the platform and leaning into the trapeze bar, you can’t think about anything else except being in the moment and fully present. We all need that feeling to connect with ourselves.”

I tried to follow that advice as I climbed the ladder, but my thoughts drifted to a video watched earlier that week. An 85-year-old grandmother, with kids and grandkids peering up from below, jumped from the platform with grace and ease. As the instructor gently guided me into position, that granny became my inspiration. “I can do this, too,” I told myself. While my flight was a far cry from graceful, it was exhilarating.

Xavier Mufraggi, Club Med CEO for North America and Caribbean, says that’s the magic of CREACTIVE. “People get to do things they don’t think they are capable of doing,” he says. “To do something a bit crazy, in this completely safe environment, feels freeing.” He says circus arts have the ability to tap into a certain innocence from childhood, when we weren’t worried about judgement or failure, when exploration and fun were prime objectives.

“It’s a strong emotion when families share these experiences,” says Mufraggi. As he speaks, my thoughts once again turn to that grandmother and how proud she must have felt to do something so daring and brave as her loved ones watched. It’s a moment her family will surely never forget and a story her grandkids will long tell, “…that time grandma joined the circus.”

Tricks and Tips

Typically guests spend a week at the resort, giving ample opportunity to explore different aspects of Club Med CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil and also focus on rejuvenation and recovery – a spa treatment should always be reward for such bravery. During summer, kids have run of the playscape during morning; adults-only in late afternoon.

Different concentrations are featured throughout the week – vertical wall one day, bungee the following – so be sure to visit multiple times. For resort guests, activities and instruction are part of all-inclusive rates. For visitors, day passes are available for $77 – $132, depending on length of visit and include access to facilities and activities, plus meals.

As the week draws to a close, trainers stage a demo/mini-performance. It’s a smart move, this end-of-the-week experience. Witnessing the mad skills and grace of professionals in action, you can’t help but laugh at your own audacity for attempting those feats. It may not have been graceful, but you were brave and took a leap. And, for the briefest time, you were the show.

As a kid playing in Alabama’s red dirt, Jess Simpson fantasied about exploring faraway sands. She still chases those dreams every day and aims to nudge fellow dreamers to explore farther, deeper, and more boldly. Read about her digital nomad adventures at Intrepid Travel, Mental Floss, Fodor’s, Bustle, and her bi-weekly Travel Secrets column here at Paste Travel. Connect @ Twitter, Facebook & Instagram.

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