A Flight of Colors
The new year has just begun and many people are compiling their lists. Lists of new (or carried over) resolutions, trips to plan and goals to achieve. Lists looking back on 2009 too, all sorts of “the best of.” I love lists! I started thinking about my favorite travels, adventures and experiences. Nearly impossible to come up with a short list, I decided to select one trip that definitely tops the charts.
For someone who jumps at the sight of one hot air balloon far, far off in the distance with a huge grin on her face, can you imagine the childish excitement I had when seeing an entire sky full of them? Or how about a hot air balloon race? Better yet, parachutists jumping from the balloons?
Last winter we spent a weekend in the picturesque region of Gruyère, staying in the medeival, charming village of Gruyères, feasting on its eponymous cheese, fondue and raclette, as well as meringues with the famous, ever so rich double crème de Gruyère. The highlight was by far and away our time in Château-d’Oex (pronounced day) during the annual Festival International de Ballons, the Hot Air Balloon Festival, now in its 32nd year. The conditions could not have been more perfect: clear blue sky, sun shining bright and the mountains covered in a clean sheet of powdery white snow. The most extraordinary backdrop for enormous, brightly colored hot air balloons to go up in flight. And apparently, it’s like that every year, as the Pays d’en Haut valley benefits from a particular microclimate, with little wind and the most impeccable conditions in the world for hot air ballooning.
This year, the event takes place from January 23rd to the 31st, so you have two upcoming weekends to enjoy this marvel. Check out the program online to see what’s happening each day. No matter when you go, you’ll see a series of fascinating events and air stunts: concerts and guests of honor, hang gliding acrobatics, paragliders parachuting down from balloons, balloons trying to land on targets and the David Niven long distance race (created in 1979)… The more I think about all we saw, the more I want to return this year! Especially on Friday night January 30th, for the spectacular show called “Night Glow,” followed by fireworks. And to see what special shape balloons there will be this year too, a favorite of kids and adults alike. It’s a bird, it’s a plane… no, it’s not Superman, just a gigantic hot air balloon in the shape of a turtle! Or a man playing the bagpipes!
Even with your own two feet staying on the ground, it’s an extraordinary event to witness. For a real taste of adrenaline and to put yourself IN one of those balloons, there are also rides for the public. Passenger flights don’t come cheap, at CHF 299 per person – but then again, how can you put a price on being almost 8,000 feet (2500 m) high in the sky with other hot air balloons, in the middle of the Swiss Alps, having 360 degree views over the entire valley?! A more accessible option is to take a ride in a helicopter (CHF 60), easy to reserve on the spot the day you are there. I am extremely grateful to have gone up (and up and up…) for a hot air balloon ride, thanks to the team at Château d’Oex’s tourism office. It will be an adventure I never forget… and not only because we landed with the sun coming down — on a hill just above the event’s ex-President’s house! After a sporty team effort to deflate and fold up the balloon and drag the (very) heavy basket to the road, it was Champagne for all!
As you gaze up at the sky, do you too wonder just those hot air balloons fly and don’t hit the trees or mountains, or land (literally) on someone’s house?! The festival’s website is a fantastic resource with all you ever wanted to know about hot air ballooning, especially the question of how it actually works.
Has anyone ever been up in a hot air balloon before? Share your stories below!
Festival International de Ballons – International Hot Air Balloon Festival
Entry price on weekends: CHF 9 (free during the week).