Friday, 11 February 2011

Ballooning at Chateau D'Oex

Some time ago I bought Linda a gift certificate for hot air ballooning at Chateau D'Oex, which holds an annual balloon festival each January.
We'd tried to book a flight around a year ago that was cancelled due to wind and, to be fair, it did actually seem quite windy that weekend. Not that the wind made us feel much better about the fact that we'd had to commit to a day off work and two nights accommodation in a hotel.
With our departure from Switzerland now imminent, we gave it another try - booking a Friday the weekend after the balloon festival.
We were again somewhat disappointed to learn, the evening before, that the flight would again be cancelled, particularly since this time it seemed there was no wind and no clouds to be seen.
So we staked out the ballooning office to confront the organisers. It turned out, without explanation, that they weren't in the office in that morning leading us to suspect they had simply cancelled the Friday flight due to lack of numbers.
After lunch we pounced on them as soon as they came into the office and were told that in fact it would be possible for us to join a flight on Saturday! This was a little unexpected as I had previously told it would not be possible to fly on Saturday because it was already booked out.
In the mean-time however we had booked a hotel in Charmey, near Gruyeres, where we planned to spend the evening in the spa. So we left our very nice hotel in Chateau D'Oex and drove up to Charmey. Our luck seemed to be turning as we received a phone call from the hotelier apologising profusely that he could not fulfil our booking due to a technical issue - so we happily booked our original room back in Chateau D'Oex!
Then we spent an entirely relaxing candle-lit evening in the baths, hamams, and saunas at Charmey, before heading back to Chateau D'Oex in preparation for our flight.
On the day of the flight, we turned up nice and early to watch the balloon being inflated, and we climbed into the basket with great anticipation. It was quite a large balloon with a basket big enough for 12 of us (including the pilot and copilot), and it took quite some time for the balloon to be up in the air.
Then we drifted gently down the valley from Chateau D'Oex towards Gruyeres, which was nice but without lots of snow this year it was a little drab in the valley.
However, Chateau D'Oex's location is something of a geographic anomaly, where you can drift down the valley in one direction, being pushed along by the cold air, before increasing altitude and returning to Chateau D'Oex on the warmer air current.
This is quite a neat trick and it meant we got plenty of altitude to see the alps around us and it was nice and warm in the sun above the mountains.
After going back into the valley to return to Chateau D'Oex our pilot seemed to get a little lost and we scraped our way past trees and power lines before finding a nice open field upon which we touched down very gently.
After assisting to deflate and pack the balloon, we had a nice apero in the sun and received our certificates for the flight.
During the apero we heard a few more stories from our fellow passengers who had experienced even worse luck than us with the flight cancellations. Apparently only one flight in three is possible due to the weather conditions, which is something you're not told when you buy the tickets!
So it was a really fantastic experience, even if we did feel a little burned by the whole process at times!

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