Just to get you in the mood for an amazing event that is taking place right now in the Swiss Alps, sing along with the 5th Dimension (OK this is really retro) and then I’ll tell you where to find the serious balloonists (up to 100). The place to be during this brisk (25°-26 ° F) but sunny weekend (although a bit too breezy on Saturday) is Château d’Oex, (pronounced chateau “day”), Switzerland at the International Hotel Air Balloon Festival . Today, it was perfect weather.
Hot Air Balloon Festival in Château-d”Oex. Image courtesy of Dominique Schreckling
Now take notes, because you will want to be here next year! This is the 33rd (yes, this started in 1979!) International Hot Air Balloon Festival in Château-d’Oex, Switzerland, sponsored by watchmaker Parmigiani of Geneva. Château-d’Oex, a Swiss fairy tale-like village and resort in the canton of Vaud, in an area called by the locals as the Pays-d’Enhaut valley (in English it’s the “High Country” which is above Lausanne and easy as well as scenic to get to by train).
The area is called La Braye ski region where there are 25 miles of ski trails, 7 lifts, charming Vaudois cafés (with Vaudois Swiss wine) and chalets as well as pristine snow conditions this year! This alpine resort, so famous for its colorful and imaginatively shaped hot air balloons is not far from the très chic Gstaad; hangout of the late Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and more recently Roland Polanski – for other reasons). It’s also close to medieval Gruyère castle and village up on a hill where they make the real Gruyère cheese.
However, this week the ski lifts are closed because Château-d’Oex, is again hosting 9 days of flying above the villages and the Alps. And I mean all sorts of flying including hang-gliding, parasailing, airplane aerobatics, Swiss Army helicopters, parachute dropping, and more, but the most glorious of all for me are the flights of the colorful and creatively shaped hot air balloons. By the way, do you know how to blow up a balloon in Château-d’Oex?
Château-d’Oex, Switzerland. Image courtesy of Dominique Schreckling
Even though Château-d’Oex ‘s micro-climate is a great advantage, Saturday was too windy for hot air ballooning. But there is always gluhwein (hot spice Swiss wine) to take care of that as well as the body heat of the festival-goers coming from all over the world including famous pilots for the big hot air balloon races starting tomorrow through Friday. Of course, the French pilots will be there since it was two French brothers, Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier who invented the hot air globe aérostatique in 1873. In French, (you guessed it already), the hot air balloon is called a “montgolfier”. So impressive was this invention that King Louis XVI gave the family the appellation of “de Montgolfier”. Apparently their association with the ill-fated king during the French Revolution did not damage the now noble family image as 7th generation descendent of Joseph-Michel, pilot Roland de Montgolfier was competing in the race last year. Setting up a hot air balloon does not seem easy but these people are pros.
Cougar of the Swiss Army. Image courtesy of Dominique Schreckling
One of the highlights yesterday was the Cougar flight display by the Swiss Army. This was well timed because of excessive winds for the hot air balloons and always spectacular to watch. Or you can watch the local, European and International celebrities and there’s lots of Vaudois Swiss wine (hot and cold) as well as local schnapps. However, today was fabulous and it was up, up and away as usual….and spectators could also ride in the balloons. Reservations were sold out for balloon rides (about $300 per person) for the weekend and tomorrow, but there is the rest of the week to take a ride in a beautiful balloon. Today was a “twinning” day for balloonists where 2 or more balloons are tied to each to share the voyage ( as long as they can!). This year a Swiss balloon is twinning with a French balloon called Obélix (famous French cartoon character). This is a first for this duo of nationalities. There are also up to 4 balloons tied together from different cities in the world, each flying their own flags but going on the same course. Wouldn’t that be nice in politics? In addition, there was the acrobatics of the airplane Extra 330 SC to entertain the spectators and loads of après ballooning parties well into the wee hours.
Château d’Oex, Switzerland. Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons by Dsmntl
For a better idea of the events, view the Château-d’Oex webcam. Remember, it’s GMT + 1 here. A good time for North and South Americans to view the webcam would be just as soon as they get out of bed (or earlier). North and South American night owls can view the sunrise here if you like. Otherwise you risk seeing only the stars and village lights if you’re lucky.
The serious and unpredictably less serious pilots are up for the challenge of various competitions which start tomorrow through Friday.
Be back for here for more. One never knows what happens during this great race where Mother Nature can determine the winners. Just ask John Wilson and John Armstrong, British pilots and regulars at the festival in Château-d’Oex. However, no matter what surprises may come their way, they always manage to land for their cream tea when it’s 4:00 PM.
For more about the Château-d’Oex International Balloon Festival and Switzerland, revisit Nileguide.com and follow me on Twitter.