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Let the (Hot Air Balloon) Races Begin! Château-d’Oex Today

Events, Things to Do, Travel Tips, What's New — By Sonja Holverson on January 24, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Today at Château-d’Oex, Switzerland, at the “33rd Festival International de Ballons”, it’s a green light for balloonists! This morning it was about 20° F and mostly sunny. The competitors took off at 9:45 AM for today’s competition which is called “The Two Gruyères.” Two Gruyères? I assure you that there is only ONE Gruyère village in Switzerland and it’s the only one in the world that makes the authentic Gruyère cheese.

Although the race is called “The Two Gruyères” and it may sound strange for those of you who have been to this delightful medieval village on a hill crowned by its castle. So read on to understand more details of the race course.

Château d’Oex (bottom right) to Gruyères. Image courtesy of snow-forecast.com

The hot air balloon pilots depart from Château-d’Oex and follow the Sarine River (which divides French and German speakers). They continue to the first “target” landing point which is the courtyard of the Castle of Gruyères. Some of you may know that this courtyard is not very big by castle standards (hardly Le Louvre in Paris) and it will be a real thrill to see if more than one balloon is ready to land at the same time. Then the next target is nearby in a field North-east of the castle. This is more feasible with pastures and rolling hills all around (although there are nearby Swiss Alps). Note that the first landing at the castle is just a “marker” target and they don’t have to touchdown. The next one, however, in the field is a “basket touchdown” which to me sounds harder than it may be. Then, it’s back to home base so winning can be toasted for their skills and finesse (and a little luck?)

The village of Gruyère. View from the Castle courtesy of 123rf.com

If you’re now visiting Switzerland in the Pays d’Enhaut, north of Lausanne and you see a giant colorful peacock flying overhead, do not be concerned, this a hot air balloon from the Netherlands piloted by Aarat Jan Troost. You may also encounter an enormous Tweety Bird flown by French pilot Boris Nlgrowsky, or the world’s largest Scottish bagpiper piloted by Great Britain’s Muir Moffat.

 French pilot Boris Nlgrowsky’s Tweety Bird. Image by Dominique Schreckling

If you’re very fortunate you may see Lausanne’s favorite son, Bertrand Picard flying as usual for Breitling watches. Coming from a long family line of adventurers, you may remember that Bertrand Picard and Britain’s Brian Jones took off from Château-d’Oex in 1999 in the Breitling Orbitor 3 and were the first balloonists to fly around the world non-stop. Bertrand has many other projects such as his airplane, the Impulse, that he recently he flew exclusively powered by solar panels. Well, there’s a lot more about him but that’s another day.

Breitling Orbiter 3. Image courtesy of wikimedia commons Christian Bier

Passenger flights were also running today including the exciting Fiesta balloon rides which operate (with reservations) all week for spectators. There are also aerial thrills available with helicopters rides over the Alps being offered.

And if that isn’t exciting enough, nearby village Rougemont is having an open day farm visit, with a tour of the stables, and a fresh milk tasting until 6:30 PM tonight.

For more on Château-d’Oex and Switzerland  revisit Nileguide.com and follow me on Twitter.

Tags: Gruyère, Switzerland, “Bertrand Picard”, “Breitling Orbitor 3”, “Brian Jones”, “Château-d'Oex”, “Festival International de Ballons”, “hot air ballon”, “Sarine River”

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