I think we can all agree that there’s nothing better than a hot air balloon festival. What a sight to behold, dozens of massive, colorful, and often whimsical balloons lifting off together into a clear azure sky. So when I learned that the village of Chareau d’Oex, the Hot Air Ballooning Capital of the World, would be hosting its annual “International Festival des Ballons à Air Chaud”, I made plans for us to spend that weekend in the Swiss alps.
The village of Chateau d’Oex (pronounced “Chateau Day”, sort of…) is a two-hour drive from Geneva up into the Swiss alps. The second half the trip is a steady, winding, uphill climb from the floor of the Sion valley toward the well-known ski town of Gstaad, with its majestic mountain peak views. On the day we drove up, the sky wasn’t exactly azure, but the weather conditions were otherwise perfect: chilly, with a light snowfall and very little wind.
Approaching the village, here was the scene out of our windshield:
After we’d been there for a little while, the weather brightened to reveal a partially cloudy but otherwise azure sky. This colorful balloon sports the logo of the festival.
For a reasonable price, you could go for a ride in a tethered balloon, shown below. I’ve never gone for a ride in one, but I’ve concluded anyway that it’s just as much fun to walk around looking at them as it is to float up in one.
I know what your’re thinking: “Why is this international balloon festival held in a little Swiss village high in the alps?” As it turns out, Chateau d’Oex has a proud ballooning history: it was the launching point of the first ’round the world’ voyage of a hot air balloon. In 1999, a Swiss pilot named Bertrand Piccard and an English pilot named Brian Jones circumnavigated the globe in 15 days. Since they reached altitudes of 35,000 feet, they opted out of the traditional wicker basket, and flew instead in this iron capsule, which is displayed just outside the Hot Air Balloon Museum.
Here’s a short video I shot to capture the sights and sounds of this festival. The narration is in French. I think he was mentioning something about how lovely the balloons look against the azure sky.