We went to the Chateau d’Oex Hot Air Balloon Festival!

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:


Many hot air balloons

    We arrived just as a dozen or more balloons were launching.



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.

Colorful balloon

That one on the right is supposed to be a cylinder of compressed gas, essential for successful hot air ballooning.

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.

Funny balloon

Look!  Up in the sky! It’s a bird… It’s a plane… No, it IS a bird!

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.

Around the world balloon cabin

We were at the festival’s 20th anniversary celebration of the flight around the world.

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.

What’s the best place to watch a French victory in the World Cup? A French bar!

As you may or may not know, there was just a month long soccer tournament hosted by Russia called the World Cup, in which the 32 best national soccer teams compete every four years for the world championship.  This tournament is a huge deal over here. Geneva is an international city, so there are die-hard fans for virtually all of the European teams, and many of the South American teams.  Continue reading

European Christmas Markets – A great way to get in the holiday spirit!

The idea is being “borrowed” in the U.S. and elsewhere, but to me, the traditional Christmas Market will always be a uniquely European custom. According to my research, the Germans first came up with the idea back in the late Middle Ages in the German-speaking part of Europe, and across the former Holy Roman Empire including modern day regions of France and Switzerland. Today, virtually all large European cities – and many small ones – open Christmas Markets that last the entire month of December. Continue reading

Join me for the 7.3K Course de l’Escalade run in Geneva’s Old City

I’m going to admit right from the start that I plan to put a lot less effort into writing this post than I did in producing it. I ran a 7.3 kilometer race earlier today, called the Course de l’Escalade. Regular followers of this blog might recall a previous post in which I explained the historical significance of the Escalade celebration.

Another event of the week-long celebration is a running “race” through the Old City. Continue reading

I finished the Lausanne Triathlon! (…and came in 310th place…)

About three months ago, as incentive to keep working out, I registered for the Lausanne Triathlon. And not for one of those wimpy “sprint” triathlons, either. This one is classified as the “Olympic Distance”: 1.5 kilometer swim (in Lake Geneva); 40K bike ride; and a 10K run. It’s the same distance that Great Britain’s Browlee brothers went gold/silver in Rio.

It was a beautiful day for a race, temperatures in the high 70s, light breeze, partly cloudy. Continue reading

The Fête L’Escalade: Geneva commemorates its defeat of the Savoyards in 1602

Never let it be said that Les Genevois (the residents of Geneva, en français) don’t know how to celebrate a military victory. Some 413 years after turning back the Savoyards in a surprise attack on the then city-state of Geneva, this town goes completely nuts! But first, a little history on the conflict itself. Continue reading

Watch me risk life and limb (and have some fun) at the Fête de Genève

Every summer for two weeks, Geneva hosts a festival (“fête”, en français!) down on the lake in the heart of the city. Anyone who has ever been to a state fair can imagine what there is to see and do at the Fête de Genève, but I figured it would still be fun to go down and experience it for myself. Continue reading