Another of my bucket list items has been to go up in a hot air balloon. So when I had the opportunity while touring the Chateau’s in the Loire Valley, I jumped at the chance.
On my 3-day trip to the Loire Valley to visit the grand 16th century chateaus of French royalty and aristocrats, I was on the lookout for a company that offered hot air balloon rides. I had already planned to visit 10 of the chateaus in the Loire Valley and being able to fly over one at sunset would by the cherry on top.
I arranged the trip with Ballon Plaisir. On the evening of the flight, they picked me up in an SUV with a trailer attached carrying the basket and balloon.
We quickly went to a takeoff spot which was a huge park on the island in the Loire River very close to the city of Amboise and Château at Amboise.
Today we would be flying with another group who had a larger 12+ person basket. The two balloon pilots sat and watched the clouds while we waited for a big black cloud to dissipate and pass over.
The most interesting part was that they would blow up a small party balloon and watch it float in the sky to gauge the winds. After the black cloud moved along and 3 party balloons tested… it was time to go.
We quickly separated into our 2 groups. I was in the smaller basket with a French couple who spoke no English and a new instructor who spoke just a little English. Well, this was going to be interesting. There were also 2 young men on our team who were the chase team to follow our flight in the SUV for pickup.
We had a quick safety briefing (Mine was even briefer with the language barrier) and the basics were (1) the balloon / basket would be tied to the SUV while being blown up… don’t walk between them (2) when they say get in the basket… get in (3) FLEX your knees for takeoff and landing. We helped unfold and layout the balloon and then they used fans and the heater to blow it up.
As the balloons tipped up, we all scrambled into the baskets. Takeoff was very smooth as the balloon started lifting and the chase team unhooked our anchor-line to the SUV.
…. And we were away.
Immediately we were floating over the River Loire and quickly approaching Chateau Amboise. It’s another surreal experience as you put your hand outside the basket and it’s just cool air…. no glass, no seatbelts.. just freedom. I will admit that for the beginning 15 minutes I had a death grip on the side of the basket. The basket does not tip, but it’s just a weird feeling to know the basket only reaches your hip and the rest is just air. Looking back at our take-off area, I was surprised by how quickly we were up, up and away.
The views over the Chateau are amazing…. with literally birds-eye views of the gardens and all the turrets.
After settling in to the feel of the basket, you really start to enjoy the calm of the scenery. The Loire River stretches out across the valley with acres of forests. We floated above the Loire Valley for about one hour. I took some pictures in the beginning but put my camera away about half-way through and really just enjoyed the moments.
Approaching the landing site, our pilot started making adjustments to bring us down into the field. He seemed a bit nervous and I giggled as his lucky charm was a little Tweety Bird. I am not sure if there was extra wind but at first he had us in one position to land and then changed. There was some instructions going over to the French couple, but with the limited English… the instructions I got was “Flex”. I had vision of Ross from the Friends episode saying “Pivot” because that was the funny way he was saying it. I must have done about 100 squats on the way down because he kept instructing me to “Flex”. As we landed, there was a lot of drag on the balloon and we started sliding across the field. I think the pilot was still saying “Flex” as we kept sliding across the grass which caused a lot of giggling on my part. Finally, the basket tipped over with the drag of the balloon. The pilot and the other couple were laying on the ground in the basket and I was kind of swung over the high side (I think I was still trying to keep the basket upright in a defeating effort). The pilot then uttered his other English instruction “Just drop”. It was not graceful and I am not sure that was the way it was supposed to go, but we landed and a really fun and funny experience.
We quickly deflated our balloon. There was a lot of sitting on it to get the air out… Imagine deflating your air mattress at home times 100. After packing it back into the basket and loading it on the trailer, we drove over to the other team’s landing site for a champagne toast to a successful flight while watching the sunset in the Loire Valley.
Santé (Cheers) to the French for this bucket list experience.
- Update: The company I used in 2014 Ballon Plaisir is now closed.
- I chose this company as it had English on the website and I was able to communicate with the owner, Caroline, in English. Also, the basket has a total of 6 maximum though 4 in our was cozy enough for me.
- This flight went over Chateau Amboise. If you want a specific chateau (ie Chenonceau which is very popular) make sure to arrange this ahead of time as the balloon have a “wind path” that may not include your chateau.
- Flights are at sunrise and sunset. Arrange you trip on the first AM or PM there, so if it has to be cancelled due to winds, you can reschedule for another day during your trip.
- GoPro – I had my Canon to take pictures but did not want to put it on the end of the selfie stick. Our pilot had the GoPro and took the pictures of us in the basket. But if you want more pics… bring a selfie stick/camera.