22nd Sep 2012 11:10am | By Editor
Depending on your generation, hot air ballooning probably conjures up one of two images – both of which involve middle-aged gents with impressive facial hair.
It’ll either be Phileas Fogg floating over the Pyrenees with moustache a-twirled, or Richard Branson grinning out from under
a colossal Virgin advert – sorry, hot air balloon. But don’t be put off.
If you join their ranks and try out a hot air balloon ride on your next holiday, you’ll be in for unmatchable bird’s eye views and the adventure of not knowing in which direction the wind will take you.
There’s no way of steering a hot air balloon, as it travels with the wind, so all the pilot can do is control the balloon’s height to catch a gust going in the desired direction.
Enjoy the deep silence as you coast over mountains, hills, lakes or desert, depending on which part of the world you’re lucky enough to be seeing.
There’s no feeling of motion or noise, so the sensation is dreamily peaceful – that is until you land, when tradition dictates you pop a cheeky bottle of Champagne to celebrate.
Apparently the bubbly isn’t just to add a splash of glamour to your journey, but because early French aeronauts use to carry Champagne to soothe angry spectators when they landed.
One of the biggest hot air balloon festivals in the world is The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, where hundreds of balloonists gather every October to fly at the same time.
The sky over the Balloon Fiesta Park in New Mexico is filled with hot air balloons of all colours and designs from October 6-14 this year, and you can visit just for the spectacle.
The fiesta includes wacky events such as the Special Shape Rodeo, where you’ll see balloons shaped like giant pumpkins, storks or pigs, to name just a few. There’s also an impressive show of illuminated balloons in the evenings.
And of course you can take a flight yourself – book in advance with on-site balloonist company Rainbow Riders, which offers rides throughout the festival from £250 per person.
Cool temperatures are best for hot air ballooning, and so in the desert this means taking off at dawn.
Fortunately, this is the perfect time to fly in Namibia. As the balloon rises with the sun, the first hour of daylight makes the towering sand dunes of the Sossusvlei area, and its orange desert plains and mountain ranges, practically glow.
If you’re lucky, you might see ostriches or springbok too. A pricey one at £357 per person.
Most of your holiday in the Napa Valley will probably revolve around drinking bottle after bottle of the region’s fine wines, but a hot air balloon ride here is one activity that’s definitely worth staying sober for.
Rising over 2000ft, you’ll fly over vineyards, deep green hills, treetops and mountains. And don’t panic, you can get stuck back into the drinking as soon as you land, with a Champagne breakfast. From £132 per per person.