Cycling along the Veloroute du Calavon in the cool of the early mornings, in summer, I often catch sight of a hot air balloon, floating gently above the vines, near Pont Julien.
It is always such a tranquil sight, just the calm, still air, with the soundtrack of the dawn chorus, starting to settle down with the rising sun, whilst the colourful balloon, rises gently as the air is warmed by the flame below.
I imagine that the views must be incredible and it really would be the perfect way to start a day, watching the valley as the sun starts to rise above Caseneuve, the fields and villages taking on a truly golden hue in that soft, morning light.
That sense of floating above the tree-tops, being part of the morning, rather than just watching it from the ground, really appeals to me, but there is one big problem…….. I am terrified of heights, and still in my my mid fifties, I have not yet had the courage to set foot in a basket.
I know it is said that hot air ballooning is different, that even if you are scared of heights, you really don’t notice it, but as yet I have not managed to overcome the fear.
A friend though has, and I have asked her about her experiences of taking to the skies above Forcalquier in a balloon, so the following experience and photos are thanks to Jen and Chris, who run the beautiful Cent Cinq apartments in a townhouse in the centre of Apt cent-cinq.fr
They have taken to the skies with FRANCE MONTGOLFIERES who have a base in the pretty town of Forcalquier, just across the border into the Alpes de Haute Provence.
With hot air ballooning, there is no slow start, as you have to arrive before 6am for your flight, meeting the balloon team in Forcalquier, and climbing into their fleet of Landrovers for a short trip out into the countryside.
Here the team welcome you with hot drinks and pastries, which is a welcome start to the day, as the early alarm can be a bit of a shock to the system, and the coffee and sugar ensures you are fully awake and ready to fly. Whilst nibbling and drinking, you watch them set up the balloons, enjoying the sight of the brightly coloured canopies, coming to life and growing towards the sky in the early morning light .
Then, before you know it, the balloons are ready and the moment has arrived for you to climb into the basket and settle down, before floating up into the sky.
Jen has reassured me that the takeoff is so gentle that even nervous flyers are relaxed. She, like me is terrified of heights (and once had a meltdown on the steps leading up to Tower Bridge!), but describes it as being so calm, that she didn’t notice the climb, and the basket simply feels solid and secure around you.
Once up, the pilots make the most of the wind and currents that occur as the sun starts to rise, taking the balloons up, high above the countryside enabling you to get the most incredible views of the land, that is now spread out below you.
Near Forcalquier there are dramatic views across to the Verdon Gorge and the low Alps…
As well as along the flanks of The Luberon stretching out along the valley below.
Everywhere looks different from the air, and Jen again, was keen to reassure me that she was able to look out and enjoy every moment of the flight, watching as the shadows started to lengthen with the sun rising above the hills, and the valley colours shifting in the morning light. The sunrises here are always incredible, but to watch it from the peace of the basket, is something very special indeed.
Whilst floating, you spot places that you know, which seem so different from above, the birds-eye perspective adding something different to the landscape you think you know like the back of your hand, with the shadows of the balloons tracking across the fields below
After an hour of drifting, the time comes to drop slowly back down and land, generally in a farmer’s field, again a soft landing, hardly realising that you are back on the ground.
Once down, it is time to reflect on what has been a wonderful experience and the perfect start to the day with a glass of the local fizz, the delightful “Bau” which is produced locally by Distilleries et Domaines de Provence. All in all, it does sound like a very special way to spend a morning, especially to celebrate a birthday, or anniversary.
Once again I have to thank Jen and Chris for their photos and account of their trip. It looks and sounds so wonderful, that perhaps the time has come for me to stop worrying and take to the skies in one myself….. If I do you may see me celebrating a bit like this !!!
You never know I may even open my eyes!