4 am came early as we snuggled in our cozy bed at the downtown Girona's, Hotel Nord 1901. But it was worth it. Today, was our hot air balloon flight over the Spanish Pyrenees and we couldn't wait to get started. We attempted a flight over the mountains two years ago but the weather had different plans for us and our dreams of seeing the majestic mountains from the sky was aborted due to high winds.
This morning's forecast was smooth sailing and during our hour drive out to the Garrotxa region of Girona, we had high hopes that today would be our day.
Love balloon flights? See our flights over the magnificent Cappadocia.
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Hot Air Balloon Experience with Vol de Coloms
We met our hot air ballon pilot, Antoni in a parking lot of the small town Can Xel where we followed him to the main office of Vol de Coloms. As the crew prepped our balloon, we sipped hot coffee in the comfortable office. We were taking off right in their backyard!
As the balloon started to inflate, we were invited to walk inside for a closer view. We've taken two other hot air balloon rides in our lives and neither time offered this opportunity, it was cool!
Before long, the balloon was inflated and within minutes we were all inside the basket preparing for lift off.
Taking off in a Hot Air Balloon
The interesting thing about hot air ballooning is the takeoff. You are filled with anxiety as you wonder what the flight will feel like, but before you know it, you are already in the air and floating high into the sky. It's calm and smooth and you don't even notice that you've taken off until you are over the tree line. Hot air ballooning is the most relaxing adventure you'll ever take.
Can Xel is located in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The region of Garrotxa has 40 volcanoes and is surrounded by mountains. It's a beautiful location to see from the sky.
See: Hot Air Balloon over the Masai Mara, Kenya
The Hot Air Balloon Flight
The flight started out routine enough. We floated over green craters taking in the views of the Santa Margarita and the Croscat volcanoes. Croscat is a volcano that was mined in the 1970's which offers an interesting opportunity to see what the inside of a volcano looks like. It has been cut nearly in half exposing red rocks and a lunar landscape that can be seen by land or air.
Santa Margarita houses a small chapel right in the middle of its crater that can be seen from above. We were a little too high by the time we crossed over Santa Margarita and that is when I looked up to notice just how high we actually were. So far, I had my eyes on the rolling hills below, but soon we were way up in the sky.
I asked Anton how high we actually flew this morning and he said we reached an altitude of 1600 metres. That's more than one and a half kilometres! No wonder I started to feel a little anxiety. Luckily that was just the right time when the cava (Spanish champagne) came out and we all enjoyed a toast high in the sky over the Spanish Pyrenees. As we sipped champagne, we ate pastries and took in the extraordinary panoramic view.
We could see all the way to the Costa Brava Coast on one side and well into France on the other.
The day was crystal clear and the wind was calm. I don't think we could have asked for better conditions.
We floated at this high altitude for quite awhile and my ears popped from the pressure change. I was controlling the GoPro as Dave took photographs and at one point, Dave suggested I put the quickpod through the hand hole and shoot up at the two of us. That's when I realized just how nervous I was at this height. I said, Sorry Dave, I can't do anything right now. I have to stay close to the centre of the basket to concentrate. I suddenly had a pang of fear. I said to Dave, I think I have a heights threshold and we just went over it!
See the Complete Travel Photography Gear Guide for our complete camera and video equipment.
Soon, we started to descend and were back in a comfortable height where I could relax and resume my video blogging. It was only a few hundred metres lower, but it made all the difference in the world to me.
We flew over the medieval town of Santa Pau and admired its stone bridge and old city.
As we floated over the farmland, dogs barked as we passed each house and fields turned to rich hues of yellow and green.
It was farming season and Antoni was careful to avoid ruining any fresh crops so we flew another 15 minutes as he waited for our stop at a landing pad at an old airfield. The landing was smooth with barely a bump as we came to a halt on the asphalt. You have to crouch down and hang on to prepare for a bumpy landing, but of the 3 hot air balloon flights we've taken, we have yet to experience the rough landings we've heard so much about. It's always been smooth sailing for us!
Our hot air balloon ride lasted a solid hour and a half. It was a thrilling experience offering spectacular views of the Pyrenees and countryside. If you are looking for incredible photography opportunities, an exciting adventure, and a romantic morning with the one you love, this trip is for you!
But it's not over yet!
We were met by the trucks to take us back to the main office where our day wasn't quite over yet.
After our hot air balloon ride, we were treated to a delicious and hearty breakfast of meats, cheeses, eggs and sausages with fresh juices, water and naturally red and white wine. A Spanish picnic wouldn't be complete without wine!
I would highly suggest staying nearby to truly enjoy the experience. It's an easy drive from downtown Girona, but having accommodation in town or a neighbouring village lets you sleep in an hour longer and allows you to indulge in the abundance of cava, wine and perron flowing during your flight and meals. Besides, Garrotxa is a beautiful region for hiking and cycling, you should stick around to explore more than a day or two.
Vol de Coloms offers different balloon experiences from the early morning sunrise to private couple's exursions. They can also help you with accommodation in the area. Visit their website Flying Balloon in the Garrotxa.
Our hot air balloon flight was organized by the Costa Brava Tourism Board, thanks Gemma for all your help and flexibility.