You look down … the world slowly passes by…. you see fields, small villages, a forest, little moving points on the ground… you look up and the air is filled with hundreds of colourful spots around you… listening to the sound of a flame you are rising higher above the ground … the person next to you says something, but you are too taken by what is around you that you simply look and smile, not really knowing or caring what they said. You are in a hot-air-balloon on a very special day, a balloon festival.

On this day hundreds of  hot air ballon owners come together to show off their wonderful balloon and turn a small part of the sky into a a place of magic and awe. Balloon festivals take place almost every month in some part of the world. A good overview on dates can be found on the event calender for Europe or North America, and a worldwide listing can be found here.

I was invited to come along to the largest balloon festival in Europe which always takes place in the late summer in Chambley-Bussieres, in the French region of Lorraine. The festival itself is called  “Lorraine Mondial Air Balloon Ralley”  and there are around 300 balloons taking part in this event. It was first held in 1989 with the aim to promote tourism and last year the festival achieved a world record: a take-off of 343 air balloons.

photo by Julien Venner

The year I was there we had lovely weather and lucky enough to ride in a fox-shaped ballon which attracted lots of curious spectators. I usually get excited just seeing one single balloon, but seeing around 300 of them at the same time really took my breath away. This was one event I will definitely never forget.

Here is the story of our day in pictures:

We needed about eight people to carry the heavy balloon bag from the car to the ground. Then we started unpacking.

After we managed to unpack the balloon and cover it on the ground, we started to blow it up. One has to be careful doing this, as there is always a risk of burning something. Gradually the balloon shaped up and rose above the ground. We jumped in…

… and our trip started.

Hundreds of others were getting ready. The sun wass shining and with all the colourful balloons the sky looked like a wonderful color spectacle.

We flew higher and higher until all the people on the ground just looked like little ants.

We were so impressed by the many balloons. It certainly felt like being in some sort of far away fairytale land.

No wonder that all of us were carrying big smiles on our faces while watching the landscape go by. Not as big as our ballon’s smile though…

We flew across fields…

… and little villages …

… until the sun went down and it started to get chilly and we decided to land. Luckily a truck with a few friends had followed us the whole time to pick us up.

We started to put the balloon together again and squeeze it in its bag. Then we drove back to our camp site where we spent the rest of the night siting around the bonfire, sharing our thoughts about this amazing experience. This was a few years ago but we still talk about it sometimes and agree that this was one of the best days of our lives.

Have any of you been to a balloon festival? I would love to hear about your experience!