[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ince 1979 the small village of Château-d’Oex in a beautiful Swiss alpine valley of the Pays-d’Enhaut has been holding what has become today the largest balloon festival in the world, the International Balloon Festival. Each year, over 80 balloons are participating in the event and in the different competitions that challenge the expert balloon pilots’ skills. For the public there are the opportunities to take balloon rides as well as view and photograph some of the most spectacular scenery in the Swiss countryside.
The 36th edition could hardly have gotten a better start. After two years of rather poor ballooning weather, the festival began under a beautiful sky on Saturday, January 25th. Fresh snow from the past few days transformed the landscape into a winter fairyland. Pure sunshine, pristine snow covered mountains and colorful hot-air balloons are the ingredients to make this balloon festival absolutely perfect. All came together for this successful start attended by around 8’000 visitors. The weather allowed 93 take offs to offer a total of almost 120 flight hours.
I had the chance to take a balloon ride on board the Fol Epi balloon with the pilots Stefan and Lea Zeberli. It was obvious that the pilots were experienced flying in the region and knew quite well what winds to expect. The ride took us for two hours along the valley towards Gruyère. Twice we increased the altitude to look over the first mountains in the valley in order to get a view over to Lake Geneva as well as the Mont-Blanc.
The festival lasts until February 2nd.