The inside of the balloon
Val d'Orcia landscape from the sky
The pilot during a hot air balloon flight
The deflated balloon after the landing
Hot Air Balloon Rides
Flying, the oldest dream of man
Affirmed in the myth of Icarus, who was so charmed by the sky that he flew too close to the sun on wings of feathers and wax made by his father, flying is the oldest dream of mankind.
Floating in the Air
The hot air balloon is a colourful ball full of hot air that floats in the sky, toys with the hilltops and teases the villages from above carried aimlessly by the wind. A hot air balloon ride differs from day to day. Depending on the wind, we will be transported in one of the many possible directions. It is trust in the world, unexpected discovery, returning to childhood. The hot air balloon is a gracious, delicate and kind ride: it does not take off in an armoured vessel like an airplane, but it alights with grace, becomes ever lighter, slowly reveals the wonder below and lands on the ground in a friendly manner. The hot air balloon is the dream of mankind in its youth.
We get up before dawn and make our way to the departure field. If the weather is good, we fly; otherwise we stay on the ground. The deflated balloon is laid out on the grass behind the country home, the wicker basket, with its propane fuel tanks and powerful burner units, is waiting in the middle of the lawn. Here, the last lines are secured. Now, we can help if we wish: we are given pairs of gloves which we use to lift the mouth of the balloon from both sides of the basket while our pilot starts to fill it with hot air from the inside. Ever so slowly, the hot air balloon takes shape; it gets bigger and slowly rises up above our heads, until it is straight up above the basket. We load up with the final objects: radio, maps, and backpacks… Finally we get in the basket with a touch of emotion: we are just about to fly!
The lines are released and we start to move slowly. The burner units then spit fire from their steel mouths with force and we rise up, lightly, towards the crowns of the trees. We skim over them and continue on up passing through the light veil of the morning fog. We surpass the shadow of the valley to meet the pure sunshine of the morning. Everything changes, and we take in every moment in awe of the ever-shrinking breathtaking landscape below us. We do not even know where to look first; we are surrounded by wonder.
Here we are, dancing in the sky with the swallows and the falcons. From up here, we clearly see the three-dimensionality of the sky, its blue vastness. The pilot remains in close contact with the vehicle on the ground that follows us to estimate where we will land. Then the pilot talks about this incredible geography on the three-dimensional map below us while we remain enraptured by the shades of ochre, green and blue. Used to flying, the pilot is never distracted and always keeps an eye on the flight instruments while the other on the land below to point out some of the highlights on land: a sounder of wild boars with its piglets running along brush roads, the clay pinnacles of the Val d’Orcia badlands, the bell towers of Pienza…
The hot air balloon can either go up or go down; it is the wind that decides the direction. The skill of the pilot is therefore to foresee, anticipate and paint. And this is our painting as we visit Monticchiello: we gently start to descend and the pilot slowly takes us down as we skim over the historic town walls. We silently pass lower than the rooftops, a woman unbelievingly waves to us from her window. With our conspicuous colourful hat, we get the attention of the old folks in the town square who stop their chatting to stare mouths wide open until a great breath of fire pushes us up in the air once again, and Monticchiello becomes but a spot on the painting behind and below us.
Further ahead, we descend once again. We pass right above a country home and a flock of sheep near La Foce. Lower still, we fly past the hills over a freshly cut field. Drifting very slowly a metre or so from the ground, we finally touch down lightly and we stop. The balloon is deflated quickly and the light breeze lays it down on the grass. It is time to toast. Our vehicle reaches us. We pop open a bottle of Brunello and raise our glasses in the air.
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