[Advertising: Cooperation] Instead of "Traveling where the wind blows me" it is called for the first time "Driving where the wind blows me". I don't mean this metaphorically, but seriously: I'm riding a hot air balloon for the first time in my life over the Garroxta Volcanoes Nature Reserve in northeastern Catalonia. The wind decides where the journey with the hot air balloon goes on this day – well and Pepe, our pilot, who steers skillfully.
The Natural Park Volcanoes of Garroxta (Parc Natural de la Zona VolcAnica de la Garrotxa) is located in the province of Girona. 40 volcanoes and and more than 20 lava flows have formed the 120 km² area thousands of years ago. The last eruption was around 10.000 years back. Covered with dark green beech forests, the volcanoes lie between cultivated fields and medieval villages. The bird's eye view is breathtaking. In good weather, the distant view extends to the Pyrenees and the sea.
I visited Catalonia at the invitation of the Catalan tourism board. The 5-day press trip titled "Campsites and Sustainable Tourism on the Costa Brava" had immediately piqued my interest, and of course the balloon ride that was on the agenda as well. You can find out which campgrounds we stayed at in the post "Camping in Catalonia: Something for everyone". What else you can do in Catalonia can be found in the article TOP 10 Tips | What you can do in Catalonia or in the USA. the province of Girona can do. As always, you can find the full disclosure at the end of the post. My opinion is and remains my own.
Can we drive?, I ask countless times during the press trip. Every day I hoped for a positive decision. The weather had been unstable. Every day it had rained a little bit. Since there were no cancellations, we gathered at 5 a.m. in order to arrive in time at the launch site of the Vol de Coloms company, which has made more than 8000 balloon flights over the Garroxta volcanic area since 1992. Due to the microclimate prevailing in the Garroxta, balloon flights can be offered all year round, spring, summer, autumn and winter.
We arrive at the launch site, which is hidden in a clearing near Sant Pau, just in time to watch the balloons being assembled. But before we even start, we check the wind conditions again in the team. From the new, barrier-free building with large windows near the launch site we watch the men dressed in black giving their advice.
HOT AIR BALLOONING WITH VOL DE COLOMS | THE PROCEDURE OF A BALLOON FLIGHT
Only when the team gives the ok, three balloons with their baskets are unloaded next to each other and spread out. While I drink a coffee inside and enjoy a croissant, strong fans are blowing air into the gas-tight envelopes to the left and right of the balloon basket.
After the balloon envelopes are fully deployed, the professional Vol de Coloms team checks the thermals and wind conditions again. Another ok and the burner used to heat the air of the balloon is activated. Due to the warmed air the balloon starts to rise and the basket is erected.
Then it goes fast. We hurriedly climb in and as soon as the door is securely closed, we take off. We are the first balloon to take off. The takeoff and the landing are the critical phases of a balloon flight. There may be only low wind speeds and little to no thermals. That is why the morning is especially suitable for balloon flights.
Our friendly bus driver Carlos waves us goodbye. Meter by meter we climb upwards – so quietly that I could believe I'm still standing on the ground.
The ride with the hot air balloon
Catalonia stretches in front of me from the bird's eye view. The houses blur into small dots. From above we can see the crater cones of the Garroxta volcanoes, densely covered with oak woods. In between the cultivated fields shine golden yellow in the rising sun.
At the highest point we reach an altitude of 2.200m. It is surreal to see the world from so far above. Altitude sickness does not yet occur at this altitude (from 2.500 possible, from 2.800 probably, from 3.000 noticeable – more about altitude sickness while trekking and hiking ).
Then there is Cava rose and for everyone a piece of "coca de llardons", a flat cake with pork lard – sounds disgusting, but is not so. He is even very tasty.
The air traffic control reports by radio. We are not allowed to climb further. After a good hour Pepe initiates the descent.
With about 40 km/h we float over the medieval town Besalú, whose center is under monument protection and is known for the 105 m long bridge, the Pont de Besalú, over the river FluviA. We do not notice anything of the speed. In the balloon basket it is like windless.
Pepe steers the hot air balloon over busy roads, a gravel plant and briefly along a river towards a large open field.
Fascinated we watch the shadow of our balloon. Pepe explains to us what to do when landing: hold on and get on your knees. We are approaching the ground. After about 1.5 hours we gently touch down on the ground. We do not tilt. Less than 5 minutes later the escort vehicle has reached us.
Packing up and stowing the hot air balloon in the trailer
Teamwork is required for folding and packing. The balloon is pushed to the ground and loaded into a big box. Afterwards the basket is hoisted onto the trailer.
Breakfast and certificate presentation
Back at the camp we have a hearty, typical Catalan breakfast: first bread with tomato (and garlic paste), then the Catalan sausage speciality "botifarra" with white beans. A yogurt desert from the La Fageda cooperative rounds out the breakfast, which could also pass for lunch.
The program ends with the presentation of the certificate. I will not be elevated to the nobility of balloonists due to time constraints. But I do not find that bad.
THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT HOT AIR BALLOONING WITH VOL DE COLOMS
Vol de Coloms has been conducting hot air balloon flights over the volcanoes of Garroxta since 1992. Rides are offered 365 days a year. Special offers like z.B. on the ground you can see birthday wishes, marriage proposals, etc. are offered just like combination packages with favorable overnight accomodation.
Children must be at least 5 years old. There is no age limit upwards. Hot air balloon rides are also possible for people with physical limitations or sitting in a wheelchair. Pregnant women are excluded from the offer. The building at the launch site is built barrier-free.
It was nice. I imagined hot air ballooning to be much more wobbly and unsteady than it was. So I was very surprised how quiet ballooning feels.