When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey, there was a big balloon festival every year not far from where I lived. When we were out and about the weekend of the festival, we’d look up and see a rainbow of beautiful balloons just floating on the horizon. Flash forward a bit and here I am in France where the sight of hot air balloons in the sky caught me by surprise. Various tour companies operate along the Loire and throughout the region and I told Tom a few years ago I’d love to do that one day and see the view from above. Last Tuesday was that day. We took our very first hot air balloon ride above the town of Chinon and I’d recommend it to anyone. Be sure to scroll to the end of the post for a fun video I made of our ride.
Our hot air balloon experience in the Loire Valley
The company we booked a tour with was Touraine Terre d’Envol and they are professional, friendly, and give the customer a standout experience. The best tours I’ve been on are ones where you know from the start that the person giving the tour is passionate about what they’re doing. That it’s more than a job for them. We learned this was the case right away when I asked Aurimas if this was his company and how long they’ve been in this line of work. Right away he said it’s not our business; it’s our passion. They love what they do and that showed every step of the way.
An early start
Let me walk you through our day starting at our 5:30am alarm. We left Dagny with Tom’s parents and headed out at 6am for Chinon. Hot air balloon rides are only done in the early morning and early evening hours for safety reasons. We met the group and the pilot, Aurimas, in the town center where he checked the wind and overall conditions. Shortly after, we hopped in the company’s SUV, which towed the balloon and basket behind it, for a short ride to the takeoff site.
A few minutes later we arrived in a big field bookended by grape vines. The balloon and basket were unloaded from the trailer and we got to work.
The balloon itself was unrolled and placed in a straight line. Fans were set up to help direct the air into the balloon and Aurimas got everyone involved so we weren’t just standing around watching. Loved how interactive the prep was. Then it was time to get the balloon ready to go. That whole process took about 30-45 minutes and while we waited, Aurimas gave us a safety briefing and explained more about how the balloon flies and what we could expect once in the air.
Then it was time to fire it up! Literally.
Once everything was all set, we were invited to hop in the basket. The day of our ride, there were 11 people total in the basket including Aurimas. The basket is sectioned off into various compartments so Tom and I had our own little spot. Then it was time for takeoff.
A few minutes later we started our ascent and passersby who came to observe sent us off with waves and big smiles. Several people stopped their cars along the side of the road. It really is a sight to see! I would have done the same.
As we drifted up, up and away, we gently floated over the town center of Chinon just above people’s rooftops. Many came out to wave and see what was going on. While the balloon passed over the rooftops, it was silent except for when Aurimas would fire the gas from above and when we were talking. The word to describe it would be peaceful.
We slowly made our way toward the fortress and continued our ascent never going more than 1 kilometer in the air and moving at around 4 km/hour or less, safely resting below the clouds.
What a view!
We were treated to a spectacular panoramic view of the fortress, the town of Chinon and the Vienne river which runs through it. Our ears popped a little bit as we changed altitudes. We drifted over houses and buildings, boats and fields, cows and all kinds of trees. Aurimas made sure to turn the balloon so all 10 passengers could see all angles of the view. The hour or so flight was the perfect length. It was long enough to settle in, see different types of scenery and really enjoy ourselves.
Time to land
Piloting a hot air balloon isn’t an exact science and while the pilot has a general sense of where he’s able to navigate based on the conditions, it doesn’t always go as planned. You can control the altitude with the hot air but the exact landing site involves a bit of improvisation. That’s part of the fun! His colleague, Kimis, followed the balloon in his car down on the ground so he could meet us for landing. We spotted him from above. The conditions were ideal for our ride and we smoothly floated over treetops and corn husks before gently touching down.
Packing up, some good eats, and a ceremony!
Once on the ground, we all worked together to flatten the balloon and roll it up for the next flight. It was quite a process getting all the air out and wrapping it up. We all pitched in to get the air out while Aurimas rolled up the balloon. Being a part of packing up the balloon really made us feel like we were involved and not just guests on a tour but part of a unique experience.
Once done, Aurimas and Kimis surprised us with excellent food and drink from the Chinon region. They treated us to wine and juice, croissants, cheese, special bread from Lithuania (where they’re from), artisanal butter and more. I especially appreciated the hot coffee hiding in a thermos. I won’t give away all their secrets but let’s just say the ceremony was entertaining and informational. We even got a certificate at the end!
Over the past couple of days after posting some pics online and talking to friends about the experience, many people have commented how they’d be nervous and asked if it was scary. The answer is no. The balloon ride is calm and peaceful and if no one was talking and the burner was off, you could hear a pin drop. There are no jerky movements and everything is slow and controlled. If I closed my eyes, I didn’t even realize I was moving. The basket is secure and goes up to your chest (depending on your height) so you don’t feel like you could fall out of the basket. Sometimes I have an issue with vertigo and I didn’t have a falling or dizzy sensation once.
I’d recommend a hot air balloon ride to anyone, kids and adults alike. Bonus points if you do it in France. 😉
While up in the air, you get a real sense of where you are in relation to everything else. The aerial view conceptualizes a place like driving in a car does not. From above, you can see the roads you drove in on and where they are in relation to the river and town center, etc. Everything makes sense from the air. Not to mention it’s an incredible view that is stunning beyond words. Even the trees and fields looked amazing.
One of the things I loved the best about the entire experience with Touraine Terre d’Envol is that it’s not “just” a hot air balloon tour where you’re dropped off, asked to get in an already prepared balloon, flown around and then dropped off right after. As I mentioned above, the guests are involved every step of the way and the entire process is an interactive experience. Guests learn about all the prep work that goes into getting the balloon ready for takeoff.
Do’s and don’ts of taking a hot air balloon ride
Do bring a camera (preferably one with a strap). The scenery is breathtaking and you’ll want to capture it, so be sure to bring a camera that has a neck or wrist strap. It’s a long way down if it slips through your fingers.
Do wear a shirt with sleeves and bring a cap to cover your head. At the very least, wear a t-shirt and leave tank tops at home. It’s called a HOT AIR balloon for a reason. The flames above your head are HOT and if you have exposed skin on your neck or shoulders, you’re going to feel it. The burner is only turned on when the pilot needs to maneuver, but it is somewhat frequent. This was something I didn’t realize and was glad I had on something that covered my shoulders.
Do plan ahead. They only fly certain months of the year (and only morning and evenings) for safety reasons so if it’s something you have your heart set on doing, be sure to schedule in advance.
Don’t be afraid. There’s nothing to worry about!
I can’t recommend Aurimas and Touraine Terre d’Envol enough (and no I was not paid to say that). The experience was absolutely fantastic from start to finish. And weekday pricing is quite attractive. If you’re in the Loire, look them up!
Finally, here’s a video I made of the whole experience! Enjoy!
(Be sure to watch it in HD by adjusting the settings icon. Don’t forget to subscribe to my channel!)