Travel by hot air balloon? Yes. On a unique and unusual flight? That too. Where? Above the 10,000-feet-high peaks of the Pyrenees in Spain. Is it cold? Not in the slightest. Is it dangerous? Not at all.
A lot of people have been lucky enough to fly in a hot air balloon. It is a relaxed and calm experience, where the sense of flying and of movement is barely perceptible. Instead, the feeling of calm that takes you over is transformed into something beautiful. Beauty that you contemplate at your feet and which extends like a blanket into the far horizon. But given that it is a short journey, barely a day long, it must be special in order to form part of this book. The answer is twofold. First, the location where this flight of several hours takes place: the Pyrenean mountain chain, with peaks of over 10,000 feet in height. Second, it is within anybody’s reach: there is no need to have any prior knowledge of hot air ballooning. The Pyrenees is the mountain range that separates Spain and France. They are 282 miles long and reach a width of 93 miles, with various mountains that are between 8,200 and 10,000 feet high. With an elevation of 11,168 feet, Aneto is the highest peak. Flying over them, you reach heights of almost 13,000 feet and can see mountains and valleys, forests and small closed-in lakes. At the same time, you momentarily feel like an eagle, suspended in the air; your eyes do not know where to look as they revel in views of unparalleled beauty. This beauty is further enhanced during the winter, when snow covers the valleys and peaks with its lovely white mantle. The sensation is unique. Because the balloon is immersed in an air current, there is zero feeling of movement. You are still, completely still, on a natural balcony that’s entirely for you. You feel like the god of a natural observatory of indescribable grandeur and beauty. You travel with the wind, which also enables you to be a part of it.
You cross the Pyrenees from north to south, pushed by the air currents and avoiding the dreaded thermal currents that appear in winter and which pose a very real threat. This is an activity that you cannot leave in the hands of just anybody. You’re lucky that one of the best hot air balloon agencies in the world, Kon-Tiki, flies this route. Their 23 years of experience and expeditions to areas as remote and complex as the Amazon and Greenland provide us with a much-appreciated feeling of safety. So prepare to enjoy a marvelous and unforgettable experience. You can set off on your journey from different points of the Pyrenees but always from the north side of the massif. There is no fixed route; you go wherever the wind, the lord and master, takes you.
So, on the appointed day – a brisk morning – we find ourselves on the outskirts of Viella, the capital of the Aran Valley, on the northern slopes of the Spanish Pyrenees. The weather conditions are excellent. Even so, our hearts are pounding. This is one of the flight’s key moments. The wind forecast is completely calm, but if even a small breeze picks up, we will not be able to take off and the trip will be postponed. However, this is not the case. The burner is lit and we soon find ourselves gaining height. First 100 meters, then 500, and then the buildings become mere dots as a range of valleys and snowy peaks spreads before our eyes. I find myself amazed: there is so much beauty to take in!
We are lucky; we catch an air current with south-westerly winds. This allows us to cross the mountain range diagonally, meaning that the crossing will take longer. So I focus on taking photographs. I’m excited. My imagination escapes me, and I see photographs everywhere. But many are intricate details. Can I use the zoom? Of course. The basket of the balloon doesn’t move at all. It’s as if it was anchored to the Earth itself. The day wears on. We are hypnotized and are discovering that fortune has not let us down. Rather the contrary in fact. Iconic landmarks of the Pyrenees pass in front of us: Sant Maurici and Els Encantats, the frozen lakes of Colomers, and the mythical Pedraforca. The good atmosphere envelops us all.
We gradually leave the snow and rugged mountain range behind. Rolling mountains welcome us. We know that the trip is coming to an end, but we are very happy.
As the trip lasts for only one day, you can combine it with other activities, especially if you come from somewhere far away. For example, these mountains are an outstanding location for practicing various adventure sports such as mountaineering, canyoning, paragliding, skiing and dog sled racing. It is also possible to take winter treks of various levels, according to your experience. There is a large network of mountain huts, a lot of which are closed during the winter but which allow access to small contiguous buildings that offer safety and some comfort. Highly recommendable is the nearby Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, with its deep canyons and spectacular landscapes. However, the undisputed crown jewel is the “Transpirenaica,” a walking route that traverses the Pyrenees. Its 465 miles of marked paths crosses the 264-mile-long mountain chain that links the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of Europe’s most beautiful tours. The majority of the route runs past mountain huts. You need to be physically prepared and have knowledge of alpine mountain environments. Yet its 44 stages (the route can be reduced or increased according to your physical ability) are really a wonderful experience. The natural wonders you encounter on the way will welcome you in all their splendor and day by day, stage by stage, hikers will bask in new emotions and experiences.
If you would like to combine it with the balloon ride, you should do so between November and March. The trek is suitable for professional mountaineers.
Keywords: Pyrenees, Spain, Adventure escapes. Adventure travel. Guide book
10 ORIGINAL TRIPS TO ENJOY THE EARTH
This summary is part of the book
“10 Original trips to enjoy the earth” where each destination contains a section where I tell you how to organize and plan your trip. In addition you will be able to enjoy many other photographs of each adventure. Would you like to take a glance to the book’s inside?