We take to Catalonia’s glorious skies.
Wanting to fulfil a lifelong dream we decided to celebrate a family birthday by setting off on a sunny morning in May for a balloon trip over the coastal region of Emporda in Girona.
An early start
With no time to shave and with waking some of the family being akin to disturbing a nest of grumpy hedgehogs, we had a prickly start and were surprised to leave our hotel just about on time (at 6:30) for the 30 minute drive to the rendezvous with our crew and their balloon. The reason for the early start is that balloon flights have to be before the the ground heats up and creates thermal currents.
All memories of a warm bed were soon forgotten and excitement and anticipation took over as we turned the corner into the village of Colomers and saw the balloon there already half inflated in a field. Getting out of the car the first thing you notice is the heat and noise of the burners working hard to get the job finished, which they did surprisingly quickly.
We met Miquel, our pilot, who talked us through the take off and landing and quickly calmed any last minute nerves we had with his easy going, confident manner. (We found out on the flight that, since setting up the company up in 1988, he has flown balloons all over the world, from the Arctic to the Amazon). Almost as soon as we were inside the reassuringly sturdy basket we were released by the ground crew and in no time we were high above the village and soon leaving it below and behind us as the balloon began it’s journey.
The views and the silence are immediately breathtaking when you have left the ground beneath you. There is almost no wind as the balloon moves with the breeze and the faint mooing of cows and the odd car humming far below are the only sounds you hear, interrupted by the occasional roar of flame from the huge gas burner.
As we marvelled at the scenery, Miguel expertly took us up to 1000 metres looking for the right air currents. These run in different directions depending on your altitude, and they are the only way the balloon can navigate.
Once on a steady course we were able to take in our surroundings properly. It was an amazing experience. To the east the sun was rising over the Mediterranean, sparkling on the sea far below, and in the distance to the north the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees made the perfect backdrop for our adventure. The sheer beauty and spectacle of it all left us momentarily speechless – far from the norm in our family!
It was a great excuse for a celebration and there is no better place for opening a chilled bottle of Catalonia’s finest cava than high above the country that produced it (if not exactly the vineyards). To top it all our daughter had come back from her job Paris for the occasion and the macaroons she’d bought with her made it the ideal high altitude breakfast!
Finding ourselves heading out to sea, though not actually caring too much, we needed to change direction. So, looking for a different air current we slowly descended to about 25 meters above the woods and fields of the Emporda. On a new course we started heading towards a steep bank of trees and for the first time we looked nervously over at Miquel. But just at the last moment he lifted the balloon with a burst of flame and effortlessly reached out from the basket to pick us a pinecone from the crown of a passing tree. If ballooning were ever to become a competitive sport, this had to be a medal-winning manoeuvre. We were impressed.
Back to earth
All too soon and almost without realising it we were gently landing in an empty field. The ground crew, who had been following us in their 4×4, were there ready to meet us and just for good measure one of the guys jumped on the side of the basket to act as ballast to stop the basket tipping over. The 40 minute flight was over all too soon. We helped pack up the balloon, lift the basket onto its trailer and got driven back to the launch site by the crew.
A full Catalan breakfast
The excitement and the early start mean you’ve worked up quite an appetite by the time you’re back on ground (even after a couple of macaroons ). We went to a local restaurant that was expecting us and sat down to a typical Catalan breakfast of charcoal grilled sausage with white haricot beans fried up with pancetta and olive oil, Catalan tomato bread and plenty cava and coffee to wash it all down.
It was the ideal way to round off an incredible morning, made all the more enjoyable for Miquel and his team’s friendly, professional manner and their obvious love of their job.
Hearing them share some of their ballooning adventures just made us want to come back for more.