Up in the Air
There is something magical about seeing the wine country from the air, at least from a hot air balloon. For the past six months I have made several attempts to experience a hot air balloon ride, but the weather thwarted each try. This time, however, it was a go! Soaring over vineyards, wineries and resorts provided a completely different perspective of the valley.
Floating above the ground while the sun rose over the Napa Valley was a peaceful experience. My reverie was interrupted only by the sound of the burners, which keep the balloon inflated. Luckily there was another balloon that launched with us, so that we got some phenomenal photos in the air. What surprised me the most was how quiet it was in the balloon.
Calistoga Balloons certainly knows what they are doing. They fly over 285 days each year with experienced pilots and ground crews. In this case, it really does take a village. The crew helps to roll out the balloons, get them inflated, and help everyone to board. Then they wait to find out where the balloon will be landing, which depends on the wind direction.
Watching the balloon inflate is fascinating. It doesn’t seem that the small fan could possibly provide enough air to fill up the balloon, and yet it does. On the day that I finally had my adventure, there were two balloons: a 12-passenger and 16-passenger. It took approximately 30 minutes to get the balloons airborne. Guests stayed out of the way and snapped pictures during the process.
Before we got into the balloon we were given instructions by our pilot about proper balloon behavior. I think everyone on the trip was as excited as I was for the ride. Once we were aloft there was nothing but smiles from the passengers.
As we drifted over the northern end of the valley that I know so well, I was able to pick out several of the resorts, the famous geyser, and some of the more iconic wineries. Before long our journey was coming to an end; we were instructed to stay in the basket, bend our knees to brace for landing and wait to be told to disembark.
We landed smoothly at the fairgrounds with help from the crew. While waiting for the balloon to be packed away we chatted animatedly to other guests about our shared experience. While it was sad that our journey had come to an end, there was a champagne brunch at nearby Calistoga Inn waiting.
I returned to Luxe Calistoga, my fabulous bed and breakfast, to enjoy the gourmet feast that is one of their hallmarks. On the wrap-around porch, tables were set with linens and silver. I was greeted by the owner with a carafe of fresh-squeezed orange juice, an elegant silver French-press coffee pot, and an apple galette.
That was only the beginning. It was followed by a fruit salad and the main course – a potato pancake with sauteed spinach, Korbuta crispy pork belly with Hollandaise sauce, and optional quail egg. It was a fabulous day and it had only just begun. The possibilities were endless.
Calistoga is Napa Valley’s original spa town, located on the northern end of the valley. Here you can enjoy spa treatments, wine tasting, and great food. Read about a recent trip to Calistoga.