Trail Of The Unexpected: Hot air

'With every flight you literally cast your fate to the wind'

Should you be fortunate enough to find yourself in a hot-air balloon over the Côte d'Or at harvest time and flying low enough over the vineyards, you are likely to find the pickers throwing grapes into the basket as it flies by. On one of my most memorable flights as a balloon pilot, I took off from just south of Santenay and drifted over Chassagne-Montrachet, St-Aubin, Gamay, Meursault, Pommard, Beaune, Aloxe Corton, and Premeaux to finally land at Nuits-St-Georges. The flight covered two-thirds of the Côte D'Or - a dream trip for the wine lover, but especially for the balloonist in the country where manned aviation began.

Should you be fortunate enough to find yourself in a hot-air balloon over the Côte d'Or at harvest time and flying low enough over the vineyards, you are likely to find the pickers throwing grapes into the basket as it flies by. On one of my most memorable flights as a balloon pilot, I took off from just south of Santenay and drifted over Chassagne-Montrachet, St-Aubin, Gamay, Meursault, Pommard, Beaune, Aloxe Corton, and Premeaux to finally land at Nuits-St-Georges. The flight covered two-thirds of the Côte D'Or - a dream trip for the wine lover, but especially for the balloonist in the country where manned aviation began.

The Montgolfier Brothers, Joseph and Etienne, were originally papermakers based at Annonay, just south of Lyon. In the summer of 1783 they observed that when you fill a paper bag with smoke it rises. They believed that they had found some lifting agent caused by the action of smoke and paper. To test the theory they built a large paper bag, reinforced it with cloth on the outside and filled it with smoke. It climbed to an estimated 6,000ft and came to earth a mile and a half away - the first hot-air balloon.

Four months later, on 21 November 1783, the first manned Montgolfier balloon took off from the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, in front of half a million people. After 25 minutes, the first aeronauts, Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes, landed five miles away. The age of manned flight had begun.

Two centuries later, an American named Buddy Bombard read an article by a French Count, Jean Costa de Beauregard, about ballooning. It caught his attention. For several years Buddy had been organising small, upmarket ski trips to Europe and the Rockies. He contacted a dozen of his best clients, and for two weeks they travelled around France in a coach, ballooning whenever and wherever possible. They had two rather inadequate balloons, one of which had been repaired using cloth from Buddy's raincoat, with Jean and Buddy as pilots.

The vacation was a makeshift affair, with hotels often only being booked as they went along. Evening meals usually consisted of hastily put-together picnics, since hotel restaurants were closed by the time they finished flying. The trip was judged a success, but it became clear that organisationally it was better to be based in one area and that it should be Burgundy. The centre-east of France has it all: the best ballooning conditions (dry with reasonally light winds), beautiful rural landscapes, dozens of medieval châteaux, ancient market towns and of course the vineyards.

Balloons fly with the wind, so although a skilled pilot can control the height of a balloon within inches, controlling direction is difficult. The wind's bearing usually changes as you go higher, so you can alter course by going higher or lower. But you can only go with whatever winds there are. With every flight you literally cast your fate to the wind, never knowing where you will go nor what you will find when you get there.

In Burgundy there are so many options that it doesn't really matter what the wind has in store for you: the Disneyesque Château Rochepot; the Hospice in Beaune with its wonderful roof; the Basilica of Sainte Madeleine high on its rock at Vezelay, Semur-en-Auxois with its cracked tower; the formal grounds at the ancient Abbaye de Fontenay; or perhaps the monastery at Flavigny-sur-Ozerain.

Every good flight must come to an end. Where will you land? In the grounds of a château? Next to the grapes at Auxey-Duress? By the Burgundy Canal? Or in a farmer's field on the outskirts of a village? Wherever it is, you should receive a warm welcome. Not so much "get off my land", as "well, look who's dropped in". Trust me: as someone who has piloted balloons in many places worldwide, this is not always the case. But the vast majority of Burgundians are very friendly. It is not unusual to be invited to the home of the owner of the landing place to be offered wine and cheese - which, being local, are absolutely wonderful.

Buddy Bombard's company, the Bombard Society (001 561 837 6610; www.bombardsociety.com) offers four-day holidays based in Beaune. The cost, which includes all food and accommodation, sightseeing to private châteaux and vineyards and trains to and from Paris is $6,000 (£3,333) per person.

Several balloon operators are active in Burgundy for one-off rides. Burgundy Balloons (contactable by e-mail at eole71@wanadoo.fr) operates in the southern Côte D'Or and Northern Côte de Chalonnaise. Air Adventures (00 33 3 80 90 74 23; www.airadventures.fr) flies from Château de Cailly near Pouilly-en-Auxois. France Montgolfieres (00 33 2 54 32 20 48; www.franceballoons.com) operates near Vezelay and Chablis. Air Escargot (00 33 3 85 87 12 30; www.air-escargot.com) flies from the banks of the Burgundy Canal and in the Saone river valley. The cost for a one-hour flight varies from €180 (£125) to €230 (£160) per person

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week