Hot air balloon in La Garrotxa in Catalonia
Visiting the region for the 4th time when staying in luxury villas in Catalonia, we planned to do a hot air balloon trip with my dear fellow travel bloggers. But as it depends on the exact wind and other weather conditions, the trip was cancelled last minute on our last day. Later on, I spent a week around the Mediterranean on MSC Preziosa.
After I disembarked MSC Preziosa in Barcelona and stayed for 2 nights in Casa Gracia hostel getting my energy back to normal, Richard (the owner of the Charming villas who organized my previous trip to Costa Brava) and I replanned the hot air balloon for my second day in Barcelona.
Surprisingly enough, or not at all with my luck, it was too windy to do it so the night before the trip it was cancelled again.
My last morning in Barcelona when the time changed from winter time to summer meaning 1 hour less of sleep, the wind decided to behave and we could finally do the hot air balloon.
Woo hoo, lucky third time!
Richard drove from Besalu to pick me up in Barcelona at 5.30 am as there was no public transportation so early morning and it was also Easter Sunday.
I am used to wake up super early on Easter Sunday as we celebrate it back home with a special breakfast early morning at my grandparents’ house so getting less than 2-hour sleep was pretty fine.
When we finally got just outside of Santa Pau village, the seat of Vol de Coloms company, 3 hot air balloon were getting air inside them.
”Hoy si volamos (Today we do fly)”, Nuria from Vol de Coloms I met the other day smiled at me when we stepped out of Richard’s car.
I jumped out of happiness…
I mentally woke up immediately after her sentence, the excitement started to flow through my veins faster and faster and I just could not believe one of my dreams is finally going to happen.
Yes, I am a flying freak and everything I can see from birds-eye view means the world to me. Seeing villages, mountains and little cars as on the palm of my hand is what represents the freedom that pushes me forward every day.
The white breath out proved the cold weather so I put more layers on me to completely dedicate my mind to the world below us and not to the low temperature around when hot air ballooning.
Even watching the balloons to get ready was an experience by itself. Jumping in was cool too and it reminded me of my childhood when we used to jump through the forbidden walls to see the best forbidden fruit.
Hot air balloon in La Garrotxa felt similar.
We were the last to get into the air but at least I could take photos and videos of the first 2 balloons. Me, Nuria, Richard and a French couple in their 40’s were separated in the balloon. The other 7 passengers, a group of local older people were in the other part of the basket. So it was 12 of us plus Tony, the driver (or what’s the name of the person in charge of the balloon anyway?!)
The bigger group was pretty loud in the beginning so adviced them about the hot air balloon rule number 1:
Our basket finally quit touching the green ground and slowly we got higher and higher. The trip was done over La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park around Fluvia river. La Garrotxa is situated in the North-East Catalonia with big part being formed by over 40 volcanoes and 20 lava flows protected within 28 natural reserves.
We spotted the two volcanoes that are characteristic for the area – Santa Margarida one with a crater on top and a Romanesque church in it, and Croscat. Both volcanoes can be hiked and they show different types of volcanic activity.
Moderately powerful Strombolian eruption is now seen in the Croscat with its horseshoe-shaped crater and lava flow of over 6 km while the powerful freatomagmatic eruption is represented by Santa Margarida volcano crater.
160 m high Croscat is the highest volcanic cone in the Iberian Peninsula. An impressive scar from this once active quarry was seen incredibly well from the balloon. It allowed us to find out more about the internal structure of the Croscat as the rest of the volcano is covered by ever-green oaks. Since 1982 Croscat has been restored. In the Can Passavent Information Centre, at the entrance to the former quarried area of the volcano, you can learn about the whole restoration process.
In comparison, Santa Margarida volcano is of freuto-magmatic origin and its broad circular crater in wich a chapel dedicated to Santa Margarida was built. The Romanesque church is surrounded by the green oaks on the Southern side and decidious forest on the Northern side.
In between all the green forests and volcanoes, a few little towns are situated. We saw the medieval Santa Pau and Castellfollit de la Roca, Sant Joan les Fonts, Sant Feliu and even bigger Olot with predominant white architecture – at least it appeared more white than the other little medieval towns made of basalt stones and reddish roofs.
Probably after half an hour when we all got used to little shaking of the balloon and the noise of the flames every now and then, Tony opened 2 bottles of the Catalan champagne Cava and one of the passengers celebrated his 50th birthday with a glass of it in the air. How cool! Now I understood all the shouting and excitement of the group of people around him. They were all celebrating.
There was even a glass rack for the Cava glasses all around the basket. Our luxury moment was about to start!
Tony also spread around a piece of Catalan typical cake Coca de llardons which was decorated with 2 candles in the shape of numbers 50 for the birthday man.
We continued higher up to 2,300 m above sea level watching the other 2 hot air balloons on the horizon. The Catalan Pyrenees covered with some clouds gave it all even more of a unique feeling. The sun rising above the Mediterranean sea in the West was spectacular too.
Slowly, it got warmer and I let the sunbeams play with my face skin. I was pretty busy taking both photos and videos with my DSLR Nikon in my right hand, doing the same from a different perspective with Drift HD Ghost camera in my left hand, and sometimes swapping to my phone as well where it is much easier to retouch the photos.
The flight was supposed to take 1 to 1,5 hours but as it all depends on the weather conditions, we got closer to the ground more times. The balloon moved at 4 m per second on the way down and flying very close to the ground seeing all the cows, birds flying from one tree to another, watching the little cars and the medieval houses was a different experience. We even got super close to the 40 m high basalt cliff of Castellfollit de la Roca village.
The last half an hour I stopped taking photos and videos, laid myself to the edge of the balloon and just looked around enjoying the landscapes. The flight in the end took more than 2 hours as the first 3 times we couldn’t land. It was very funny trying to land, repeating the landing procedure of standing backwards to Tony and holding the handle while Tony was just making ”here-it-will-not-work” faces. Once we almost hit trees and once also an old farm house.
Tony’s colleagues were trying to find us the best landing space from the ground following us in the van. In the end we managed to land on the field covered with some kind of plants up to the knees and just next to a tree. I had a good laugh realizing where exactly we landed when I jumped out of the balloon rushing to go back to Santa Pau.
Richard’s wife was picking me and Richard up by the main road as I needed to get back to Richard’s car with my luggage in Santa Pau asap, so we made it through the fields a bit dirty.
Usually the passengers wait until the balloon is packed back and then they go all together back to Santa Pau where a typical country breakfast is served (tomato bread, pork products, fried sausage and beans).
I didn’t have time to get anything of it, so a tomato bread with cheese was packed for me and then Richard could give me a ride to Barcelona El Prat airport to take my Vueling flight to Frankfurt.
My hot air balloon in La Garrotxa in Catalonia was a part of Adventure and Spa project. For more information, please visit Vol de Coloms website, check Vol de Coloms facebook or send them an email to [email protected]
*** It took me more than 10 hours to write this post, choose and resize the photos and make the video.