Monday, 4 February 2013


This weekend we decided to head over to the annual Festival International de Ballons, held in Château-d'Oex. The "ballons" in question are of the large, hot-air variety, so you can expect the sky to be filled with colourful balloons of various interesting shapes.

We made the 1 hour trip from Lausanne to Château-d'Oex for the same reason last January, but unfortunately the bad weather meant that the balloons could not take off. On that occasion we had to make do with looking at balloons being inflated on the ground for a short while, and then deflated so that the next balloon could be blown up.

Luckily this year the weather was much kinder to us, and the festival was able to go ahead as planned.

Balloons fill the sky over Château-d'Oex
As we approached the town of Château-d'Oex, we could already see many balloons in the sky, and Lydia excitedly shouted "Ballon! Ballon!" repeatedly as we arrived in the town. Having parked the car in the town itself (the festival car park was not open at this point as they wanted people to fill up the Coop car park first), we walked towards the grounds.

A short distance from the entrance we were stopped by some of the festival workers, who informed us that we had to purchase tickets for 10.- CHF just to get in. I was surprised at this, as I didn't remember paying for entry when we went last year. Perhaps they waived the entry fee last year as the weather was so bad and no flights were expected? In any case, we paid the man (fortunately Lydia got in for free) and entered the festival grounds.

Inside there was a band playing Güggenmusik, a type of music with loud drums and brass instruments, typically associated with the carnaval season in Switzerland (see "Carnaval"). Lydia loves music in general and although she seemed a bit scared of the loud Güggenmusik, as she pressed her head against my arm, every time they finished a song she repeatedly shouted "Encore!".

Aside from the band, a large number of people were gathered along the gates lining the field where the balloons are inflated, while an announcer described certain balloons over the PA system. At one point a partially inflated balloon laid itself down over half the watching crowd before lifting back into the air, much to the amusement of those momentarily covered by the colourful material.

Also in this area was a booth where you can pay for balloon flights. Out of curiosity, Christelle checked how much a trip would cost, and the answer was 250.- CHF per person. That meant it was a bit out of our price range, and in any case they said the day's passenger list was basically full. Maybe next year.

Near the inflating field were some assorted stalls selling such goodies as hats and scarves, as well as others peddling pizzas, churros and various other typical festival delicacies. Chris and I decided to have a glass of mulled wine to help warm our chilled cockles, and stumped up 5.- CHF per glass for the honour. To be fair, they were large cups (possibly 300ml) and the mulled wine was delicious, so we certainly got our money's worth there.

Afterwards we headed over to a hill on one side of the grounds, partly because of Lydia's insistence to follow the band who had disappeared in that direction. We made our way up the slope and picked out a good spot to see the balloons being blown up. At the top of the hill were some more food stalls, so I bought a bowl of macaroni du chalet for Lydia (macaroni with ham, cheese and cream). It was 10.- CHF for the bowl which I thought was a bit on the steep side, but I put this down to everything being more expensive at festivals.

Lydia really liked her lunch, as she managed to eat probably two-thirds of the bowl (which is a lot for her, as she isn't a big eater). The other third was happily finished off by yours truly. Yum yum. At this point Chris' friend Sandrine had showed up with her son Matys (see "Ah, Young Love..."), so they joined us on the snowy hill to watch the balloons.

I guess Lydia had absorbed some energy from her pasta lunch as she jumped out of her pushchair and started walking around in the snow. After a few steps she laid down on her back in the snow, so we rolled her over to her sheer delight. She giggled as she rolled around in the snow, occasionally standing up and trudging around before dropping down and laughing as she began to roll again.

This was actually brilliant to see as Lydia had never really seemed that comfortable with snow, not wanting to touch it or play with it and barely tolerating walking in it. So to see her enjoying herself in the snow was a wonderful moment for us. Her happy relationship with the snow lasted for until she tried to run and tripped, landing on her knees with her glove-less hands in the snow (it's impossible to make her keep her gloves on), at which point she whinged and didn't want anything more to do with the white stuff.

That, along with the fact that it was round about the time that Lydia would normally have her nap, signalled the time for us to leave, so we made our way back home. That afternoon Lydia slept for two and a half hours, so it looks like the combination of fresh air and playing in the snow tired her out - might have to remember that!

All in all, the Festival International de Ballons at Château-d'Oex is good to see, and at night (weather permitting) they have a "Night Glow" with illuminated balloons, which is probably something spectacular to witness. The main downside for me was the fact that we had to pay to get in, even though all that entitled you to was to stand a bit closer to the balloons while they were grounded (as everything else involved additional charges, such as drinks, food, rides, etc.).

We might go back next year, and hopefully we will get to see the Night Glow next time, although it might be more economical to watch the balloons from the town itself instead of paying to get a bit closer.

Tip: if you fancy going to the festival you should make sure to check their website the morning of the day you plan to go, as they post information about what to expect that day. This will tell you if the weather is too bad for flights, or if the Night Glow is cancelled.

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