Hot Air Ballooning in Provence: The Ultimate Day Out?
A couple months ago we were invited on a hot air balloon ride with AeroProvence. I think Tom, the owner, felt obligated with my enthusiastic likes and comments on all his instagram posts of fields and fields of lavender. Experiencing a ride in a hot air ballon has always been a dream of mine.
We slept for about 3 hours after a crazy week before driving the 1.5 hours to our liftoff spot. We arrived, amazingly early, and ate croissants in the car in the pitch black parking lot while watching the others arrive, equally a little confused in the darkness.
The experience is only possible if you leave very early in the morning. This is to take advantage of the best meteorological conditions. I can say it doesn’t hurt either that as soon as you’re in the sky you’re treated to the sunrise from behind the mountains.
Bubbling with excitement, we helped lay out the “envelope” as the balloon is called sans air. I had to fight the urge to call it “the sail.” Ha! Air is first blown into the envelope with a large fan and then the heating begins. Once several thousand cubic feet of hot air is trapped inside it, the balloon takes on a personality of it’s own and lifts into vertical position. Then it’s time to jump aboard ! Be quick though- the balloon doesn’t wait.
On the day we went, there was a little more wind than anticipated and the balloon floated us up above the trees to 1800m above sea level. Robin, who was quite nervous about the trip (unlike me- dying with anticipation) flashed his eyes at me.
However, the quiet of the sky and slow movement of the balloon combined with watching the sunrise gave us all a sense of peace. I feel like it was the first time I relaxed in months (it was a busy season). Although you’re essentially in a basket at that incredible height, it didn’t feel as scary as I thought. The basket is very sturdy. I was surprised by the amount of control that Tom has with flying the balloon. Does one say flying a hot air balloon? I don’t know. But it felt like it.
The wind is king in such a situation so the route of each flight that Tom commands is different. He knows the Verdon National Park very well, as you can imagine, and is comfortable pointing out every single different natural landmark and mountain range. From such a height you can see the diverse landscapes of Provence.
Tom took us low above the lavender fields, which had sadly just been cut (it was August). However, still beautiful. Then, to my absolute delight, he floated us above a wildflower field where the bottom of the basket just kissed the tops of the flowers. I think that might have been my favourite part. (I used to be a florist- I’m flower crazy).
About 45 minutes in, we headed to a large reserve where we saw bunnies and deer from the sky. Magnificent. See my videos on my saved Instagram story where you can see the whole process.
Cheeky Tom even threatened to wet our feet above a lake. He hovered the basket inches above the water, just to the point where we thought we might have to jump and smiled as he pulled us up above the treetops again.
What I found particularly interesting, perhaps because I’m now a local too, is Tom’s relationship with the local farmers. He regularly invites them on his rides and knows the exact dates of their harvests to make sure he respects their fields. As you can imagine, landing in a random field every day has led to a couple heated debates. All eventually smoothed over with a couple bottles of wine of course…
After landing, incredibly smoothly I have to say, we were driven back to Tom’s house where we were treated to a little picnic with saucisson from the excellent local butcher, cheese from a farm down the road, juice and local wine. If you’re vegan, don’t worry, he can prepare something different.
To make up for the lack of lavender on the ride, Tom cut little bouquets for us ladies. We got back into the car, the lavender flowers warming in the sun on the dashboard and sighed. Content with life, we headed on our next adventure, to the Riez market.
Riez is located just 15 minutes from AeroProvence. Market girl extraordinaire, I was in my element. Not onlyP because it was a Provençal market, but an excellent one. You know it’s going to be good when there are countless older ladies buying produce. That is the tell-tale sign. This less-visited part of Provence (outside of the short lavender season anyways) still has fantastic prices while also the charm of a well-loved village. What can I say, it was a perfect day!
How is AeroProvence different than other local companies?
Tom prefers to fly with smaller groups, just 5-6 people which makes the experience more intimate. Also, his trips are 1.5 hours while most others are only an hour.
Things to consider
You’re in safe hands. Tom is passionate about flying and has 30 years of experience in the air, including 6,000 flight hours in gliders, ultra-lights and hot-air balloons.
Wear sturdy shoes, you’ll have to climb in and out of the basket.
Bring a flask of coffee/tea for the morning. As soon as you arrive you’ll start helping with the balloon and there isn’t any chance for any!
Don’t bother bringing a big camera. The carriage is small and it’ll most likely be poking into your neighbour’s back (guilty). The photos I took with my phone were great. I would suggest not taking any photos (if you can). The experience, to me, felt otherworldly and it’s best to be present. Tom sends you a folder of all the photos that he took during your flight the same day.
Plan your trip around the hot air balloon ride. It’s worth it. The hot air balloon only lifts off if the weather conditions are perfect so give yourself a couple days leeway just incase it’s a bit windy on your chosen day.
If you have a generous budget, I would suggest privatising the balloon. Six people can fit in the basket but it would be absolutely worth it if were just 2 of you. Heck, if I won the lottery tomorrow I might go by myself once a week!
The balloon rides are possible all year round and each season offers something different. Most popular, is of course lavender season. Check out AeroProvence Instagram and scroll down to July. Be bedazzled by purple! Book now for the lavender season. Seriously.
Spring: you’ll see poppies, almond trees blossoming and colza flowering.
Summer: The lavender and sage are both in full purple bloom.
Autumn: The oranges and yellows of the leaves.
Winter: You’ll have amazing visibility where you can see the ocean in the Golf of St Tropez.
If you can, plan your trip for a Wednesday or a Saturday.
We went to Riez market after the balloon ride and it was wonderful.
Tickets are 250€ per adult. The price includes the flight, insurance, and brunch.
For questions, email Tom: firstname.lastname@example.org
Have you ever been Hot Air Ballooning in Provence?