Chateau d’Oex Hot-Air Balloon Festival

The Swiss are very fond of festivals and hold them throughout the year to celebrate everything from music, wine, and cheese, to local handicrafts, farm produce, and livestock, including beauty contests for cows (I kid you not!). Some festivals date back centuries, while others are more contemporary in origin.

Looking for something to do as a family back in January, we decided to check out the International Hot-Air Balloon Festival in the village of Chateau d’Oex, which has been held every year since 1979. Chateau d’Oex is a small alpine town (pop. 3,000) situated in the Swiss Pre-Alps east of Fribourg and is about an hour’s drive from Lausanne. Thanks to the area’s spectacular setting and favourable flying weather, the balloon festival has become a magnet for the world’s top hot-air balloon pilots and enthusiasts. Chateau d’Oex was also the launch site for the Breitling Orbiter 3, the first hot-air balloon to circumnavigate the globe, back in 1999.

The festival takes place over the course of the last week of January, involving daily balloon flights starting from the village, along with demonstration events by sky-divers and para-gliders. Each day spectators can witness the launch of dozens of hot-air balloons, provided the weather and wind conditions are favourable (which they usually are at this time of year).

While the balloon flights are open to the public (for 300Fr per person!), the vast majority of those who visit the festival participate with their feet planted firmly on the ground. Thousands of spectators can be found at the launch site and in the village each day to witness the spectacle of the many colourfully and whimsically decorated balloons launching into space. Some balloons will fly many miles up the valley, while others stick close to home, floating about town and almost grazing the rooftops of the village hotels and chalets.

Kathryn and Emma and I drove up to Chateau d’Oex on a Saturday morning in late January with plans to take in the balloon launchings with friends Olivier and Eva from Zurich, who have a chalet in the village. The weather was spectacular and we spent the afternoon wandering the village and watching the balloons launch from various vantage points, one of my favourites of which was a large knoll with a lovely old church on top. On a day like this the festival is a  photographer’s dream and I came armed with my best camera equipment. Looking around at my fellow shutterbugs while I was shooting, I was almost as impressed by the array of fancy cameras and lenses as I was by the balloons themselves.

Late in the afternoon we retired to our friends’ chalet for a delicious raclette dinner, where we continued to watch the balloons from the balcony. All in all a fun day and we are looking forward to going back next year. Who knows, maybe we’ll even take a ride on a balloon next time.

Check out the short video and photo gallery below. Enjoy!


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One Comment on “Chateau d’Oex Hot-Air Balloon Festival”

  1. Bev Longford Says:

    nice colour in a white world, does Nestle should have shaped like a chocolate.


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