By any standard five o’clock in the morning is a rude hour to have to climb out of bed, but that was the hour that the other morning my alarm went off and I had to rise. Stumbling into the bathroom and turning the shower onto full power I sleepily wandered what I was doing, and if this was yet another mad idea. As the hot water pierced my body I slowly awakened and felt invigorated. I so love a good shower. As my guests here know all the bathrooms at Bellaugello are large and there are no shower cabinets, just open wet-room style bathrooms and outdoor showers. I am allergic to shower cabinets and shower curtains. Indeed the very thought of a shower curtain sends shivers down my spine.
GPS set, I jumped into my car and with two guests following in theirs headed towards Bevagna, one of my favourite towns in Umbria. The drive south westwards was magical, a red sunrise vivid over the hills to the east, and a very light mist in the Tiber valley. Stopping enroute at a little bar for my obligatory coffee macchiato and cornetto, the three of us felt excited. Or at least two of us did, for the third in our party had no idea where we were heading or why it entailed such an early start. In less and fifty minutes we had reached Cantina Dionigi, our destination, and all was revealed and the third member of our party discovered the great gift from his husband!
We were to be flying in the largest hot air balloon in Italy, and it was already in mid erection.
Piloted by a very hospitable, enthusiastic and highly qualified pilot who goes by the name of Peter, the balloon holds sixteen passengers. Peter gave us a safety briefing, including a practice at the landing squat position, tough on the thigh muscles… As the balloon continued to inflate and became vertical it was time for us all to clamber aboard. The basket is divided into five compartments, four in the corners each holding four passengers, and a central compartment with the pilot and the gas tanks. A burst of the burners and soon we were up up and away…
If you look closely at the photo you can see me madly taking photographs hanging out of the left hand corner of the basket. The weather was perfect, a very light breeze, enough to gently move the balloon along at if I remember correctly about 20km an hour, but not enough to blow away the wispy mist in the valleys below. As we brushed the tops of some young olive trees, (no photo because I was too slow) Captain Peter explained his planned flight and destination both to us and the airport at nearby Perugia. Safety was always coming first.
Stupidly I had thought being early morning and up in the sky, it would be cold, but it was not. The heat from the burners was intense, and as the sun continued to rise the flight became ever more magical.
We flew silently over medieval villages and hamlets, past olive groves and up along wooded hillsides. The balloon cast a heart shaped shadow on the wheat fields. The views were huge, to Lago Trasimeno in the west, to the Apennines and Assisi, and south beyond Todi. But as in the film ‘Chocolat’ the wind blew from the east and took us over the river Tiber to the ceramics town of Deruta.
The town not only straddles the river Tiber but also the E45 the main highway up from Rome. Now there were some beautiful fields, but many were sown with crops and Peter did not want to incur the wrath of the local farmers, so he kept the balloon at a height to fly past the fields, over the river – to keep us dry he maintained, and also away from the houses. Eventually we started to descend and it seemed as if he had chosen for our landing spot the local sewage works… We were all aghast, pilot included, and thankfully he thought better of landing in the cess pit, so to our slight relief identified a seemingly tiny plot of abandoned grassland adjacent to a light industrial building and landed the balloon on the outskirts of the town. All of us passengers were amazed at the precision of the landing. We passed just a few metres over the corner of a building, and took our brace positions as the basket came to earth gently in the long grass. It was not only soft, quick and a quiet landing, but the space chosen was hardly larger than the 60 metres required to allow the fabric balloon to fall gently to earth, truly astonishing.
The ground crew were waiting and together with us hunky guys the basket and now bagged fabric were loaded onto their trailer. We passengers boarded two smart mini-buses for the twenty minute drive back to Cantina Dionigi where Roberto the owner and pilot Peter’s neighbour was waiting in his chic stylish hospitality suite to meet us with a hearty Umbrian breakfast and a tasting of his fabulous wines.
This was my first time in a hot air balloon, and days later as I write this blog post I am still blown away by the flight. It was truly awesome. As you can see from my photo as I look up at the balloon I am about to board…
I loved it (thanks J.A. for the photo). Jane who organises the flights is charming and attentive and as with all the crew speaks great English. Peter the pilot, is witty and reassuringly professional. The concept of finishing with a breakfast and wine tasting, with the chance of buying some souvenirs (wine) from the convivial Roberto is a great one and made it all a morning that I heartily recommend to any of our Bellaugello guests.
After the flight my guys headed off to explore the nearby wine towns of Montefalco and Bevagna, stopping for lunch at the Bottega di Assù. Thus by mid afternoon they were back poolside at Bellaugello Gay Guest House enraptured by their flight. Be it a gift to your husband, simply a romantic gesture, or a place to propose to your boyfriend, a balloon is cool way to fly (even if my head got a wee bit hot!)
Now booking for flights until October.