Several months of working on intense project deadlines in California’s Silicon Valley can tire anyone, mind spirit and body. I was desperate for a break several years ago, but couldn’t afford the time. I could see my boss’s face in my mind, and his changing color and expression if I so much as mentioned the word ‘vacation’. No – I would have to crunch in a breather during a weekend and make do with it.
That’s when Dan and his friends came up with this idea of taking Napa tours over the weekend via a hot air balloon. It was so tempting – fancy floating almost silently above the trees, hillsides, fields, and vineyards, with no care in the world. To see the Napa Valley wine country in a way that ground-bound travelers never will. I was hooked.
We booked a weekend package for the 4 of us for a hot balloon tour of the Napa Valley. A typical hot air balloon ride is between one and seven miles allowing you to see the full distance of the Napa Valley. Our weekend balloon adventure included pick up and return service, refreshments, an hour long flight narrated by the pilot, and a champagne brunch overlooking the Napa River.
Our morning began with a 5:30 A.M shuttle service from our hotel room. We wondered, why this early? It turns out early morning’s cool temperatures cause Napa Valley air to flow like a river, with subtle direction changes in the current at different altitudes, which aid for better balloon navigation. It was all too technical for me to grasp first thing in the morning so I just nodded and got into my warm clothing.
At the lift-off field, we watched the ground crew inflate the balloon. When the balloon was above our heads, they helped us into the basket, and then took a few pictures of me screaming in fear and delight to boot! The hot air balloon rises with the roar of the burners and then floats in silence, drifting with the wind as your overlook wine country’s majestic landscape. You won’t feel the wind; you are a part of it – barely realizing you’re moving.
Up we climbed; out pilot Pete was professional and funny, which helped ease my fears. I was gripping the basket rim with all the strength in my arms. Don’t know what I was afraid of, really. The experience was truly beautiful; rolling hills interspersed with beautiful flower-filled valleys, bursts of color dotted with homesteads and wineries. When seen from a height, the richness of the landscape catches your breath and makes you want to keep flying, keep seeing more.
We were brought to the ground for a nice champagne brunch. We met the other balloon Napa tours passengers and shared our mutual balloon highs! The best part of the brunch was that many winery owners were there with their varietals on display. We had an impromptu wine tasting right there, and some of the wine growers invited us back to their wineries.
If you are good with a camera, don’t forget to snap some great pictures. I forgot mine, so don’t make the same mistake. Any pictures that you take from a balloon will be jaw droppers!