What could be better than quietly sailing over the world and seeing its beauty from above?
Article except below originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Virtuoso Traveler.
From the first balloon ride in 1783 over Versailles (passengers: a sheep, a duck, and a rooster) to businessman-explorer Steve Fossett’s solo circumnavigation of the world in 2002, hot-air ballooning has inspired countless adventurers to reach for the skies. And rightly so: Whether it’s hearing the initial whoosh of the balloon’s burner, seeing the sunrise from midair, or raising a celebratory Champagne toast back on terra firma, humankind’s original means of air travel has the power to transport like no other form of flight.
Here are five favorite destinations in which to get uplifted.
Cappadocia, Turkey: Turkish Delight
This region’s mysterious terrain looks like a Salvador Dalí painting come to life. Erosion-sculpted stone pillars known as "fairy chimneys," rock-cut castles, and ancient dwellings carved into the hillsides create a scene that’s out of this world. In the honey-colored Göreme Valley, a favored base for ballooners, travelers can tour the Göreme Open-Air Museum, home to a complex of rock-hewn cave churches dating from ad 900 to 1200.
New Mexico: Land (and Skies) of Enchantment
Each October, nearly 600 brightly colored orbs decorate Albuquerque’s skies during the city’s International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s largest. (The festival is also said to be the world’s most photographed event.) For a more solitary ascent, flights over the Santa Ana Pueblo afford secluded scenes of the Sandia Mountains and Rio Grande Valley.
Travel Tip: Dressing in layers will help keep you warm during the cool New Mexico mornings. For the fiesta, be at the park at least an hour before daybreak to visit some of the many excellent food vendors. The vendor with the longest line serves the best breakfast.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania: Sky-High Safari
You’ll fly over an array of animal species and be amazed at how they appear so different when viewed from the sky. Look for lions, leopards, and elephants, plus massive herds of zebras, particularly during the Great Migration. More highlights: Masai villages, golden savannas, and a stunning immensity of unimpeded space.
Travel Tip: Bring a camera with a trusted neck strap. Cell phones and tablets can get dropped from leaning to get that perfect shot.
Tuscany, Italy: Classic Countryside
There’s nothing so serene as floating over Tuscany’s vineyards, olive groves, and centuries-old hilltop villages in a hot-air balloon. Flights over Pisa provide a fresh, crowd-free – perspective of the city’s landmark leaning tower.
Bagan, Myanmar: Spiritual Journey
A sunrise descent over the ancient city of Bagan, embellished with 2,000-plus Buddhist temples and pagodas, can only be described as “breathtaking.” The pagodas’ golden spires glimmer in the early-morning mist, and the Irrawaddy River shimmers like a silver ribbon, weaving its way through the landscape.
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