The most memorable thing about my Napa Valley vacation was absolutely the opportunity to gaze over the lush green valley, and the mountains beyond, from 2,000 feet in the air…
Of course there are the wine tastings amidst gorgeous vineyards. And mouth-watering meals from the incredible array of world renowned Napa restaurants. But the most memorable thing about my Napa Valley vacation was absolutely the opportunity to gaze over the lush green valley, and the mountains beyond, from 2,000 feet in the air. The one thing I truly recommend for your Napa Valley vacation is a hot air balloon ride.
Here’s how the day went for my husband Chris and I:
Begin Your Napa Valley Vacation With a 4:30 a.m Wake-Up
Yes, you’ll have to set your alarm to wake you while the rest of Napa is still blissfully dreaming in darkened rooms. It’s normally not the goal to start your day in a hazy fog of tiredness when you’re on vacation. I know. But the hot air balloons fly only around sunrise. So the early start to your day is the necessary price you pay.
Watch Balloons Float Upward Along With The Sun
Once we arrived at our destination, Chris and I found what looked like nearly 100 other people also there to ride a hot air balloon. We were divided into small groups. Then sent out in vans for a short trip to the field where our hot air balloons would depart. Waiting your turn might sound tedious. But I actually loved this part of the adventure. Imagine the thunderous boom of the balloon burners momentarily interrupting the otherwise calm serenity of the cool early morning. And watching as the bright, bold colors of the towering balloons billow above you as the sun slowly warms the sky.
Survive A Heart-Thumping Lift-Off
My next discovery: it’s no small feat to make your way into the balloon basket. There’s not a door, you just climb over, and the baskets are very tall. (Reassuring to know they’re too tall for someone to ever topple out.) Chris and I were moved to a far corner of the basket to make room for several other couples. (Private balloon rides are available, but at a cost: well over $1,000.00) Since everyone was in such high spirits, the tight quarters didn’t bother us.
Next, lift-off. This started my heart pounding even though I’m not even slightly scared of heights. There’s the thunderous boom of the burner – so warm and so close, you can actually feel the searing heat on top of your head…
And then absolute serenity and calm as the burners silence. And a feeling of weightlessness as you soar higher and higher into the morning sky.
Savor Napa Valley from 2,000 Feet Above
We reached our maximum height, something near 2,000 feet, to gaze in awe over panoramic views of vineyards, lush green farmland, mountains, and open blue sky. The other vibrant balloons also soaring through the sky added stunning pops of color to the landscape. The pilot explained how the balloons “ride with the wind.” And the feeling of soaring at the speed of wind is both serene and exhilarating, all rolled into one.
Pull Through Another Heart-Thumping Moment
But then one of the vibrant balloons I was admiring in the far-off distance began to move toward us with nerve-wracking speed.
Closer and closer.
This was the last photo I shot before I had to clench my husband’s hands, trying to keep my fear in check. (Has there ever been a balloon collision?) Our pilot stayed perfectly calm. He reassured us that both balloons were under control. And that the pilots intended for the two balloons to “kiss.” I’ll never really know for sure if that “balloon kiss” was intentional or not. But we did get high enough to float above the other balloon and move safely away, at a higher altitude.
Enjoy A (Delicious) Napa Valley Vacation Celebration
The hot air balloon pilot told us that the landing site changes by the day, according to such variables as the strength and direction of the wind, etc. Our landing was very easy and smooth, and the van was waiting to pick us up and return us to our starting location, a gorgeous vineyard, Domaine Chandon. The vineyard restaurant served champagne and a hot breakfast of pastries, pancakes, scrambled eggs, and fresh fruit.
Chris and I spent some time wandering through the beautiful vineyard before making our way back to our hotel. It was peaceful and quite deserted so early in the day.
Having started our day so early, we still had a full afternoon of exploring available. But we felt like we had already experienced the very best of Napa Valley. The view from a hot air balloon filled me with awe and admiration for the stunning, expansive beauty of nature. While also – “riding with the wind” – a sense of being a part of nature as well. It’s truly an unforgettable experience for your Napa Valley vacation.