Winter in Switzerland is not a place of hibernation, but a hive of activity. From skiing to snowshoeing, tobogganing to ice-skating on frozen lakes, high altitude music festivals... the options are endless.
However, if there's one event not to be missed for families, amateur photographers, mountain lovers and adventurers – it's the International Hot Air Balloon Festival at Château-d'Oex.
A bit of history
It all began back in the 1970s when Hans Bücker and Charles-André Ramseier, a former director of the Château-d'Oex tourist office, offered visitors winter balloon flights to take in the grandeur of the snow-covered peaks of the Paysd'Enhaut.
From there the attraction grew into an event – the first international meeting being held in 1979.
Around 40'000 visitors attend every year Nowadays hundreds of takeoffs — brightening the skies with their colorful and shapely balloons — and their pilots compete in a variety of competitions.
Some of these are skill-based competitions, focusing around targets. Asked why they return to the festival every year, Loïc from Ballons du Leman in Rolle (a long-time participant of the event) replies, "It's a unique venue, and one of the few international events taking place in winter in the mountains. It's technically challenging, as you have to understand the thermals linked to the ranges." It's also an opportunity for him and his fellow aerostiers (balloon engineers) from around the world to catch up during this wintertime spectacular.
An exciting programme for young and old
And it's not just a spectator sport either. If you have children, a whole afternoon is dedicated to the discovery of the wondrous world of ballooning, with shows and activities. They can even take a tethered flight to whet their appetites for the sport. Meanwhile the grown-up adrenaline-seekers can sign up for an actual balloon or helicopter flight.
But if your taste is to watch hypnotic contraptions rise up and defy gravity — like graceful aeronautic elephants of the sky — there's a compelling air show. This includes aerobatic flying, airships, paragliders, air chariots and wingsuits. Or you can watch the spectacular Night-Glow Show. This magical presentation (weather permitting) has hundreds of performers, dozens of balloon crews, skiers, skydivers, pyrotechnic experts and sound engineers.
They all come together to offer a breathtaking musical show surrounded by the omnipresent mountains at dusk.
Mark your calendars for this magical event: 25 January – 2 February 2020
Find more inspirational experiences and tips to plan your perfect winter outing at MySwitzerland.com/expats!
Photo credits: © Switzerland Tourism