The alarm goes off at 4:45 and we are dressed and into the car and off along the quiet local roads for 45 minutes until we arrive at our destination just near Montisi . Down in the cool valley is a mill with a small meadow where they are preparing the balloon. G’s face breaks into a grin as he sees what the surprise is. It is rolled out and tethered to the basket before a big fan starts to fill it. In no time at all, it is taking shape (on its side)and then out comes the big BBQ flame to give it the lift. There is a delicate moment as the flame has to be carefully pointed so as not to be too close to the nylon envelope, and then it lurches upright.
Early morning shadow
We get into the basket, six passengers and the pilot. We have our safety training (keep seat backs upright and stow your tables for landing...) And then a few extra blasts, and out goes the filling cylinder. With that gone, we move a bit then Allie gives a few more blasts and we rise into the valley. It is so very quiet and sound carries so far in the dawn that we can hear all sorts of things going on under an about us. Until Allie gives it a bit more welllie. Then we rise out of our valley, and over the Tuscan landscape. From here it is all laid out like a carpet for us to wonder over. One thing is for certain, there is no shortage of swimming pools in the area. This is a very popular area, and along with the classic rolling hills, rows of cypress pines, wheat fields and vineyards there are a hell of a lot of Agriturismos, Auberges, hotels, holiday flats - and a pool is de riguer if you want to have a holiday in Tuscany.
But I digress. We float over the recent excavations of a 9th century church and over some small canyons where the water has dug through the soft local rock. From here we can see Montepulciano easily, and to the south we can just make out the islands on lake Trasimeno. Matt and Emma can just make out their honeymoon getaway near Buonconvento, and the local highlights (pubs) are pointed out as we go along. Allie has flown around Bristol in the UK a lot, and says that most balloon navigating is really done by the closest pub. We can see several large pubs, sorry, castles in the valley, and a number of abandoned farmhouses that could not be too expensive to buy and do up...
We are starting to come down to find a place to land, but as Allie descends the winds are very fickle and we cannot make it down.
So up we go to catch a different current and drift on to the next likely spot. We have picked out a large estate with lots of vines around it and start to descend, but the winds have now gone to being contrary and push us back in the opposite direction. Up we go again, looking for the puff of wind to get us to a landing site. This time we look good for a field next to a river. Allie will have to drop a rope and have the recovery person pull us out to the next field where there are no crops. As we drop we hit a dead patch, in fact we can see our reflection in the river’s surface as we just sit there for a few minutes before shifting off. As we get lower still, two or three times the height of the trees, a breeze suddenly picks us up and carries us into the right spot to land straight off. The landing is soft, and once the envelope is vented to make sure we will stay on the ground, we can hop out of the basket and help to lay the balloon down as it deflates. A team effort helps to stuff it in the bag and then we can relax.
The champagne breakfast on landing
As part of the ride, Robert and the team from Ballooning in Tuscany provide us with a champagne breakfast with local pizzas and fresh fruits and cheeses – just a scrumptious way to end the flight. We also get to meet the owner of our landing field – this is the second time in two days, so Hans also scores a glass of bubbly. We all pitch in and pack the balloon onto the trailer, and we are then treated to a gelati in Buonconvente before heading back to the launch site. A great flight was had by all.