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Photo above: star5112 / Feature photo: HamdanZakaria

Hot air ballooning is one of the purest forms of air travel. The activity is a literal interpretation of the traveler’s creed “go where the wind takes you.” While the pilots can control the altitude of the balloon, the air currents decide where you’ll end up and how fast you’ll get there.

Perhaps one of its draws is its simplicity. You inject some hot air into the nylon material and away you go. No need to mess with complicated jet engines and spinning rotor blades. It’s certainly the oldest form of air travel; the first manned balloon flight took place in 1783 in France.

Below are 10 balloon festivals around the world launching in the next few months. Whether you’re a passenger, a spectator, or if you want to get your hands dirty helping get one off the ground, these events all have something for you.

1. 15th Velikie Luki International Balloon Meet

When: June 6-13
Where: Velikie Luki, Russia

Don’t miss your chance to witness the crowning of the 2009 Russian champion at the Velikie Luki International Balloon Meet. Event organizers and officials are putting together social events for guests to acquaint themselves with Velikie Luki and the Pskov region.

The city is situated about 450 km west of Moscow, 600 from St. Petersburg, and 100 from the country’s western border. It can be reached easily by car or train from Moscow, St. Pete, Riga, Pskov, and Minsk.

Photo: _e.t

2. Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic

When: June 13-14
Where: Windsor, California

If you’ve always wanted to try ballooning but are scared to go all out, or hesitant to cough up the dough, the Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic is offering up tethered balloon rides to the public.

To view the main launch of colourful and unique balloons you’ll need to get up at the crack of dawn, but what a sight to behold.

3. 2009 Panguitch Valley Balloon Rally

When: June 26-28
Where: Panguitch City, Utah

The Panguitch Valley Balloon Rally is touted as southern Utah’s premier hot air balloon event. The National History District of Panguich not only plays host, but also claims to offer the highest concentration of scenic natural wonders in America. Visitors to the balloon rally are invited to the launch field every morning to help the pilots lift off.

It’s a true family event that includes a Poker Walk, parade, karaoke contest, dunking booth, and children’s crafts and activites.

Photo: Randy Wick

4. Great Texas Balloon Race

When: July 10-12
Where: Longview, Texas (East Texas Regional Airport)

This world-class event is considered by many competing pilots to be the best-run event on the circuit.

Watch close up how the balloons are inflated and how they work.

Lots of entertainment is on hand as local and regional bands play during the day, making way in the evening for the headliners. Arts and crafts will also be on display and Kids Land offers a safe place for the kiddies to play.

5. Montgolfiades de Dole

When: July 11-13
Where: Dole, France

Along with the night glow of the balloons, you can feast your eyes and ears on a spectacular choreographed fireworks display for the finale of this festival. The event is also tied to a benefit for children with serious illnesses.

To view the Montgolfiades de Dole website in English, use the Google website translator.

6. Magic City Hot Air Balloon Rally

When: July 23-26
Where: Billings, Montana

This free event is put on by the nonprofit organization Magic City Hot Air Balloon Rally to keep interest in this unique activity alive in the area. For $175 per person you can purchase a morning balloon ride; but be quick, these are limited.

7. Saxony International Balloon Fiesta

When: July 30-Aug 2
Where: Leipzig, Germany

And you thought all Germany had to offer was beer. Now, that’s not to say there won’t be beer there, but the Saxony International Balloon Fiesta is about so much more. Watch as up to 70 balloons take to the sky and light up the night.

A parade, concerts, circus, and VIP lounge are also on offer at this event.

8. Balloon Classic Invitational

When: July 31-Aug 2
Where: North Canton, Ohio

The Balloon Classic Invitational, which began in 1985, merged with the Jackson-Belden Food Fest & Fireworks in 1995 to create a balloon/food/fireworks extravaganza.

With over 70 balloons now participating in great events like team racing, target drops, and pole grabs — where the pilot tries to navigate close to a pole to grab a flag — there’s no shortage of entertainment.

As if that weren’t enough, specially shaped balloons like “Piggles” (a piggy bank), “Touchdown” (a flying American football), and “The American Rocketship” are sure to inspire the imagination.

9. Bristol International Balloon Fiesta

When: Aug 6-9
Where: Bristol, UK

The daddy of the balloon festivals in this list, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is Europe’s largest, attracting over 100 balloons and half a million spectators. The Special Shapes Rodeo promises popular returning balloons like Scottish Piper, Churchill Dog, and Swindon House in addition to new surprises.

The RAF Red Arrows — Britain’s famous aerobatic display team — will also be there dazzling visitors with loops, rolls, bends, and twists, and the EXIT parachute team will be jumping out of a plane and performing maneuvers and formations that are sure to be heart-stopping.

Photo: AtomicPope

10. Colorado Balloon Classic

When: Sept 5-7
Where: Colorado Springs, Colorado

At 33 years old, the Colorado Balloon Classic is the longest continuous hot air balloon festival in the Rocky Mountain region. In 2008 it was even voted into the Top 100 Events in North America by the American Bus Association.

This organization has also been selected to coordinate BalloonaPalooza IV, held in the city of North Las Vegas from Sept 18-20. No more info on the event just yet, but stay tuned here.

COMMUNITY CONNECTION

If the idea of taking in great views from above tickles your fancy, be sure to check out 10 Places to Catch Insane City Views and The World’s 10 Best Rooftop Bars.

For more family fun, Trips’ recent photo essay has some gorgeous shots of family vacation destinations.

About The Author

Carlo Alcos

Carlo is the Dean of Education at MatadorU and a Managing Editor at Matador. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He lives in Nelson, British Columbia.

  • http://www.evaholland.com Eva

    And don’t forget Ottawa-Gatineau’s own festival, on Labour Day weekend!

    http://www.montgolfieresgatineau.com/anglais/accueil_en.htm

    I went a few times in high school and it was always a fantastic time. (I think it helped that the drinking age in Quebec is just 18… :P)

  • http://collazoprojects.com Julie

    Carlo- What a cool idea for an article! And the photos make me want to go to one of these festivals.
    I’ll add one more to your list: Freedom Weekend Aloft, which is held every year in Greenville, South Carolina. We’ve just missed this year’s festival, which was held a couple weeks ago, but more information can be found here:

    http://www.freedomweekendaloft.org/

  • http://www.jetsetlife.tv Jet Set Life

    The photos are stunning! Thanks for the information. This may make a great place to shoot our next video for Jet Set Life. Keep the posts coming!

  • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

    It doesn’t go down for another few months, but the biggest balloon festival in the world is held every October in Albuquerque: http://www.balloonfiesta.com/.

    I have vague memories of attending this as a child. Truly an amazing sight.

  • http://www.getatrip.com Get A Trip

    How come the hot air balloons of Temecula, California did not make the list? Oh well. we’ll settle for the #11 spot. How cool is this ballooning thing. We can’t wait to get a trip to our local hot air ballooning site. Something we talk all the time about.

    • http://thelonglayover.blospot.com Carlo

      Thanks for the addition. It’s not a “top 10″ list, just some festivals occurring over the next few months, so nothing personal ;)

  • http://www.mikesryukyugallery.com Ryukyu Mike

    Great writeup and awesome photos !

  • LouAnn

    I thought the pictures included next to the listings were taken at those particular events, that’s what I get for assuming. Imagine my surprise reading a random blog about events “from around the world” from a link I accidentally stumbled upon and there was a photo I distinctly recognized as a familiar sight in this small neck of the woods (well, vs. worldwide, ya know?). The picture shown with listing #10 isn’t from the Colorado Balloon Classic held in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Mr. Atomic Pope has it tagged incorrectly as the Knoxville Hot Air Balloon Festival, when in fact it is the balloon festival held annually at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, TN. The 2010 event will be held the first weekend in October. Look it up: http://www.pstcc.edu/balloon. With an estimated 10,000+ in attendance, it can be a pain dealing with traffic afterwards (even though police try to keep it flowing), but for a low admission price per car to see the “glow” each night, it is fantastic.

    • http://vagabonderz.com Carlo Alcos

      Thanks for the correction LouAnn. And you’re right, the photos don’t always match exactly what we’re referring to, although we do our best to try to make that happen. Sometimes it’s just not possible.

  • http://altitude-blog.com/hello/ Juan Altitude

    Here’s another fun addition to your list:

    The International Balloon Festival of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu http://www.ballooncanada.com/index.php/en/

    Near Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

  • Neagle

    If you never been to to Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta, your missing out. 700+ balloons are launched in less than two hours. The field is 360 acres with over 80 acres of launch area. http://www.balloonfiesta.com/

  • Dan

    For the most fun at a Balloon Festival call ahead (like a couple months ahead) and see if you can volunteer to be on a crew. Our festival in Dansville, New York, http://www.nysfob.com/ , arranges crews for the out of town balloons. We love to getting the chance to launch, chance and pack the balloons.

    • http://vagabonderz.com Carlo Alcos

      Now that’s a great idea.

  • http://www.airventureballooning.be Ballonvaren

    The oldest event in the world is being held in Sint-Niklaas Belgium. The first weekend of September. http://www.vredefeesten.be

  • http://www.facebook.com/xotchil Xotchil Danio

    Theres one in i believe white house, nj every year usually end of july

  • Victoria NicAlba

    How could you miss the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta? It’s only the biggest one in the world, holds the Guinness World Record for number of balloons launched in one hour (the record it broke was also set here). And, unlike the ones you’ve listed, it lasts 9 days, with morning mass ascensions and several evening glows, including the Special Shapes Glodeo, and fireworks.

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