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Château-d’Oex is a small Swiss alpine mountain village that hosts an annual hot-air balloon festival in the middle of winter. It is located in a valley and surrounded by the Swiss Alps and numerous ski resorts. fondue-1

The area known as Pays-d’Enhaut was just 2 hours drive from Lausanne – we took the scenic route via Aigle.

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Since IT was in town for a few days, we drove up to Château-d’Oex hoping to see some balloons and an air show. The 2-week festival, in its 36th edition, was sponsored by Parmigiani, a watch-maker based in Fleurier  (on the other side of Switzerland not far from my office). The pictures from past festival events were spectacular.

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But the weather was not cooperating – the visibility was low so it was too dangerous to fly.  And the spectators cannot really see anything because the clouds were very low. There was only one balloon that gave people short rides to no more than 50 feet above ground, while it was still tied down.

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Hot-air ballooning has been popular here for more than 30 years. On their website here, the charge for a flight is about $400 per person. There is a small museum in town to explain the history and equipment of this human endeavor to fly. fondue-13

Inside the Espace Ballon:

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The place was quite small, not much more than a barn. But the content was interesting.

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We flew in a hot-air balloon once in Jackson, Wyoming.

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The first successful uninterrupted global circumnavigation on a balloon took off from here in 1999. Sponsored by Breitling, we assumed the two pilots each wore Breitling watches. According to Wikipedia:

On March 1, 1999. They traveled southwest over the Mediterranean and swung east over Mauritania on March 2 at a starting meridian of 9 degrees, 12 minutes west. They landed in the Egyptian desert after being aloft 19 days, 21 hours, and 55 minutes on March 21, 1999, having traveled a distance of 40,814 km (25,361 mi). During the course of the flight, the balloon had climbed to altitudes of up to 11,373 m (37,313 ft), and achieved speeds up to 161 knots. The official “finish line” of the circumnavigation occurred over Mauritania at 4:54 AM, EST on March 19. The goal of ending in Egypt had been to touch down near the Great Pyramids; however, high winds forced the pilots to land short of their target.

fondue-24 Apparently, there were two other attempts which failed. We believe this is a mock-up of the Breitling Orbiter 3 – the enclosed gondola in which the two men lived for almost 20 days. The real thing is at the US National Air and Space Museum in the Milestones of Flight Gallery.

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We had a nice long fondue meal at Le Chalet, see our next post.

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