Catalonia from above: Hot air balloon ride over the volcanoes of Garroxta

[Advertising: Cooperation] Instead of "Traveling where the wind blows me" it is called for the first time "Driving where the wind blows me". I don't mean this metaphorically, but seriously: I'm riding a hot air balloon for the first time in my life over the Garroxta Volcanoes Nature Reserve in northeastern Catalonia. The wind decides where the journey with the hot air balloon goes on this day – well and Pepe, our pilot, who steers skillfully.

The Natural Park Volcanoes of Garroxta (Parc Natural de la Zona VolcAnica de la Garrotxa) is located in the province of Girona. 40 volcanoes and and more than 20 lava flows have formed the 120 km² area thousands of years ago. The last eruption was around 10.000 years back. Covered with dark green beech forests, the volcanoes lie between cultivated fields and medieval villages. The bird's eye view is breathtaking. In good weather, the distant view extends to the Pyrenees and the sea.

I visited Catalonia at the invitation of the Catalan tourism board. The 5-day press trip titled "Campsites and Sustainable Tourism on the Costa Brava" had immediately piqued my interest, and of course the balloon ride that was on the agenda as well. You can find out which campgrounds we stayed at in the post "Camping in Catalonia: Something for everyone". What else you can do in Catalonia can be found in the article TOP 10 Tips | What you can do in Catalonia or in the USA. the province of Girona can do. As always, you can find the full disclosure at the end of the post. My opinion is and remains my own.

View of the green, hilly volcanic landscape, in the blue sky a hot air balloon flies in the distance

Can we drive?, I ask countless times during the press trip. Every day I hoped for a positive decision. The weather had been unstable. Every day it had rained a little bit. Since there were no cancellations, we gathered at 5 a.m. in order to arrive in time at the launch site of the Vol de Coloms company, which has made more than 8000 balloon flights over the Garroxta volcanic area since 1992. Due to the microclimate prevailing in the Garroxta, balloon flights can be offered all year round, spring, summer, autumn and winter.

We arrive at the launch site, which is hidden in a clearing near Sant Pau, just in time to watch the balloons being assembled. But before we even start, we check the wind conditions again in the team. From the new, barrier-free building with large windows near the launch site we watch the men dressed in black giving their advice.


The preparations

Only when the team gives the ok, three balloons with their baskets are unloaded next to each other and spread out. While I drink a coffee inside and enjoy a croissant, strong fans are blowing air into the gas-tight envelopes to the left and right of the balloon basket.

Two hot air balloons are lying on the ground and are being filled with air; on the right side of the picture is a car

View inside the balloon envelope, illuminated from behind by the morning sun, a man is inside helping the balloon to unfold

After the balloon envelopes are fully deployed, the professional Vol de Coloms team checks the thermals and wind conditions again. Another ok and the burner used to heat the air of the balloon is activated. Due to the warmed air the balloon starts to rise and the basket is erected.

The balloon still lying on the ground is heated with the burner, the flame is yellow-orange

The launch

Then it goes fast. We hurriedly climb in and as soon as the door is securely closed, we take off. We are the first balloon to take off. The takeoff and the landing are the critical phases of a balloon flight. There may be only low wind speeds and little to no thermals. That is why the morning is especially suitable for balloon flights.

Our friendly bus driver Carlos waves us goodbye. Meter by meter we climb upwards – so quietly that I could believe I'm still standing on the ground.

photographed from the air; a second green balloon is still on the ground at the launch site, next to it a car with trailer The surroundings of the launch site are densely covered with green oak woods; two balloons can be seen at the launch site

The ride with the hot air balloon

Catalonia stretches in front of me from the bird's eye view. The houses blur into small dots. From above we can see the crater cones of the Garroxta volcanoes, densely covered with oak woods. In between the cultivated fields shine golden yellow in the rising sun.

Green overgrown crater cones, brown-yellow fields and a rising hot air balloon can be seen Looking down: the green boundaries of the cultivated fields are like a pattern Far view of the green overgrown landscape with yellow fields in between; above lies a white cloud cover, then follows blue sky The blue display in the hot air balloon with a blurry view behind it On the left, you can see the balloon basket; on the right, the distant landscape of Garroxta

At the highest point we reach an altitude of 2.200m. It is surreal to see the world from so far above. Altitude sickness does not yet occur at this altitude (from 2.500 possible, from 2.800 probably, from 3.000 noticeable – more about altitude sickness while trekking and hiking ).

Then there is Cava rose and for everyone a piece of "coca de llardons", a flat cake with pork lard – sounds disgusting, but is not so. He is even very tasty.

The air traffic control reports by radio. We are not allowed to climb further. After a good hour Pepe initiates the descent.

With about 40 km/h we float over the medieval town Besalú, whose center is under monument protection and is known for the 105 m long bridge, the Pont de Besalú, over the river FluviA. We do not notice anything of the speed. In the balloon basket it is like windless.

Pepe steers the hot air balloon over busy roads, a gravel plant and briefly along a river towards a large open field.

View from above of the medieval town of Besalú from the hot air balloon The city of Besalú from the distance; the shadow of a hot air balloon in front; a green hot air balloon flying straight over the city

The landing

Fascinated we watch the shadow of our balloon. Pepe explains to us what to do when landing: hold on and get on your knees. We are approaching the ground. After about 1.5 hours we gently touch down on the ground. We do not tilt. Less than 5 minutes later the escort vehicle has reached us.

The hot air balloon casts a black shadow on a golden yellow field; a green hot air balloon flies in the sky The green balloon has landed at the field, behind it trees and hills can be seen

Packing up and stowing the hot air balloon in the trailer

Teamwork is required for folding and packing. The balloon is pushed to the ground and loaded into a big box. Afterwards the basket is hoisted onto the trailer.

People push the balloon of the hot air balloon on a field to the ground The balloon basket is on the red trailer, behind it people pushing the balloon basket

Breakfast and certificate presentation

Back at the camp we have a hearty, typical Catalan breakfast: first bread with tomato (and garlic paste), then the Catalan sausage speciality "botifarra" with white beans. A yogurt desert from the La Fageda cooperative rounds out the breakfast, which could also pass for lunch.

The program ends with the presentation of the certificate. I will not be elevated to the nobility of balloonists due to time constraints. But I do not find that bad.


Vol de Coloms has been conducting hot air balloon flights over the volcanoes of Garroxta since 1992. Rides are offered 365 days a year. Special offers like z.B. on the ground you can see birthday wishes, marriage proposals, etc. are offered just like combination packages with favorable overnight accomodation.

Children must be at least 5 years old. There is no age limit upwards. Hot air balloon rides are also possible for people with physical limitations or sitting in a wheelchair. Pregnant women are excluded from the offer. The building at the launch site is built barrier-free.

It was nice. I imagined hot air ballooning to be much more wobbly and unsteady than it was. So I was very surprised how quiet ballooning feels.