Le Ballon Bleu
Balloon flights over the Auvergne
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Leave your worries behind
It has been said that if flight were a language, ballooning would be its poetry. Floating just over thre trees or at two kilometers in the sky, drifting with the wind, you leave your earthly worries behind you...
We organise adventurous balloon flights for two in a private basket over the hilly plateau of the Combrailles, in the Auvergne. You will float gently over the winding gorge of the Sioule river, the monumental Viaduc des Fades or over the typical knobbly plateau with its patches of woodland, small rural settlements, ravines, brooks and small lakes. Or a Tibetan temple...
See the page with photo's of the area - some of which have been taken from our balloon.
After landing, you will be elevated into the ranks of ballooning nobility during a hilarious baptism ceremony. Your title will be mentioned on your flight certificate and of course there will be bubbly drinks to celebrate.
Exclusive flights in a private basket
We prefer to fly a relatively small balloon that is also suitable for competition flying and won't break the crew's backs when carrying it out of a field. That means we can't transport large numbers of tourists; but we take passengers to help pay for this rather expensive hobby. Two passengers (of 75 kg average weight) plus our slightly overweight pilot is the maximum our balloon can carry in moderate temperatures up to 1000 metres above sea level (which is about 300 metres over the ground locally). Thus the people we do take up during the season get a truly exclusive private flight.
Book a whole holiday
Of course the ideal way to organize a ballooning holiday is to book a stay in our cosy 3-star studio and combine your stay with a flight. Our guests get priority when we plan our flights. You pay in advance for your stay, not for the flight, you pay that only when we fly. And there is enough to do in the area, especially if you like outdoor activities like hiking, rock climbing, riding, canoeing and fishing. Or visiting castles. Or ancient volcanoes. Or...
Ballooning is very safe, but also very weather dependent. We only fly in good weather: light winds, good visibility, a stable atmosphere and no nearby thunderstorms. Do realize that a flight may be cancelled at the last moment, or shortened, when conditions degrade. And that the landing may be in rough terrain.
When you decide to fly with us, let us know well in advance, as we have to organize our flights taking into account the availability of our crew (all volunteers), the activities of the French air force, and of course the weather forecasts.
Use this form to print and (e)mail it to us:
You will find our ballooning base here :
Le Ballon Bleu
Sauret-Besserve is situated about 5 km south of St.-Gervais-d'Auvergne. Follow the (brown) road signs to 'Fades-Besserve' and stop at the former Auberge des Buissons, about 1 km outside Sauret-Besserve. Our chalet is just next to it. Click on the little map for an enlargement. Or go to our map page.
Google Maps also knows perfectly where our home is. Just type 'Le Ballon Bleu' in the search window (and choose the address in Sauret-Besserve if it also shows other places). The Google flag is in our driveway.
Passenger part of flight costs: approximately 550 euros.
In accordance with recent European regulations that allow cost-sharing flights in small balloons (pilot plus 3 passengers maximum), our pilot will invite you for a private flight and you will pay your part in the total costs the day of the flight. There will be no ticket and thus no obligation or reimbursement. It also avoids a mountain of paperwork and impossible administrative euro-technocratic hoops to jump through. The pilot gets no salary nor does the flight generate any profit for us.
We can prepare a personal gift invitation certificate. You can make suggestions for the text.
Competition flight/observer challenge : find out how ballooning championships work and do the work of an official. Free option that demands extra time.
Download the flight demand form (pdf file; print and complete).
Contact us for further information on:
We do indeed speak English but will answer the phone with 'Le Ballon Bleu, Bonjour...'.
For more than 30 years, the core of balloonteam JOY has consisted of Frank Schweppe (pilot) and Nathalie Fischer (crew chief/reception of passengers). The then young Dutch pilot and French crew member (of a German team) met in 1989 during a paraballooning competition in Austria...
Nathalie made her first balloon flight in Germany at the age of 16. She is our principal host, bakes delicious cakes for the crew and passengers and frequently acts as the navigator in the chase vehicle during the retrieve.
Frank Schweppe is a (now semi-retired) Dutch copywriter, magazine editor and book author. He gained his Dutch balloon pilot's licence in 1986, a French licence in 2005, was an instructor in the Netherlands and for 5 years in France (from 2010 to 2015) and now holds a European Flight Crew Licence for hot-air balloons (BFCL, the new standard licence for the entire EU). His log books show more than 1200 hours in more than 30 types of hot-air balloons. He was one of the founders of the Dutch Balloon Competition Club (DBCC) that organises the Dutch national ballooning championships, and is a member of the French ballooning federation. Has a strong preference for soft landings. Veteran pilots like him are called 'Old Burners' in the ballooning world. Grey hair is a requirement...
Aside from a pilot and crew chief a balloon needs at least two more pairs of hands during inflation. Our passengers usually lend a hand, but we have friends who help us on a voluntary basis as chase vehicle drivers and -navigators. Without those friends we would not be able to fly our balloon.
Our balloon, PH-JOY, is registered in the Netherlands and was originally built in late 1986. It made its first flight in January 1987. It is a Thunder Series One, 77000 cubic feet (2200 cubic metres) in size. This was the first ever model of modern hot-air balloon for which a European type rating was issued, so it is a true classic. Over the years it has been rebuilt and upgraded multiple times, so it looks almost like new and indeed flies like a 'young' balloon. The basket is original, as are the burners that are also 'period'¸ but modified and tuned for slightly less noise and a lot more power. In its days this was a very capable competition balloon. The ballooning equivalent of a classic sportscar. Of course one never retires an aircraft with a personalized registration like 'PH-JOY'. As of 2021, the French balloon manufacturer Ballons Chaize in Annonay, certified according to the most recent European regulations as a 'Combined Airworthiness Organisation', takes care of its maintenance and airworthiness inspections. Annonay, by the way, is the birthtown of the Montgolfier brothers, the inventors of the hot-air balloon that made the first manned flight in history in 1783.
Note that we need calm and dry weather to ensure a pleasant and safe flight. We certainly do not fly when the wind speeds up to some 300 metres above the ground (1000 m above sea level) are predicted to be 20 km/h or more. We always look at upper winds data, temperature at altitude and other professional-level aviation weather info when we prepare our flights.