The first morning I walked to the lobby of the Villagio Inn and Spa in Yountville for the complimentary champagne or mimosa brunch, I noticed three different colorful hot air balloons soaring overhead. “I want to do that,” I said out loud. How cool would that be to see Napa Valley from a different perspective other than by foot, car, bus, bicycle or train?
I learned over breakfast that Napa Valley Aloft offers sunrise hot air balloon rides that range from 40 minutes to over one hour depending on the wind speed and pilot’s judgement. Afterwards for $20 extra, you can enjoy a champagne breakfast at the nearby Pacific Blues Cafe.
On the Napa Valley Aloft website they offer a $20 discount on their Classic Sunrise hot air balloon champagne brunch package for Villagio Inn and Spa guests. Sign me up! Since flying in a hot air balloon over Napa Valley has been on my Bucket List, I excitedly reserved a space for the next morning’s flight.
A group gathered at 6:30 a.m. in the entrance of the V-Marketplace, just a short walk from the Villagio Inn and Spa to complete waiver forms. The sun barely peeked out yet at this time. I was a little concerned that the weather forecast was rain a little later in the day, however the staff at Napa Valley Aloft assured me that I would still be able to fly before the rain came into the valley.
We walked into the parking lot of the V-Marketplace and watched the crew put tarps, large wicker baskets and deflated balloons in a multitude of colors on the asphalt parking lot. Propane gas canisters were secured to start inflating these magnificent balloons.
I was placed in a semi-private flight with ten other passengers and met our pilot Jay Kimball. He was a true professional FAA certified pilot. He continuously accessed the inflation of the balloon and wind conditions. He told us that we would be flying at altitudes between 1,000 and 3,000 feet above the valley floor, depending on the wind.
Kimball pointed to another balloon that rose before us. He said it was a wedding balloon with a bride, groom and minister onboard with the pilot.
Once we rose above the parking, I saw guests at the Villagio Inn and Spa admiring us as we soared above them. I waved to them, remembering how just yesterday, I was on the ground admiring the beautiful rainbow-colored balloons.
We flew over multi-million dollars wineries, parks, backyards with swimming pools, and rows of vineyards. Kimball pointed towards Mt. St. Helena and the Mayacamas Mt. Range. To the east was the sculptured terrain of the Vaca Range. With clouds rolling in and the wind shifting and picking up speed, Kimball didn’t want to risk the flight, so after about 35 minutes, he radioed the chase van and gently settled us down into a large pasture, just as the first few drops of rain fell from the sky.
The van took us all back to the V-Marketplace and I walked with Kimball and a few others for our breakfast at Pacific Blues Cafe. Sitting across from Kimball, I learned that he started one of the original balloon companies in Napa Valley in 1976. Napa Valley was just starting to be a destination for wonderful wine and food. Since Kimball is an adventurous soul, he branched out and started a balloon company in Del Mar California. It is still in operation today. Next he visited the beautiful city of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico and started a balloon company there too.
As we drank Prosecco and ate a hearty and delicious breakfast, I realized that in order to gain a true Napa Valley experience, one must drink some of the best wine in the world, eat at some of the best restaurants in Yountville, and take in the magnificence of the Valley from the vantage point of a hot air balloon.
To learn more about Napa Valley Aloft, go to http://nvaloft.com. To learn about the Villagio Inn and Spa, go to http://villagio.com. To find out more about Yountville, go to http://yountville.com. To make reservations at one of the Yountville restaurants click on Yountville Open Table.