This was the trip that almost wasn’t. Hotels are either so ridiculously overpriced, or fully booked; we found it hard to find a single accommodation that was either affordable or available for the 35th annual Chateau D’Oex Hot Air Balloon Festival.
We have come to realize that those things in life we are meant to do, should come easily, but we were determined to experience the festival this year, so we worked extra hard.
We told our son we had a BIG surprise for him, which looking back now, might not have been the best idea. A surprise to a child means everything and when you cannot deliver, the world just about ends.
Upon our Friday arrival, the weather greeted us with a deluge of rain and cold temperatures. We knew we couldn’t sit with two young children in our hotel room (parental suicide) so we tucked our son into the fabulous BOB stroller and our daughter tight onto Robert’s back and took a peaceful trek along the Saanen River to the ever so posh town of Gstaad.
It was a beautifully peaceful walk, as we were able to stroll under an endless cloud of rain, while both of our children slept peacefully in their designated, rainproof areas. The weather that evening was supposed to turn to snow, which I thought would have to be better than rain and certainly a favorable forecast for the hot air balloon festival, but I would soon discover that wasn’t the case.
The next morning, we all woke eagerly to witness the incredible surprise we had been anxiously waiting. Breakfast eaten, children dressed in more clothes than necessary to brave the -6C temperatures and we were off. A 20-minute train ride dumped us in the town of Chateau D’Oex, which was in the French speaking part of Switzerland.
The town was lovely; sweet little stores, quaint streets all with a rather French flair. We hopped down the streets anxious to present our son with the surprise of colorful hot air balloons taking flight right before our very eyes.
But with the snow…OK, let us skip the word snow and state that the snow feel in blankets, so it was more like a blizzard, we didn’t see any balloons…at all. We were quickly informed that our day and meticulous planning was for naught, as the festival had been cancelled due to weather.
My heart sunk in my chest and then anger set in. Why is it that you hold this festival each year in the dead of winter if your balloons cannot fly in snow? Hmmm…we felt a bit perplexed and a bit annoyed, but nothing prepared us for our son’s reaction. Tears fell like the rain the previous day as a slow and steady voice, mustered, “But I want to see the balloons!” The only thing we had to say was, “Yeah, we do too buddy, we do too!”
When faced with trivial adversity, we thought quickly and decided we simply had to bring fun to our outrageously shitty day. A sled was bought and we found a delightful little hill in the front yard of the local Priest’s house. Our son bombed that hill; all the while the funky chickens (see photo) took to the street to play all the passerby’s some cheerful band music. We must admit, that group of musicians turned the otherwise rough day into a rather spirited occasion.
Sunday morning gave way to blue skies, no precipitation, but rather deep snow. Instead of heading back home, we decided we were going to see those balloons take flight. Off we set again with all of our luggage strapped to our backs. Once in the town, the mood felt lighter and the beauty of those balloons in flight over the Alps was well worth the wait.
Oh, it was magical! Bright colors filled the sky, all shapes, colors and sizes and our son was in his absolute glory. “Oh, this is the best comprise (his word for surprise…we don’t correct him, as it is far too sweet) ever he yelled.” We had to agree. All the struggle to book a hotel, the drenched clothes and boots, the heaviness and disappointment we felt just the day before all melted away under deep snow as we witnessed first hand the sheer delight when balloons take flight!
Time of Year: February
Duration: Long Weekend
Where We Stayed: Hotel Landhaus in Saanen
Eats and Treats: The hotel had a nice dinner menu and the town has nice cafés
Child Friendly? Yes, the hotel was great. A pool, a playroom and a baby cot
Would we Return? The festival is certainly worth seeing, but to do it all again seems like a lot of work. Once might just be enough.