For the past three years I have read about the amazing Hot Air Balloon Festival, Les Montgolfiades, in the beautiful village of Rocamadour. I usually come upon the article just days AFTER the event has taken place leaving me frustrated that I’ve missed the festival yet again! This year, however, I was determined to make it there and had the date firmly pencilled in the diary.
The festival takes place during the last week-end of September with twice daily flights (8am and 5pm) on both the Saturday and the Sunday. We checked our week-end plans and decided to head there on the Saturday for some lunch in order to catch the late afternoon flight. Off we set, full of excitement, until ‘BAM’, the car suddenly stopped dead, 40kms from home, just before a sharp bend in the road. Great. Our plans had been thwarted. We had to abandon our outing and find a (French) garage-owner willing to disrupt his lunch to come to our rescue. Eventually, a lovely chap with his amazing 105 year old (yes, 105!) father kindly came to tow the car away. By then we were tired, hungry, hot and not in the mood for any further excitement.
I wasn’t, however, willing to give up so easily… I was going to make it to the festival this year. But by the Sunday, the rest of the family was less than enthusiastic at the prospect of travelling the 2hrs30 round trip to watch the balloons and so after some bribing, I convinced Miss 7 to be my co-pilot. Hurray! We arrived just in time, at 4:50pm. It really was incredible to experience the balloons, in their various bright colours and sizes, soar majestically into the sky against the backdrop of the stunning village of Rocamadour. However, I did learn a thing or two about what NOT to do if you’re planning to go. So here you go (you’re welcome).
Park out of town and walk into the village. As you get closer to Rocamadour, you will see many cars lined up on the side of the road – leave your car there too as it’s really just a short walk into the village. We parked at the Chateau Parking and the place was grid-locked after the event finished. We decided to have a hot chocolate in one of the local cafés whilst the crowds dispersed. Silver lining right?
Have Cash On You
Make sure you have cash on you. There are a few pop-up stands where you can buy crêpes and ice-cream. My planning skills failed me and I had a grand total of €2.50 on me, just enough for ONE ice-cream. I, of course, did the right thing and decided to forego the icecream so that my daughter could have one and avoid a full-blown melt-down.
Go To The Early Flight
For the best photo opportunities, go watch the early morning flights at 8am. The sun was in exactly the wrong position during the late afternoon flights, making it very difficult (and disappointing) to take any decent photographs of the stunning village of Rocamadour.
Make a Day of it!
If you go to the early morning flight, you can take your time and visit the beautiful village of Rocamadour. Take the lift down from the chateau and hike back up the stairs. Or ascend the many stairs on your knees as the pilgrims were known to have done.
You’ll probably find that you’ll have had your fill after 2-3 hours. So why not go and check out the nearby Forêt des Singes or drive a little further to the amazing Gouffre de Padirac. The cave draws incredible crowds in the summer time but you might be lucky at this time of year and avoid the long queues. It’s an absolutely amazing place and really worth the detour. There is plenty to see and discover in the lesser-known region of the Lot.
Get there early
After queuing for about 20 minutes for the famous ice-cream, we then started dashing about madly trying to find the best vantage point as the balloons had already started their ascent. The place is busy, like, really busy. There are some heart-in-your-mouth steep cliffs, so be careful where you park yourself as there doesn’t seem to be too many health and safety considerations…
Keep an eye on the local tourist office’s website. The Dordogne Vallée have a great website that provides all the information you need from timings of the flights, onsite entertainment, parking, etc.
Despite a few hiccups, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and feel that I’ve ticked something off my bucket list. I definitely have a few tips up my sleeve for any future visits. In fact, maybe (if I win the lottery) I’ll just book a trip in one of the hot air balloons. You couldn’t get a better vantage point than that could you?
If you fancy checking out any more hot air balloon festivals, be sure to have a look at Andi’s roundup of balloon festivals around the world.