Safety Of Hot-Air Balloon Rides Under Spotlight After Luxor Tragedy

For vacationers, a hot-air balloon ride is the ultimate way of taking in the landscape. Floating thousands of feet above ground, ballooners are afforded a dramatic bird’s-eye view of popular tourist sites. But this week’s ballooning disaster, where 19 people were killed during a hot-air balloon ride over the Egyptian city of Luxor, has brought the ballooning industry back to ground.

The tourists, who were mostly foreigners, died after canisters on their balloon exploded, causing it to plunge 1000 feet back to earth with everyone on board. While an investigation into the disaster is still underway, Egypt has temporarily suspended all balloon flights and the incident has prompted questions into the safety of the activity.So what should you know if you’re considering taking a hot-air balloon ride during your vacation?

According to CNN, ballooning experts believe that the biggest concern is when a fire breaks out on board the balloon. This is because the only way out of the life-threatening situation is to make a jump for it – and that in turn makes circumstances worse for the other passengers onboard. “If passengers are jumping the balloon is getting lighter – it’s climbing again. It’s getting in a more dangerous situation because the higher you go the more dangerous it is to jump out,” said the president of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale’s Ballooning Commission. Fires often occur when balloons run into power lines, which is what happened during a deadly accident in New Zealand last year that cost 11 people their lives.

Another concern is the lack of international regulation when it comes to hot-air balloon operators. This leaves each country to enforce guidelines and safety measure themselves.

Despite this, experts told CNN that ballooning is still a relatively safe activity, and that balloons can be brought down safely even when they run out of fuel.

[Photo credit: Flickr user dfbphotos]

Learn Tuscan Cooking At Historic Wine Estate And Boutique Hotel

chiantiThere’s certainly no shortage of cooking schools and classes to be found in Italy, but the type, quality and locale vary wildly. If you’re looking for something focused on the good stuff – like eating – within a stunning venue, Castello Banfi Il Borgo is likely to make you as happy as a pig in … lardo.

This stunning historic estate, comprised of 7,100 acres of vineyards and olive groves, is located near Montalcino, one hour south of Siena. It was created from restored 17th- and 18th century structures adjacent to a medieval fortress known as Poggio alle Mura, and is owned by the Mariani family, well known for their Brunello di Montacino wine.

The seasonal, contemporary Tuscan menus used in the classes are taught by the property’s English-speaking sous chefs, who are from the region. Classes are offered exclusively to guests of Il Borgo March through November, based upon availability (advance reservations required). Two hundred and twenty euros will get you a demo, hands-on class, and four-course lunch paired with estate wines.

Other activities offered through Il Borgo include foraging for porcini mushrooms and chestnuts in fall, driving the hills of Chianti in a Ferrari or Maserati (but of course), hot air balloon rides, shopping excursions, and more. Even if you decide to just kick it in one of the 14 Frederico Forquet of Cetona-designed rooms, you’ll be able to indulge with bath amenities made from estate-grown Sangiovese grapes. That puts the “ahh” in Montalcino.

Overview of Siena, Italy

Getting high at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

New England may be the standard-bearer for fall travel, but New Mexico is an equally spectacular destination to spend the season. And perhaps there is no better way to usher in autumn than with necks craned skyward, under a dawn Albuquerque sky slowly filling up with several hundred illuminated hot air balloons.

Now in its 40th year, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta kicks off on October 1 for 9 days of events. The largest ballooning gathering in the world, and one of the largest events in the state, over 100,000 people attend to watch more than 700 balloons inflate, launch, and float over northern New Mexico. Many of these people happily set their alarms extra early in order to observe these vibrantly decorated balloons rise with the sun for the 5:30 a.m. mass ascent.

All of the week’s events take place at a 365-acre, tailor-made balloon park in the north of Albuquerque, about 10 miles from the airport and city center. So the city makes a perfect base for exploring both the Fiesta and the region. And surprisingly, for an event that brings 100,000 visitors into the area, affordable hotel rooms are still readily available. The event’s planners are also providing bus transportation from various points throughout the city, so thankfully there is no need to worry about driving through traffic or fighting for a parking spot.

For all you procrastinating gas balloon pilots out there, registration is unfortunately closed and you will have to wait until 2012. But for all you procrastinating spectators, tickets are still available. And who knows, instead of gazing up you may end up gazing down – it’s not unheard of for pilots to offer friendly, curious tourists a lift.

[flickr image via Corvair Owner]

Paws Up Resort Deal: Celebrate Glamping

The Resort at Paws Up has reason to celebrate. It’s celebrating its fifth birthday and the opening of its third luxury tented camp, and these milestones, of course, come with a reason for you to head out to Montana to check the place out for yourself. There’s a five-night, all-inclusive package for $2,413 a night that can’t be missed.

In addition to staying in a two-bedroom tent at the new Creekside Camp (for a family of four), you’ll have your choice of five wilderness activities, with a half-day activity per person per day for four days. The hot air balloon ride will take you high enough to see the entire 37,000 acre resort, and back on the ground, you’ll get to take one sporting clays lesson at the five-stand Shooting Club at Paws Up.

Logistically, there’s no reason to sweat: airport transportation and airport transfers are included. And, for $3,100 a night, you can upgrade to a 1,900-square foot Big Timber Home. This deal is available from July 1, 2010 through September 30, 2010.

Hot air ballons take flight once again over Luxor, Egypt

Taking a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, Egypt has become a “must do” for travelers visiting the ancient temples and tombs of that region. The morning skies have often been filled with the colorful balloons as they drift slowly over the desert landscapes below. But that all changed back in April, when a balloon crashed, and the government was forced to put a halt to all flights.

The crash occurred when a pilot set off in less than ideal weather conditions and without permission from the control tower. High winds pushed the balloon off course, and it ended up colliding with a cell phone tower, before slamming to the ground, injuring the 16 passengers on board, and forcing the Egyptian Tourism Board to ground all flights pending an investigation.

This week, after six months on the ground, the balloons once again took to the air. The pilots have all gone through extensive safety training and each of the companies operating the balloons were required to introduce new safety measures as well. Furthermore, the world’s first hot air balloon airport was created not far from town, and all flights take off from that spot now.

Egypt is notoriously protective of their tourism industry, and with good reason. Much of the country’s income is based on travelers feeling safe and comfortable, and any threat to that safety can harm the industry as a whole. As a result, the government is quick to step in and enforce regulations when necessary, as was once again demonstrated here.

[via Daily Mail]