When it comes to finding the world's most exotic ballooning trips, it makes sense to look first at the sport's birthplace, France. Buddy Bombard's Europe, a full-service ballooning resort, will put you up in an elegant 18th-century chateau and take you out every morning in a balloon for up to eight days. The medieval castles, built by the scions of the Frankish Empire from 500 ACE onward, are set amid the region's legengary vineyards. August through October, when the grapes are fullest, is the best time to book your ballooning vacation. From $8,940 per person.
For more information: Burgundy
Three million years ago, violent eruptions of the volcanoes Mt. Erciyes and Mt. Hasan coated the surrounding plateau of what is now Göreme National Park with compressed volcanic ash, or tuff. Wind and weather have eroded the soft volcanic rock into hundreds of strangely shaped pillars, cones and "fairy chimneys,"—often very tall, and in every shade from pink through yellow to russet browns. The extraordinary landscape is best seen from the air, and Göreme Balloons will fly you over the terrain at levels low enough to pick an apricot from a tree. For approximately $350 per person, they'll take you and up to 11 of your friends on a sunrise tour for hour and a half over the park.
For more information: Goreme Balloons
The 5,700-square-mile park is made up of grasslands, savannah and lush deciduous forests. If you're lucky, you'll catch the famous annual migration of more than one million white-bearded wildebeest, who thunder over the landscape at a different time every year. The park is also home to cheetah, lions, elephants, buffalo, rhinoceros, leopards, gazelles and giraffe; Serengeti Balloon Safaris will take you up at dawn for an hour's worth of fauna spotting. They also donate 10 percent of their total gross revenue to Serengeti National Park and primarily employ locals. At $499 per person for a nearly silent safari, you've got a much better chance of finding the animals this way than by roaring up in a noisy Jeep.
For more information: Balloon Safaris
Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin began building his airships here more than 100 years ago, and the town is now synonymous with his massive lighter-than-air dirigibles. The town borders Lake Constance, the third-largest freshwater lake in Europe, whose shores are shared by Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Principality of Lichtenstein. For approximately $1100 per person, Zeppelin NT will take you down the length of Lake Constance to Überlingen, Germany, and from there to Schaffhausen, Switzerland, whose Renaissance-era architecture is breathtaking from above.
For more information: Zeppelin NT
The section of the Arabian Desert that covers most of Dubai is dominated by brown and black gravel, but the southern portion of the desert (just outside Dubai City) has bright white extra-fine sand, made up of crushed shells and coral. The color of the enormous dunes slowly shifts to a gorgeous red further east, where iron oxides tint the sand. Balloon Adventures Dubai will fly you from the dunes over the Jebel Fayah section of the Hajar Mountains, home to the endangered Arabian Leopard, and land your party in a rural desert village for refreshments with the locals. The hourlong flight costs approximately $245 and includes refreshments and transport service to and from selected hotels in Dubai City.
For more information: Balloon Adventures Dubai
The lush rainforest in Costa Rica contains a canopy layer of wildlife that can't be accessed on foot. So Tucker Comstock, a ballooning friend of Malcolm Forbes, brought the first hot air balloon to Costa Rica in 1991 and now runs a full-service adventure tour company, Serendipity Adventures. Her enthusiastic guides will take you on a private expedition through the exceptionally beautiful terrain, for two to 21 days of biking, rafting, climbing and hiking. Whether ballooning is your trip's raison d'être, or just one part of the adventure, the view of the jungle and the possible glimpse of the nearby volcano's frequent eruptions is worth trekking down here to hop in the basket.
For more information: Serendipity Adventures
The ancient city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand is home to more than 300 golden-hued Buddhist temples, or wats. Take in the dazzling architecture as you sail from the city into the countryside, over terraced rice paddies and the scenic rural villages of the lush Ping Valley. Earth Wind & Fire Company Ltd. also offers the opportunity to participate in their annual Thailand Balloon Tour, a private gathering where enthusiasts bring their own balloons—and often take passengers. During the 14-day event, each morning is spent exploring in a balloon, followed by afternoons of exploring on foot.
For more information: Earth Wind & Fire Company Ltd
Luxor, formerly Thebes, is where you can cross the Nile to the west bank and rise just above dramatic pyramids and tombs hewn from rock. The Valley of Kings is home to the tomb of Tutankhamen, and since most of the tombs are not open to the public, you're better off viewing the remarkable ruins from the sky. Magic Horizon will take you up at sunrise for about an hour, so there will be no pesky tourists in your pictures.
For more information: Magic Horizon
During the winter, Park City offers some of the nation's best skiing and snowboarding, at Deer Valley, The Canyons and Park City Mountain. During the calmer, warmer months, you can train to become a certified balloon pilot with Mike Bauwens at Balloon the Rockies. Bauwens is a former OSHA safety inspector who can get you certified for personal or commercial ballooning. You'll receive one-on-one instruction with a full safety crew and a practice balloon, and the chance to fly over nearby mountains as you hone your skills in real-world conditions.
For more information: Balloon the Rockies
The ancient temple city of Bagan was initially the capital of the First Burmese Empire and has since witnessed dozens of revolutions and uprisings. The ruins cover 16 square miles and are filled with dozens of historic cultural sites, from Buddhist and Hindu temples and pagodas to ornate palaces built by the various ruling monarchies. When Myanmar is ready for tourism again, Balloons Over Bagan will take you up at sunrise for an hourlong adventure, dipping low so you can study the fantastically elaborate structures up close. For now, the company has committed most of their staff to assist Save the Children UK in the Cyclone Nargis relief effort, and will be spending the next few months transporting and documenting refugees.
For more information: Eastern Safaris