Hot-air ballooning may be the most zen way to travel. Serene, rising above it all, you accept where the current takes you and simply enjoy the unexpected moments along your improvised path. Unlike other means of air travel that catch a drift—gliders, hang-gliders, even parachutes—there’s no real way to steer a hot-air balloon.
Yet, statistically, it’s the safest way of flying. The wicker gondola may strike some as fragile, a bit like riding in an oversized picnic basket. But the braided twigs possess both the strength to bear riders’ weight and the flexibility to withstand landing. (Enter the wind-blown reed which bends rather than breaks that inspires Eastern masters.)
What travel at the speed of a summer breeze lacks in practicality, it makes up for in sheer romance. A glimpse of an airborne balloon holds the ephemeral magic of seeing a rainbow—both harbingers of clear skies ahead. And let’s not forget the perhaps less zen-like but still lovely ballooning tradition of a champagne toast upon landing. This practice was started after the very first manned flight in 1783 by, not surprisingly, the French aristocracy.
A sunset drift over the Niagara Escarpment makes a delightful day trip. Sundance Balloons (416-239-4242; www.sundanceballoons.com) offers rides from their base in Hockley Valley among their packages. Prices range from $195 to $275 per person for group flights (prices depend on day and number of people); for private Sweetheart Flights, call in advance. Windrider (1-800-508-8386; www.windrider.ca) starts some of their adventures from the town of Erin, about a 45-minute drive from Toronto Pearson International Airport. Premier Private flights are $950 for two, while group flights for four or six are $1,100 to $1,600.—Anne Gibson