Santiago Valle has been flying in hot air balloons for 18 years. He says it is like floating in the wind. In Ronda, however, it is even more special than that as, according to Gloventosur, a company set up by Valle that offers this activity in Andalucía, the town is one of the most desired destinations for riding in a hot air balloon.
"We organise flights throughout Andalucía including Ronda. They are very special. The routes are the most beautiful in the region and all have a uniqueness which makes them exciting," said Valle, who lives in the town of Algodonales, near Ronda. Last year alone there were 60 hot air balloon flights in Ronda alone.
The most sought after sights are over the Puente Nuevo and El Tajo, the gorge that splits Ronda in two. "We can not guarantee the direction of travel as the balloon has no steering wheel. We can only move it up and down," he explains, clarifying that more often than not it is possible to fly over the best spots in town. "Due its close proximity to Malaga Airport, there is a height limit of 300 metres, but we always try to fly over the gorge, the bridge, the old town and the bullring. But, the wind can change at any moment," he explains.
For a while, Ronda has been very popular for hot air balloon rides. In fact, it is now very common to see the silhouettes of the balloons floating over the town. However, at present, no companies in Ronda itself offer this experience.
Valle started the business in Granada in 2000 and it was very successful until the economic crash in 2008. "Now, since 2014, more people are interested again," he says.
Gloventosur offers balloon rides for 165 euros per person. The experience includes breakfast and lasts approximately one hour. "There are balloons that can carry one person and balloons that can carry 30. We offer a maximum capacity of 12, travelling in a basket made for 14."
"People of all ages fly with us. We do not recommend children under eight taking part as, although the balloon is safe, the noise made by the fire can be disconcerting for young children. The oldest person to have flown with us was 87 years old," says Valle.
"A dream come true"
During the Christmas period, a balloon ride proved to be a popular gift. "People give a ride as a gift at Christmas, but also for anniversaries and birthdays," explains Valle, who adds: "For many people, riding in a hot air balloon is fulfilling a dream. In Ronda we have many passengers who are from the town who have always wanted to see their home from the sky."
Safety is a concern for some, though. But Valle insists that when done correctly, everything is very safe. "The basket walls are quite high and offer a lot of security."
Valle encourages everyone to try a balloon ride. "A balloon trip is a very magical experience. You know where you're going to take off from but you never know where you will land. We simply follow the wind."