It seems unreal, drifting like a bird on a warm breeze above the pepperpot-towered châteaux of the Loire, but that’s exactly what Montgolfières d’Anjou (02.41.40.48.04/www.montgolfieres.com, flights €190-€320) do between Easter and October, when six of its balloons ship a lucky few up, up and away into the air above the Loire. The castles are impressive enough from the ground, but nothing can prepare you for the delights of their dramatic proportions when seen from above. Then there’s the countryside: quilts of green expanding into the horizon, interrupted only by roads, towns, rivers and, of course, the magnificent châteaux themselves. Montgolfières d’Anjou’s balloons take off from several sites in the region. The first site is the Château de Brissac, France’s tallest castle (15km/8 miles south of Angers, www.chateau-brissac.fr), with its own vineyard and richly clad apartments. The owners are hot-air balloon fanatics and frequently open their gardens to host the European hot-air ballooning championships. There are also four princely chambres d’hôte (doubles from €390), should you decide to splurge. The second site is the delightful Château de Pignerolle (just east of Angers, www.musee-communication.com), whose interior houses a quaint communications museum. And the third site is Île de Gennes, a sandy island in the middle of the Loire west of Saumur (www.cc-gennois.fr), used mainly for early morning flights.
If you do decide to take a flight, you need to allow at least three hours for the whole trip, wear sturdy shoes and bring a jumper along in case it gets nippy. Children under eight and pregnant women are not allowed to fly.