This classic Swiss mountain town hosts the International Festival of Balloons each January.

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EACH JANUARY, a classic little Swiss mountain town of steep-roofed houses and church steeples is full of hot air.

It’s not a freakish climate-change quirk of the weather. It’s the annual International Festival of Balloons.

The festival brings dozens of hot-air balloons from more than a dozen countries to float high above the town of Château-d’Oex in a week of displays — and rides for visitors.

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The balloons, powered by burners blasting heated air, are spectacular by day, brilliant splashes of red, yellow and blue drifting high against a backdrop of the Alps.

They’re even more spectacular in the “Night Glow” show when illuminated balloons rise majestically into the inky night. Fireworks explode into the sky, and skiers holding fiery torches swoop down the dark slopes.

What a good way to be full of light — and hot air — in the dark of winter.

Kristin R. Jackson is the editor of The Seattle Times’ NWTraveler section. Contact her at

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