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Adventures in Marrakech


Montgolfier Brothers

One cold day in November 1782, as Joseph Montgolfier was warming himself before the fire, he let his thoughts wander as he watched smoke rising up above the fire. Suddenly he was struck by an idea. The smoke was rising up to the clouds, if only one could catch it in a paper bag and then hold onto the bag in some way, one could rise up with the smoke and conquer the skies. Joseph shared his discovery with his brother Etienne who was immediately convinced by it and offered his support and help. They began to work on making paper envelopes that they held over the fire before letting go of them.

It is not hard to imagine their delight as they watched these first 'aerostats' rising up. What crazy ideas, what glimmers of hope invaded their excited brains? Just think about it!... for the first time ever, man would be able to make his oldest dream come true, to fly.

The Montgolfier brothers returned to their family paper-making business in Annonay, and secretly began to create bigger and bigger prototypes.

Finally, on June 4th 1783, the discovery was made public and was sufficiently amazing to cause the officials of Vivarais to inform the Royal Academy of Sciences, and that is how the Montgolfier brothers came to be presented to the King of France.

They were granted loans to make a machine that, on September 19th, lifted a cage containing a sheep, a rooster and a duck. All these passengers came back safe and sound, proving that human flight is possible.

It was on November 21st 1783 that the event took place. The first idea was to put a prisoner condemned to death in the basket, who would be pardoned if the experiment was successful.

But an aristocrat, the MARQUIS D'ARLANDE, and an adventurer, FRANCOIS IPLATRE DE ROZIER, were able to convince the authorities that the honour of making the first human flight should not fall to a convicted criminal, and they bravely volunteered to do it.

I think we should pause for a few moments to reflect on the courage of these two people.

These days we see all sorts of airborne objects: airplane, of course, as well as gliders, helicopters, ultra-lights, hang-gliders , we even see people flying to the Moon in incredible rockets.

The first flyers were covered in well-deserved glory, and the Montgolfier brothers were raised to the French peerage.

Nevertheless, it was already the beginning of the end.

At the same time, a physicist, CHARLES, was studying what he called " l'air aerostatique " hydrogen. On August 27th he flew a hydrogen balloon which terrorized local people before landing in the small town of Gonesse to the north of Paris. This event happened just two months after the official flight at ANNONAY described above.

The same physicist, CHARLES, accompanied by a mechanic, NICOLAS ROBERT, undertook a flight on December 1st 1783, just ten days after ARLANDE and PILATRE DE ROZIER's flight.

It was the beginning of the struggle between Montgolfieres et Chartists, in other words, the struggle between hot air against hydrogen.

Hydrogen won this first battle thanks to the fact that it could sustain longer, higher flights that the hot-air balloons of that time, made of pape rand heated by burning straw.

Some people, including PILATRE DE ROZIER, tried to blend the two technologies to create the Aero-Montgolfier, a curious hybrid of hot-air and hydrogen balloon, but when one lights a fire beneath a balloon full of hydrogen

It was bound to happen, and PILATRE DE ROZIER, the first man to fly became the first man to die in the conquest of the air, on 15 June 1785.

In Recent Years

During the next one hundred and thirty years, hydrogen balloons ruled the skies. Then came competition from heavier-than-air machines, which in turn overtook the hydrogen balloon in terms of speed and reliability and reigned supreme until YOUNG, an American student, found out about research carried out by the US AIR FORCE as an attempt to give one extra chance to pilots shot down behind enemy lines during the Vietnam war? The research involved attaching a burner under the parachute allowing a pilot in difficulty to regain his own lines.

The military applications of this technology were never explored, but YOUNG took the idea of placing a propane burner beneath a nylon envelope and the modern hot-air balloon was born.

It developed quickly; the first modern-day hot air balloon was imported into France by the actor CHRISTIAN DUVALEX in 1969.

During the next decade the first ballooning clubs were established, gathering together a few lucky and wealthy enthusiasts.

The first meetings and the first competitive tournaments were held and soon the FEDERATION FRANCAISE D'AEROSTATION was born.

Today, the aerostation is a well-structured sport involving around 400 participants in France.

How It Works

First of all, you need to know that a balloon is totally and utterly worth the time and money you spend on it. It is true that weather conditions can force us to postpone take-off for a later date. But when the great day arrives,how rewarding it is!

Everything starts at dawn. The 'aeronauts' arrive at the take-off site in a 4WD vehicle. Helped by his assistant and the future passengers, he unloads the basket (still made of wicker), and installs the burner. He tries the burner both for safety reasons, and to allow passengers to familia rise themselves with this amazing six of seven metre high flame which is going to carry the basket through the skies.

Next the basket is laid on the ground, and the balloon is extracted from its carrying case, how on earth does such an enormous balloon fit into such a small bag? The balloon is attached to the basket.

The multi-coloured envelope is deployed and air is sent into it by means of a powerful fan. Once the balloon is semi-spherical, the pilot lights the burner and begins to heat the air inside. Meanwhile the helpers play their part in the inflation process by holding the ropes that keep the giant mouth of the balloon open.

The immense balloon soon begins to stand upright, and its huge volume becomes apparent , just imagine 3000 cubic metres, and 30 metres high! The passengers embark; it is time for take-off, a vertical take-off. It may seem obvious, but it is the vertical take-off that our passengers find the most surprising. Then we drift, allowing the wind to carry us where it will, just heating the air inside the envelope from time to time with short bursts of flame from the burner.

We begin with an ascent - up to 1000 metres above the earth, to allow our passengers to get a bird's eye view of the region. Then we go down closer to the ground to see every detail of the fabulous landscapes. Local people look up and wave, one would need ten hands to wave back to all of them!

I cannot properly describe the feeling, it has to be experienced to be believed. The only thing I can say, is that when one flies in a hot-air balloon one finally understands why birds sing.

But all good things must come to an end, and we need to think about coming back down to earth. The pilot chooses a suitable piece of ground and begins the descent. Contact with the earth is very smooth and gentle is the weather is calm, or a little rougher if the wind is blowing.

Then the equipment must be reloaded back onto the off-road vehicle that should be waiting at the landing site and all we need to do is to uncork the bottle of champagne to toast the wonderful adventure.


Where do we fly?

Our balloon flights pass over the zone to the North of the Palmeraie of Marrakesh, between the Tensift wadi and the Jibilets hills. We fly over Berber villages and drift over the palm trees with the city of Marrakesh in the distance and as a backdrop to the whole scene, the Atlas Mountains to the South and the Jbilets to the North.

Availability Dates: September to June Daily.

What time do we fly?

For aeronautical reasons, balloon flights always take place early in the morning. Passengers leave their hotels at about six or six-thirty a.m. according to the season. We will confirm the exact time when you book.

How long is the flight

The flight itself takes about one hour, but with the addition of the little tour in a 4WD vehicle and a glass of tea with a local family, the whole activity takes about half a day, and passengers return to their hotel at about midday.


For groups of up to seven persons, transfers to the take-off site can be arranged using our own 4WD vehicle. A 4WD vehicle must be hired to transport groups of over seven persons.


Our head pilot has had a French licence since 1980. The balloons themselves undergo a yearly 'MOT' just like any other means of transport by air. CIEL D'AFRIQUE'S activities are governed by the Direction de l'Aeronautique Civile.

The only danger comes from the wind, and that is why the pilot is the only person who is able to take the decision to fly and will even cancel the take-off is there is even the slightest risk. If a flight is aborted due to weather conditions, the land-based part of the tour will take place with mint tea with a local family and return to the hotel through winding country lanes.


Discovery Tour

Camel Trekking
Expect the unexpected

How about a day out on a camel?

More Details


Night Magic

Katoubia at Night
Fantasia Evening

Join us for an evening of dance, song and folklore.

More Details

Dragon house
Dragon house
Dragon house

Ballooning Near Marrakech

We pick you up from the hotel between 5:30 and 6:30am according to the season, in a leather-seated 4 wheel drive vehicle in which we drive to the launch site chosen for that morning.

Once there, the balloon is prepared for flight , and we hope you will take part in the fun. You will board the gondola and on the instruction of the pilot to his ground crew 'cast off' the magic moment arrives as we rise vertically up towards the Moroccan heavens.

We are followed by a chase vehicle, in constant radio communication with the pilot and whose crews establish the day's most suitable landing site. Once we have our 'kiss landing', in the worst case we'd have a gentle drag of but a few yards, our 4 wheel drive is awaiting us and after we have collapsed and stored the balloon, we shall make a tour of some of the Berber villages we have over-flown, to stop for a glass or two of mint tea, some Moroccan pastries or fresh bread dipped in olive oil, in the home of one of the Berber inhabitants.

At around midday, our passengers will be taken back to their hotel in Marrakech, armed with a Certificate to show their friends or family back home to show them 'We've been there' and a basketful of delightful memories.

Cost: 240 euro per person

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