Balloonists take to the skies over Umbria's wine valley

GUALDO CATTANEO, ITALY (REUTERS) - Under the Umbrian sun, the Italian countryside got hot early on Saturday (July 29) morning.

And once things got hot, these folks got high.

"Ballooning, I must say, ballooning is something really, really special," said balloonist Robin Mercer, who hails from Northern Ireland.

He joined dozens of other balloon enthusiasts from across the world... all of them descending and then ascending over the Sagrantino wine valley this week.

The participants are all vying for the Sagrantino Italian International Balloon Challenge Cup.

For Mr Mercer, however, it seems to be less about the cup and more about the views.

"It's a lovely way of seeing the world, when you're looking, it's not like being in an aeroplane or a helicopter," he said. "You can look 360 degrees and you don't know where you are going to go, you don't know where you're going to land, and it is something really, really special."

Organisers describe the cup as the "most relaxed event" of the year for hot air balloon fans.

And with views like these, who could argue?