Introducing the Prince Albert II Cup, a pioneering new hot air balloon race across the Alps

prince albert cup balloon

A never-before-seen event will be coming to Monaco in the next few weeks or months: an ecological hot air balloon chase that will see 10 international teams hunt down a red and white bedecked montgolfière from the forecourt of the Palais Princier and across the southern Italian Alps to Piedmont. 

Called the Prince Albert II Cup, the race is set to take place sometime between 1st February and 30th April.

When the conditions are right, a balloon decorated in the signature red and white of the Principality and piloted by Alain Cruteanschii, the president of the Aeronauts of Monaco club that is behind the event, will take off from the Place du Palais on the Rock, marking the start of the race. 

Then, from strategic locations dotted around the Principality, a further 10 balloons piloted by teams from a total of six nationalities will take to the air and begin their chase of the so-called “fox”.  

Reaching to spectacular heights of 6,000 metres, the ecological hot air balloons will trace a course above the southern Italian Alps in pursuit of the leader and make for a landing zone on the other side of the French-Italian border in Piedmont.  

Aeronauts Club of Monaco
The race will take place between Monaco and Piedmont, via the southern Italian Alps. Photo credit: F. Ducommun

With the support and backing of Prince Albert II of Monaco 

“The idea was born five years ago, when we imagined the creation of an ecological hot air balloon in the colours of Monaco,” says Cruteanschii. “This dream has since become a reality, thanks in particular to the contribution of the Marzocco Group. The Aeronauts of Monaco then presented it to Prince Albert, who was delighted with the initiative. It’s a privilege to have his personal support, as well as that of his foundation.” 

The reason a specific date for the event hasn’t yet been set – and won’t be until a few days in advance – is that the safe and successful flights of the 11 hot air balloons depends heavily on the weather. The person in charge of “finding the right moment” is Wim de Troyer.  

“The weather will determine everything. Rather calm and dry weather with few clouds will be favourable to the smooth running of operations,” says the official meteorologist for the Prince Albert II Cup. “In the window of opportunity we’re looking for, there should be little wind on the ground so that set-up and take-off go smoothly. The currents will then have to carry the pilots towards the Italian Alps, before they begin their crossing. To make progress in this crucial stage of the route, a relatively strong wind at high altitude will be a necessity… This will finally allow Alain [Cruteanschii] to calmly control the race and reach a place that he will define as favourable for a safe landing.” 

It is estimated that it will take between three and four hours to complete the journey on board the eco crafts.  

Monaco Next Generation Project 

What makes each of the hot air balloons involved in the race ecological is that they feature a “double envelope”, which is the term used to describe the balloon-shaped section of a craft. This change in the design of hot air balloons has been pioneered by the members of the Aeronauts of Monaco under their Monaco Next Generation Project.  

Alain Cruteanschii, the president of the Aeronauts of Monaco, is pictured front right while his son Alix is front left. Photo courtesy of the Aeronauts of Monaco

“This reduces heat loss and saves up to 70% on fuel,” explains Cruteanschii. “The ‘light’ nacelle, made from titanium and composite materials, weighs almost 100kg less than if it were made from conventional wicker. The club’s partner, Romano Energy Monaco, will also be supplying us with biopropane produced by catalysing waste. This revolutionary fuel reduces our CO2 emissions by more than 60%.” 

Another nod to the “Next Generation” element is that Cruteanschii will be flying with his son, Alix, and many of the other teams set to participate in the race are said to be “father-son or father-daughter pairs”.  

Read related:

Prince Albert II-backed hot air balloon challenge in the works


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Photos courtesy of the Aeronauts of Monaco