An African Hot Air Balloon Odyssey


After an awe-inspiring journey around the globe – which has seen the Moët & Chandon ‘Spirit of 1743’ fly over the world’s great capitals and iconic landmarks including the Great Wall of China and the Statue of Liberty – the iconic hot air balloon finally graced the skies of Southern Africa last week. The larger-than-life cork has visited 21 countries around the world since its maiden voyage in 1990 (including Japan, Russia, USA and Australia) and was brought to the continent in honour of the House’s worldwide Moët Impérial’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

With Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium as its backdrop, South African stars Boity Thulo and Maps Maponyane took their place in history and joined a cast of the privileged few who have had the opportunity to travel in the ‘Spirit of 1743’ as she graced the skies over Durban.

Southern Africa is home to some of the most breathtaking scenery and natural beauty on the planet, it’s everything you imagine it to be – vast open plains and expansive skies and home to a plethora of wildlife. No trip to the continent would be complete without a visit to the bushveld and Sunday saw the ‘Spirit of 1743’ finally traverse the skies over Tala Game Reserve in Zululand, soaring above herds of elephant, buffalo, rhino, leopard and giraffe as they grazed on the open plains below. African birds sang in chorus (in what seemed like genuine celebration) as the balloon took to the sky over a magical African sunrise.

About the global journey

The ‘Spirit of 1743’ was baptized at the Château de Saran in August of 1989, ancestral residence of Moët & Chandon.  Named for the year the House was founded, the balloon’s unforgettable voyage would begin in 1990, during the harvest season in Champagne, as the men and women waved it off from Moët & Chandon’s vineyards.

One of its first major stops was the Eiffel Tower, symbol of the French Capital, which in the early years of the House helped it inscribe itself in the palaces of French royalty.  There, the balloon paid homage to this eternal symbol of French industry by flying low, near the foot of the Eiffel Tower, in the early hours of the morning. Next came the Tower of Big Ben in London, where for two days, the Spirit of 1743, soared over the Neogothic tower, nodding to Westminster Palace, and catching its own reflection in the pond of the gardens of Saint Thomas Hospital.

The flight over the Netherlands proved perilous as powerful winds that turned the windmills made famous by Vincent Van Gogh made this part of the journey more challenging, but allowed nevertheless for magnificent images to be captured for posterity.  The voyage continued with Moscow, as the Spirit of 1743 flew over a snowy white Red Square, then with the balloon traversing the island of Mykonos on a starry night, and the sand dunes of the Jordanian desert of the Valley of the Moon.

No trip around the world could be complete without a visit to the Statue of Liberty in New York, symbol of hope and freedom, and a splendid gift of France to the young American nation.  Flying over the Statue of Liberty, the Spirit of 1743 posed for unforgettable images before being greeted by the chanting and dancing of New Yorkers on the lawn of Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park.

In 2011, when the Spirit of 1743 was allowed to travel to China, it became a metaphor for the pioneering spirit that had lead Moët & Chandon to China in the 19th century, as the balloon made a special trip to the Great Wall of China and then to Shanghai, greeted once more by the land where Moët & Chandon had first arrived in 1843, exactly one century after the House was founded.

Southern Africa marks the latest journey undertaken by the magnificent balloon, seemingly set to continue flying high for centuries to come.