Pearls of Monaco
Opulence and indulgence are all in the detail in the impressive Mediterranean principality, as Jane Cornwell discovers.
The helicopter ride from Nice to Monte-Carlo has to be one of the world’s most spectacular transfers, what with its panoramic view over a winding coastline and see-through blue sea and, as the seven minutes tick down, a face-to-face encounter with a cityscape like no other. There, lit by sunshine, are the fairytale turrets of the famous casino. There, rising from a promontory, the splendid cream façade of the Prince’s Palace. There, everywhere, buildings – lowrise, high-rise, skyscraper – wedged along tiers built into the rock. Flowers bloom. Greenery sprouts. Boats sway in sheltered bays alongside gleaming, slightly mean-looking superyachts. “Welcome to Monaco, Madame,” says my limousine driver, who is waiting at the helipad to whisk me to the Hôtel Hermitage, a five-star pile a few minutes’ drive away. Everywhere is close in Monaco, a tiny independent city-state (Monte-Carlo is one of its four districts) taking up just 202 hectares. But what it packs inside its borders – from spas, shops and restaurants to arts, sports and resorts – is as impressive as it is opulent. No place does luxury quite like Monaco, where the high life is routine, whims are for indulging and nothing is too much trouble. Oh, and where never has one woman been called ‘Madame’ so much, in such a short space of time.
The Hôtel Hermitage turns out to be a Belle-Époque gem whose tuxedoed doormen seem genuinely delighted to see me (“Madame! Please! Come in!”). It has gilt fixtures, designer sofas and a soaring stained-glass cupola under which one takes breakfast, and an intimate feel for a spread with 278 rooms. A honeycomb of subterranean corridors leads to the Michelin-starred Le Vistamar restaurant, the sumptuous Hôtel de Paris – another of the four hotels run by Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer – and Monaco’s largest wellness centre, Thermes Marins, all of which are expecting me.
First up, my suite, which has mint-green walls, a white leather bedhead, a mint-green leather chest of drawers that resembles an explorer’s trunk and long-stemmed white roses in a vase. A wrought-iron balcony overlooks the marina and a small funfair that lights up at night; directly below are roped off hot tubs intended for private lolling while sipping champagne. In the near distance is the palace, at which I stare, imagining, as I sample from the box of complimentary macarons – mint green, pale pink, lemon yellow – placed on my bedside table. The sommelier at Le Vistamar recommends a white wine from central France, Madame, to accompany my starter, the enticingly titled ‘Delicate Velvet: swimmer crab broth with seaweed and Perles de Monte-Carlo oyster’. I consume both to a recorded soundtrack of Gregory Porter singing Nat King Cole, my bag resting on its very own stool, a light fashioned from metal leaves throwing dapples across the tablecloth. Chef Benoît Witz is apparently all about fresh local ingredients cooked with restrained modernism; I have sea bream with barigoule jus followed by green apple sorbet palate cleanser then a scoop of chocolate ice-cream, topped with gold leaf, on a tiny bed of meringue.
Sights of the city
Wrapped in a white towelling robe, I pad my way to the cavernous Thermes Marins spa, with its heated indoor seawater pool, cardio training area with panoramic sea view and boutique where a Roberto Cavalli playsuit is discounted to a mere 694 euros. In a scented room with a large porthole I’m treated to a fierce jet bath then slathered in Dead Sea mud to draw out nasty toxins, which I duly shower away to emerge, glowing. I take a stroll around town, starting in Casino Square where, at its centre, a large silver obelisk by British sculptor Anish Kapoor reflects the goings-on: the idling Ferraris and Lamborghinis, a backdrop for selfies and vehicles, literally, for showing off; the Frenchstyle Casino Gardens with their statues, spouting fountains and calming tranquillity; the entrance to the marble floored Metropole shopping centre and its (count them) 80 boutiques. And of course, the Casino, which is also home to the Monte-Carlo ballet and a theatre. The façade of this European gaming temple is as ornate as it ever was; its interior, however, is currently camouflaged by Belgian designer Charles Kaisin, whose cheeky installation swathes chairs, tables and even vases in red-and-white diamond fabric, referencing both card games and the royal family’s coat of arms.
A locavore journey
Lunchtime, and I’m on the eighth floor of the palatial Hôtel de Paris, whose legendary wine cellar harbours some 600,000 bottles, some of which have made their way to the refurbished Le Grill, whose meats are cooked to perfection in full view of the clientele – many of who come from all over Europe for the signature soufflé: huge, fluffy, topped with Grand Marnier. Monaco is a foodie’s paradise; later, over green tea in an office too small for his charisma, I meet Italian chef Paolo Sari, the world’s first organic Michelin chef, who applies his 100 per cent organic rule to the four restaurants inside the Monte-Carlo Beach, a luxury resort set in a terracotta building atop a rocky promontory. A committed locavore – all ingredients are sourced from 15 gardens and farms within a 100-kilometre radius of Monte-Carlo – the handsome, blue-eyed Paolo is his own advertisement for healthy eating. “The future of this planet relies on us being responsible for what we eat and produce,” he says, flashing a grin. “You just have to open your heart and soul.” It’s a philosophy shared by lauded French-West Indian chef Marcel Ravin of the gourmet-tastic, Michelin-starred Blue Bay restaurant, which has its very own farm with vegetables and flowers and where dinner begins with a palate awakener of pear, apple and celeriac and, from my waiter, a question. “Are you ready to travel, Madame?” he asks, preparing me for a dining experience that will feature the finest and most skillful blend of diverse influences in Monaco and, well, the universe. Out on the bay, under a starry sky, the lights on the yachts twinkle. “Yes,” I say. “Madame is ready.”
Accommodation and Dining
Emirates flies to Nice via Dubai from Australian
capitals, with complimentary Monacair helicopter
transfers to Monte-Carlo for first-class passengers
(or €79 per business-class passenger).
This article appeared in volume 28 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.