Monaco’s best hotels vary from the palatial to boutique – but each style is achieved with the finest materials and serious panache. Discover five of the best to consider staying at during the Monaco Yacht Show.
Hotel de Paris
Twenty paces from the Casino de Monte-Carlo, the Hôtel de Paris is as close to the action as you can sleep without curling up on the green baize of the poker table. It is such a well-worn pied-à-terre for high rollers that their superstitions have left a physical mark: in the centre of the hotel’s domed lobby stands a bronze statue of Louis XIV riding. The horse’s right knee has been buffed to a shine by the generations who have rubbed it for luck, before crossing the street and staking the castle on red.
The hotel was itself a momentous gamble. The Casino de Monte-Carlo opened in 1863, a statement about what Monaco’s royal family wanted the principality to become, not what it was – a plot of arid land on the rim of the Med. The next piece in the puzzle that would become the district of Monte Carlo was a hotel for well-heeled casino patrons. François Blanc, boss of the Société des Bains de Mer (SBM), which owned (and still owns) both casino and hotel, wanted the new digs to dazzle: “A hotel that surpasses anything that has been built so far, even the Hôtel du Louvre or the Grand Hôtel in Paris.”
The result, a short stumble across the square from the casino, was opened in 1864 and named in honour of its Parisian rivals. The glitterati arrived on cue, US President Grant rubbing epaulettes with Grand Duke “Serge” of Russia, while not-so-impoverished artistes Verne, Verdi and Dumas feasted their imaginations on her architecture – she was a belle époque beauty even before a 1910 rebuild gave her curving flourishes, sculptures and balustrades.
Extravagance was the only rule in the hotel’s early days. Beams were installed in the ceiling of one room so Empress Elizabeth “Sissi” of Russia could practise the trapeze before bed. One grand duke always arrived with 50 gardeners, who would work through the night so that he could open his window on to a new garden every morning. A century before the paparazzi, their forebears were scratching out etchings of banquets in the salle à manger where Ulysses S Grant, Alexandre Dumas, Edward VII and Sarah Bernhardt – cocooned in furs and dripping with jewels – dined.
The hotel has always been serious about food and drink. During the Second World War, its most dazzling cache of wines was sealed off by a wall of bottles in the cellar, to hide it from the occupying Nazis. After liberation, the hotel’s long-time guest Winston Churchill reopened it and helped himself to a glass of pre-war whisky. Churchill’s adventures in the locale run from the early 1900s, when he won 5 million francs in 25 minutes during a 2am game of tout-va at the casino, to the loss, in 1961, of his budgerigar Toby, who flew out of the window of his eighth floor suite at the hotel.
Sumptuous balls in grand halls are a house speciality, from Errol Flynn’s 1950 wedding, attended by Cary Grant and Rita Hayworth, to the main event – the 1956 marriage of Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly.
These glamorous ghosts are part of what has kept the gloss on the Hôtel de Paris. Twenty-first-century starlets and moguls tread the same tiles as belle époque bounders and 50s film stars. The hotel lets guests dive into its illustrious history through its beautifully kept marble halls, characterful antiques and suites named after famous guests who made them home (in the Churchill Suite you can enjoy views so stunning that he painted them from his balcony).
A reputation for gastronomic excellence has been upheld with the installation of the restaurant Alain Ducasse à l’Hôtel de Paris ( one of the best restaurants in Monaco) – a three Michelin-starred jewel in the chef’s culinary crown – in the gold and white fondant that is the Salle Empire. And the American Bar is still the best spot to meet a film star lying low with a whisky.
The hotel is in the middle of a refurbishment, although 53 rooms in the most historic section are still open, along with Ducasse’s restaurant. The works will preserve legendary elements including the American Bar, the Salle Empire and the façade but otherwise totally reimagine the hotel. The number of suites will be nearly doubled, and additions will include a garden courtyard, spa and an underground tunnel to the Le Sporting entertainment complex. Although many guests will only be interested in the short stroll across Casino Square.