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5 of the best hotels in Monaco
Hotel de Paris
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.
1. Hôtel 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.
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 Austria 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 has been undergoing a four year refurbishment program, which is expected to be completed by December this year. The works will preserve legendary elements including the American Bar, the Salle Empire and the façade but otherwise totally reimagine the hotel. The property has remained open during the works and thus far has already revealed its new Le Grill restaurant and the Princess Grace Suite. The latter is one of the most extravagant hotel suites in the world, designed in homage to Princess Grace it is available upon request from €30,000 per night.
Picture courtesy of Alex Poison/ Shutterstock.com
The Hermitage is a neo-classical glamour queen of a hotel. If Marie Antoinette had been born two centuries later she would have delivered her bon mots from the balcony of a Hermitage suite – and approved of the complimentary Ladurée macarons and fat white roses. Modern divas from Kim Kardashian to Lindsay Lohan meet journalists in the nooks of the hotel’s marble wedding cake of a lobby, retreating – when they’ve had enough – into its hushed, pearly-tiled maze of corridors.
The Hermitage was built in 1900, literally in the shadow of the Hôtel de Paris, but ready to compete. The Salle Belle Epoque ballroom was designed by painter and orientalist Gabriel Ferrier; Gustave Eiffel penned the glass dome of the Winter Garden.
Fantastical parties here have attracted jet setters since the jet was invented; for example, the opening gala of the Bar of the Scorpions (now the Crystal Bar), held in 1969 on Princess Grace’s 40th birthday – her Zodiac sign was Scorpio and she invited only other Scorpios. “Princess Grace was dressed by Balenciaga in a black ballgown,” says Pascal Camia, general manager at Hôtel Hermitage. “She welcomed Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who arrived in an oversized cape with two scorpions embroidered on it; as well as David Niven and his wife.”
Renovated in the 1970s and early 2000s, all the rooms are romantic, with rococo furniture upholstered in pastel silks and velvets. But the 361-square-metre Diamond Suite Penthouse – Camia’s favourite – is real princess territory. Decorated in taupe, aubergine and gold, it features two sprawling terraces, three bedrooms, three living rooms, two dressing rooms, a playroom and 360-degree views of the principality.
Views are the hotel’s greatest luxury, with sweeping panoramas the Monaco Yacht Show in Port Hercules along its broad southern flank. The Crystal Terrace is a good spot to enjoy them with the signature cocktail One Fifty. A few steps away, the one Michelin-starred Le Vistamar restaurant serves stylish cuisine with a fish focus and is one of the best restaurants to visit during the Monaco Yacht Show.
In the Thermes Marins spa, which towers above the superyachts in the harbour below, the brave can try cryotherapy – a sort of cold sauna that will leave you with the serotonin-induced glow of a marathon runner. The apprehensive may prefer La Prairie Platinum Ultimate Youth Treatment, where two specialists use pure platinum to pamper you head to toe. Again, Marie Antoinette would have approved.
Picture courtesy of Veniamin Kraskov/ Shutterstock.com
Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo
In Edith Wharton’s 1905 novel The House of Mirth her character – on the run from a romance – is drawn to this Monte Carlo hideaway, with its “exotic coquetry of architecture, the studied tropicality of the gardens”. The Metropole remains Monaco’s snuggest sanctuary and the closest it gets to a boutique hotel.
Much of this is smoke and mirrors – it is less than 100 metres from Casino Square – but artfully composed box hedges, and an extremely long drive, give it the feeling of a secret garden. The organic atmosphere is enhanced in the lobby with fantastical flower arrangements by Miss Rose – she describes the effect as a “green dream”.
Since it opened in 1889, guests have felt comfortable enough at the Metropole to indulge their whims. The current concierge once had to buy a metre of grass so a guest could practise golf in his suite, and on another occasion, staff used a crane to lift a throne to the Presidential Suite for a visiting king.
The hotel was renovated and reopened in 2004, primped and preened by a cache of star designers including Jacques Garcia, Karl Lagerfeld and Didier Gomez – and with chef Joël Robuchon attached. The resulting atmosphere is honey coloured, velvety, deeply upholstered and low-lit. The monolithic lobby bar feels like somewhere Howard Carter might have sipped his last G&T before setting off to find King Tut. Upstairs, four signature suites – Prestige, Designer, Azur and Carré d’Or – cater to different tastes, including one with a Philippe Starck bathroom and another with a view of the Grand Prix circuit.
The pool is the centre of cool at the hotel. In summer the roof is rolled back to better show off the Lagerfeld-designed fresco on glass panels. During the day, those who have exhausted themselves in the massive gym nibble at the healthy lunches designed by Robuchon at Odyssey. In the evening, non-residents rock up for cocktails around the water. Less saintly eats are served in the classic Med restaurant Joël Robuchon, and there’s the excellent Japanese Yoshi. The Spa Metropole by Givenchy that opened in May last year is a treat, a suitably light and airy space with a tome of treatments. You could hole up here for quite some time.
Picture courtesy of Hotel Metropole Monte Carlo
Monte Carlo Beach Hotel
There is a famous – and once risqué – poster by Jean-Gabriel Domergue showing two beach belles in swimming costumes and the legend that “the most beautiful women in the world summer in Monte-Carlo”. At that time, in the late 1920s, this was almost certainly a lie. True, they wintered there – especially Russian aristocrats escaping brutal winters of home – but you were unlikely to see a countess sunbathing in June. The Monte-Carlo Beach hotel changed that.
The low, sprawling art deco building was finished in 1929 to lure in high-end summer tourism and the American gossip columnist Elsa Maxwell was drafted in to fill it with fashionable people. She was on good terms with jet sets from Cairo to New York (she introduced Maria Callas to Aristotle Onassis) and thanks to her the ’20s roared well into the next decade at Monte-Carlo Beach.
A 2009 makeover from Parisian design guru India Mahdavi has returned the hotel’s style to its chic, deco prime. The two-bedroom Sunshine Suite features a spa pool and private terrace – but all the rooms are fabulous, with muted colours, stylised prints and “strong visual references from the Riviera of the 30s”, as Mahdavi puts it. It’s easy to imagine the crimped starlets and bow-tied bounders lounging around the pool today. Indeed, Leonardo DiCaprio has been spotted keeping up his Gatsby role, smoking cigars and playing poker under the grey-striped cabanas of the Monte-Carlo Beach Club, while Beyoncé occasionally zips in by yacht.
The hotel is not strictly speaking in Monaco – it’s just over the eastern border in France – but this location makes it the bolthole of choice for visitors who want a break from the principality’s pneumatic glamour. One Michelin-starred Elsa, its bright restaurant and breezy terrace, is a great lunch escape during the Monaco Yacht Show. And, of course, there’s a spa for those who are there to show off their poster-perfect physiques by the water.
Picture courtesy of Monte Carlo Société Des Bains De Mer
So it’s not a hotel, and strictly speaking it’s just over the border in France, but unless Prince Albert offers you a bunk at the palace during the Monaco Yacht Show, Villa la Vigie is the most exclusive address in town. Sitting high on the Pointe de la Veille promentary, its vistas sweep from Monaco to Roquebrune-Cap-Martin (the views are so good that the Germans seized it as an observation post in the Second World War).
The neoclassical monolith was built in 1902 by the English baronet William Ingram, owner of The Illustrated London News and a liberal politician. He held lavish parties, where his rare animals roamed the gardens and tropical birds fluttered freely. Ingram was a keen naturalist who introduced birds of paradise to Little Tobago to save them from extinction.
Forty years later the Nazis were more troublesome tenants, digging trenches and planting mines in the gardens to protect their prize. When they left, La Vigie was renovated and the lush gardens restored (and de-mined).
The villa’s most famous resident was Karl Lagerfeld, who set up camp each summer from the late ’80s to the early ’90s with a brigade of supermodels and fashion royalty.
Today the villa, owned by SBM, can be rented for holidays on a weekly or monthly basis. Sleek interior décor in pale tones and sumptuous fabrics allow the elegant architecture to shine, while tall windows flood the place with light.
There are six bedrooms, two dressing rooms and a 237-square-metre terrace that wraps around two sides of the building; there is no finer spot on the Riviera for a sundowner. Privacy is a major draw for high net worth visitors, so the private road and forest-cloaked gardens are a big plus, as is the sea-view spa pool. An electric car will whisk you to nearby Monte-Carlo Beach Club, where a private 10-person tent on the beach awaits La Vigie guests. It’s a great spot for lunch – mention where you’re staying if you want to raise some eyebrows.
Picture courtesy of Monte Carlo Société Des Bains De Mer