A host of new openings is providing a fresh and youthful counterpoint to Monaco’s classic glamour, as Georgia Boscawen discovers.
When one thinks of Monaco, one tends to look backward to its golden era of the 1960s and 70s. The principality experienced a monumental surge in popularity in the early 60s, largely due to the wedding of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III in 1956. Monaco was known as a glittering, fairytale destination – as well as a tax haven – which quickly made it a hotspot for celebrities, artists and aristocrats, who would spend large chunks of the summer here. Picture the Maona Monte-Carlo cabaret (which closed in at the end of the 1970s) where Omar Sharif, Liza Minnelli and Michael Caine often propped up the bar.
In the 1970s the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix (which has been held annually on the streets since 1929) became the European society event of the year – the glitterati descending to see Jackie Stewart, James Hunt and Niki Lauda take on the circuit.
Today the principality remains beautifully preserved – gardens are immaculately coifed, and marble pavements washed each night – but it can feel frozen in time. Not so much a living, evolving destination as a classic beauty preserved. That, however, is beginning to change.
“We actually opened eight days ago,” says Maona’s maître-d, who leads us through the scattering of white-clothed tables to a long, striped sofa by the water. It’s only 8pm but the new Maona Monte Carlo is a hive of activity, with the soft clicking of cutlery, soulful live piano and lots of chatter. Set just beyond the Monte Carlo Bay, the Maona of 50 years ago has been revived and is just one of Monaco’s new summer openings. Dimly lit lampshades swing over jam-packed tables, and I notice the convivial – and remarkably contemporary – atmosphere here as the sommelier confirms that the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé is a good way to settle in for the evening.
While the draw here may initially be the name, the real attraction of Maona is the restaurant, which turns into a lively party spot after dinner. The menu of Monegasque cuisine is full of decadent eats including oysters, caviar and spiny lobster. But these aren’t the only elements that carry the menu – there are also flambéed gambas a la Monegasque, finished tableside and dressed simply with a light sauce and sides of provincial-style mushrooms and stuffed aubergine. And as the music steadily hikes up, it becomes clear that this is what Monaco has been calling out for – still impeccably smart, but an atmosphere akin to that of the 1960s and attracting a younger clientele; a vibrancy and new lease of life that has been greatly missed in the last four decades.
That’s not to say there isn’t space for a more formal kind of elegance among the new guard. From the balcony of Pavyllon, Yannick Alleno’s new one-Michelin-star restaurant in Hôtel Hermitage, which opened in 2019, I can wholeheartedly confirm that the principality is still a gastronomic sensation. With a total of nine Michelin stars here, the concentration of incredible restaurants is astonishing. On Pavyllon’s immaculate terrace I’m presented with Alleno’s Insaine Salad, a combination of crunchy vegetables and herbs dressed in tomato and lemon olive oil – brilliantly refreshing on a 30-degree day like today. “Best go for the 2018 Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru Île des Vergelesses Blanc,” suggests the sommelier. Two perfectly cooked fillets of red mullet with tomato and chermoula follow.
The roll call of trendy new restaurants and beach clubs includes Amazonico on Place du Casino, a vibrant brasserie filled with lush foliage on a kaleidoscopic rainforest-inspired terrace overlooked by the domed roof of the casino. It follows two other much-loved Amazonico restaurants in London and Madrid and will serve food inspired by the countries of the Amazon. Club La Vigie (another 1960s revival) lies at the end of the Monte-Carlo Beach peninsula. Open for the summer season only, this canopied waterside spot is exactly what you would hope to find at a cool riviera restaurant, with a bright yellow colour scheme and chilled beats chiming over the chatter.
The menu is designed by Marcel Ravin, of two-Michelin-star Blue Bay, and consists of sharing platters, finger food, stuffed calamari, catch of the day up on the chalkboard and, for carnivores, tomahawks doused in chimichurri. Other openings include La Môme, an elegant rooftop restaurant overlooking Port Hercule with Mediterranean cuisine, and Conscientiae, a new sustainable restaurant which takes the place of Stars’N’Bars.
What surprises me most is the convivial atmosphere that fills Monaco, which stops short of pretension. These new restaurants are injecting energy and informality into the principality. Monaco Société des Bains De Mer – the company that owns the resort of Monaco (and 25 of its restaurants) – has kept an eye on this evolution to retain the elegance of the principality. It’s an art form; and one that seems to be paying off. In most of these spots, as at Maona, there is a dress code – nothing too restrictive, but no shorts, flip-flops or anything too garish. But many of these places have struck the balance of laid-back luxury: smart, but not stuffy.
Of course, Monaco will never just be about chilled-out waterside spots and beach parties, and it’s clearly not trying to become a replacement for Pampelonne Beach. It needs the classic spots in there too – especially those that can knock most other restaurants out of the park when it comes to luxury. I think of this in the lobby of Hôtel Hermitage, where the marble floors are polished to a mirror shine and plumes of blue delphiniums rise from gilded vases in the pillared hall. “The florist comes at least once a week to change them,” says the concierge from behind his marble plinth, which stands a metre tall.
Boasting one of the best views in the principality over Port Hercule, few places could provide such a gleaming example of Monaco as Hôtel Hermitage, and from the vast pillowy bed dressed in incalculable thread count in my serene pale blue room I’m not sure there is a better way to peer back at the industry I know so well.
Ultimately, classics are classic for a reason, but the influx of new openings is certainly helping to inject some vibrancy into the principality. It’s a balance, and it definitely feels as if it is appealing to Monaco’s current crowds.Read More/The best restaurants in the Mediterranean to visit by boat