Monaco needs no introduction. Everybody knows about the tiny Riviera principality that’s wedged along the Mediterranean between Italy and France. TV and the tabloids keep us up on the Monte-Carlo Grand Prix, the Grimaldi prince and princesses in their storybook palace, the super yachts in the harbour — all the glitz and glamour and crazy wealth that’s crammed into just under 2 square kilometres, a space smaller than Central Park.
But what’s it like to actually go there? If you have a taste for the luxe life and feel like treating yourself to an upscale travel experience, Monaco is right up there at the top of the YOLO chart. It’s one of the safest spots on earth, spectacularly sporty in a spectator sense, and surprisingly accessible. If you’re hankering for a high-life holiday, it’s not hard to live the dream in Monaco. Here are six ways to do it:
Monaco is divided into seven districts. The Monte-Carlo district is the centre of Monaco, and the Place du Casino is Monte-Carlo’s central square. It’s loaded with architecture, atmosphere, and the beauty of the Belle Époque. Your trip to Monaco starts here.
A blindfolded statue of Fortune greets you at the entrance to the Monte Carlo Casino. The coins in her cornucopia have been rubbed to a sheen by gamblers who wouldn’t dream of hitting the slot machines or the tables — European or English Roulette, blackjack, Trente et Quarante (a European card game), Craps, or Texas Hold ‘Em — without touching them for luck.
You don’t need to be a player to visit the Casino, a lavishly decorated 19th century masterpiece by Charles Garnier. Tours are held every day before 1 pm; after that, it’s players only and photographs are not permitted.
Whether you go to gamble or just to gawk, don’t forget to reach out and touch a coin or two on your way in. Because everyone could do with a stroke of luck.
Built in 1864 with spare-no-expense extravagance, the iconic Hotel de Paris is just a few steps away from the Casino. It was the first hotel in the world to offer private bathrooms, and it has drawn names at the top of international VIP lists ever since.
It’s got major presence, oozes prestige, boasts the best viewing position on the F1 Grand Prix racetrack and, PS: houses one of the oldest, largest, and reputedly most beautiful wine cellars in the world.
On the left of the lobby is the Bar Americain. You can settle in for a cocktail or two at this legendary piano bar, flanked by black and white photographs of the celebrity clients who made it famous. On the right is the 3-Michelin-starred Le Louis XV-Alain Ducasse restaurant, freshly renovated for Spring 2016. This room is top-of-the-line gastroglam and a perennial favourite with global foodies.
Just around the corner on the tree-lined Place Beauharnais is the Hotel Hermitage, a neoclassical turn-of-the-century gem. It has the same ‘palace’ designation (5+ stars) as the Hotel de Paris, but with a warmer, more intimate vibe.
The elegance is more subtle, the decor a more familiar blend of classic and contemporary, and its gorgeous ambient fragrance (a magnum-sized diffuser of one of its two signature scents greets you in the lobby) had me swooning at the door. Depending on the season, there can be special rates that make it more affordable, so book one if you can.
Whatever you do, be sure to go for breakfast in the beautiful Winter Garden, a light-filled glass conservatory created by pupils of the master metal architect Gustav Eiffel, (yes, of tower fame). And you’ll love the million-dollar views over lunch at the 1-Michelin-starred Le Vistamar, with the impeccable seafood of Chef Joël Garault and dessert creations of Nicolas Baygourry.
Connected directly to Hotel de Paris and Hotel Hermitage, the 4-storey Thermes Marins Spa has it all – workout area, treatments galore, an immense saltwater pool and soul-stirring views of the sea.
Feeling jetlagged? Try cryotherapy – a sports medicine derivative, this brief but powerful slam of intense sub-zero cold is said to melt it away. Been overdoing it lately? A slimming detox with green tea could get you back on track. And don’t miss the divinely light dishes for lunch on the terrace at L’Hirondelle restaurant, where you can kick back in your terrycloth robe and soak up the view.
The menus, according to Chef Jacky Oberti, “are composed with pleasure in mind – never ignore the little sins of greed that are the delight in life.”
Shopper alert: all the luxury labels are here. Some, like Chanel, Lanvin, Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent, are temporarily housed in the futuristic white pods of Les Pavillons Monte-Carlo, overlooking Place du Casino. Others, like Hermès, Gucci, and Louboutin, are clustered close by.
You can do them all and have time for a bite at Café de Paris, the landmark of brasserie chic on Place du Casino. Service is nonstop from 8 a.m. – 2 a.m. In case you’re wondering, the outside terrace is the place to see and be seen.
All photos credited to Lin Stranberg.