Monaco How to live it up in a rich man’s world for a brief moment, no matter how low your profile or bank balance, you can eat, stay and play with the 1 per cent
IN an average week I’d see a Bentley, starting price $275,000, a total of never. In a month, the number’s just the same. Yearly, once, maybe twice. But during a four-day stay in Monaco, I spot at least 25 plus an assortment of customised Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bugattis, Aston Martins and something that looks like a Batmobile but is possibly a McLaren. Or a Pagani.
In among these uber-luxurious rides is a VW four-wheel drive. So far, so normal, until I’m up close and see it’s covered entirely with Louis Vuitton’s signature interlocking LVs and flower pattern.
The logomania doesn’t end there for, in this country of approximately two square kilometres, there are enough luxury brands for a high flyer’s shopping list. And that’s half the fun of Monaco: for a brief moment, no matter how low your profile or bank balance, you can eat, stay and play with the one per cent, and daydream about what you’d do with the money if you too lived in a tax-free haven. Here are my tips for taking on this jewel of a country: ARRIVE BY HELICOPTER If you don’t own a car costing as much as the down payment on a couple of houses, you may as well pretend you do by splurging on the seven-minute helicopter ride from Nice airport.
The Heli Air Monaco (helicopterairline.com) costs around $170 per person compared to $6 for the 22-minute, 18km trip on the train, but for movie star vibes it’s worth every cent. In addition to being able to see the second smallest country in the world in one sweeping look, you get to say “Get to da choppa!” in your best Arnold Schwarzenegger accent. OR ARRIVE BY SHIP Monaco was built on its maritime might, so another option is to find a Mediterranean cruise that includes a day excursion or overnight stay. In the next 18 months, Silversea (whose headquarters are here) has 22 different itineraries stopping there. And if Formula One car racing is your thing, you could choose the trip that coincides with May’s Grand Prix and find yourself docked in the midst of the action at Port Hercule.
The marina, and nearby areas known as La Condamine, are central to the Monte Carlo experience. It’s nestled into the base of the build-up cliff face that defines many coastal towns on the Riviera. It’s also the dock for the maritime equivalent of Bentleys and Bugattis. During my visit, I can see Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko’s Philippe Starck-designed superyacht, known as “A” sitting just offshore. STAY AT THE HOTEL HERMITAGE The five-star Hotel Hermitage (hotelhermitagemontecarlo.com) is romantic from the get go. The decor is a modern interpretation of classic French chic – think white with subtle shades of pistachio, lemon and grey offsetting decorative glass and plasterwork, brocade Louis chairs, and Belle Epoque clocks, mirrors and furnishings. I stay in a lovely junior suite with the bonus of a Juliet balcony overlooking the marina, but the place that captures my heart is the breakfast room in the Jardin d’Hiver or Winter Garden lobby. It features a stained glass and iron dome designed by Gustave Eiffel sitting above a circular internal veranda. It’s delicately patterned with flowers and illuminated by the sun, and to say it’s pretty is like saying Uluru is big.
If you stay here you’ll get access to the Monte-Carlo Beach Club, and a range of Mediterranean water activities it offers in the summer. TOUR THE PRINCE’S PALACE There’s nothing like a royal family to amp up the glamour, and in the case of the Grimaldis, there seems to be genuine opportunities to see them because, well, it’s not easy to hide in such a little country. I spy Prince Albert III behind darkened windows whizzing past in a motorcade just minutes after I’d left the State Apartments in his palace.
The Palace (palais.mc) is in the old fortified city known as Monaco-Ville. It’s made up of a series of rooms with 17th century frescoes, silk, velvet, chandeliers, mirrors, marble, portraiture, and is designed in synch with every Cinderella fairy tale you’ve read. I recommend the excellent audio tour and around 45 minutes to experience the Palace. Note, it is closed from November to April. VISIT THE MUSEUM OF THE SEA The Oceanographic Museum (oceano.mc) is the quirkiest, most delightful museum I’ve been in, not so much for the history, but for the style. It features an intriguing cabinet of marine-world curiosities called Oceanomania displayed not just with a curator’s eye but that of an interior designer. I discover, after the fact, that it was put together by an artist called Mark Dion.
The birth of modern oceanography is chronicled in a succinct, engaging style, there’s an assortment of marine animal skeletons, including an 18m whale hanging from the ceiling, live turtles, and a glass-sided aquarium for observing coral and small tropical fish from above and below the surface.
Budget around an hour for your visit then wander through the nearby St Martin Gardens and get your photo with the statue of the seafaring Prince Albert I. EAT AT ELSA Michelin-starred restaurants are easy to find in Monaco but what makes Elsa (montecarlosbm.com) special is its ethically farmed, certified 100 per cent organic menu. The French and Italian inspired dishes in my lunch degustation, as well as the bread, olive oil, and wine and are presented with the story of their origin. The bill will stretch your euro but if, like me, you believe food memories maketh the holiday, then this is the place for you.
A short side note: Elsa is located at the Monte Carlo Beach Hotel and I did a tour of some of the rooms. Like the restaurant, it’s not a cheap place to stay, and is in a quieter part of town, but the room styling is outstanding. EAT AT THE BUDDHA BAR If you’re anything like me, you’ll be so distracted by the other diners at Buddha Bar (buddhabar.com) that you’ll have little recollection of exactly what you ate.
This cult franchise started life in Paris and spawned similar eating and drinking establishment in more than 25 countries. Here it glows with low red lights and a seductive vibe. The clientele is of mixed age group, skirt length, heel height and bank balance, the music comes from the Buddha Bar’s legendary DJ mixes, and the food is Asian-inspired. It’s the perfect place for a guessing game of “who’s that and what do they do?”. PLUS A FEW MORE …
Have a drink at the casino: The first thing that struck me about the Casino Monte Carlo (casinomontecarlo.com) was the lack of poker machines and the high standard of dress.
Handsome men and elegantly attired women sat at old-school gaming tables betting small and big, in rooms that look like the Palace of Versailles. I also spotted a clock, apparently the only casino in the world with one, to inform people when it’s time to head to the adjoining opera theatre.
Walk around the country: The size of Monaco is famously compared to New York’s Central Park so it’s easy to do it all in a few hours.
To give you a sense of scale, there are Google sites that show overlaid maps of how big the country is compared to the central CBDs of Australian capital cities.
Have a drink at the Hotel de Paris: This landmark hotel is smack in the middle of Casino Square and features heavily in movies. The lobby is a study in the French art of opulent decoration and Le Bar Americain a classic Monaco destination.
The writer was a guest of Monaco Government Tourist Bureau
Monaco. Picture: Monaco Tourism
Princely Palace of Monaco State Apartments Picture: Monaco Press Centre
Hotel Hermitage — onebedroom suite seaview Picture: Monte-Carlo SBM Monaco Casino Picture: Monaco Tourism
Gambling European Room Picture: Monaco Tourism