Es­cape

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

Sunday Territorian - - FRONTIER - JANA FRAWLEY

STORY

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

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