GRACEFUL IN MONACO
Hometo arguably the world’s most glamorous royal family, this tiny city-state welcomes celebrities and high rollers in their droves, nodoubt drawnto its glitzy nightlife and designer boutiques. Maresa Manara samples the high life in Monte Carlo
N o. No. You can’t sit there. That’s where Claudia Schiffer sits.” These aren’t usually the words I’m greeted with at lunchtime; the dilemmas I normally face are more likely to be: “Balcony or inside?”; “Starter or dessert?” Yet in Monte Carlo’s Hotel Metropole restaurant, stealing a celebrity’s seat is a real-life problem, up there with forgetting which Monet you’ve left in your Maserati and missing your helicopter to St Tropez because your Cartier is still set on Bali time.
“We do get a lot of famous people staying here,” admits Charlotte Lhermet, Hotel Metropole’s PR manager, cleverly veering me away from my chosen seat towards the lounges by the window, where an aperitif and menu await.
“Monaco is a discreet, welcoming place and that’s why celebrities like it here: They can stay in private and not be disturbed by fans,” she says, taking a sip of water and looking thoughtful. “Well… not that anyone in Monaco would actually try to bother a celebrity. They are too used to the lives of the rich and famous – this is a place where wealthy and successful people come to live because they know they can leave million-dollar artworks in their Ferraris, or not lock their doors, and come back to find everything is still there.”
The countless security cameras that swivel and zoom every time you cross
a street or walk into a shop no doubt help, I suggest, but Charlotte’s back on brand, pointing towards the perfectly placed bunches of flowers that decorate the lobby. “We change the colour theme every month. Guests and locals love it – many come in for a coffee or afternoon tea just to see the flower arrangements,” she says.
Her enthusiasm is contagious. Ever since I was a little girl I’ve heard tales about Monaco – a glamorous citystate, penned in by France and the Mediterranean and just a short drive from Italy.
It was here that my Italian great grandmother fled after an argument with her husband: he was lazy and demanding and she would have no more of it, she told friends as she boarded the first train out of Milan, bags and coat slung over her shoulder.
With Grace of Monaco at the Cannes Film Festival, and Monte Carlo’s warm weather, I just had to visit
She returned, two nights later, fizzing with life and a sense of adventure.
Now, with Nicole Kidman’s biopic of Grace Kelly opening the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and Louis Vuitton’s cruise collection dropping anchor here, it’s clear Monte Carlo’s star cachet is on the rise.
Add warm weather, beautiful scenery and a history scattered with royal tales and intrigue… I knew I had to visit.
As we lunch I learn that, like most people here, Charlotte lives in a small town in France and comes to work in Monte Carlo each morning. The world’s second smallest city-state (after the Vatican) has a population of just 30,000, yet every time there’s a big event – a society wedding, or even a Robbie Williams concert – that number rises to 200,000.
I have the whole afternoon ahead of me and, after all this talk of royalty and socialites, I’m keen to discover some of Monaco’s old-world glamour for myself. It was American actress Grace Kelly who drew the world’s eyes to Monte Carlo, marrying Prince Rainier III in 1956, and I can’t help but wonder, where the Princess liked to go in Monaco.
I decide to take the Princess Grace Tour and head across town to my first stop: Fontvieille Park and Princess Grace Rose Garden. Here, red and pink roses wend their way up the walls of fountains, and rows of sweetsmelling jasmine clamber along the
footpath. It’s perfectly manicured and incredibly peaceful, far away from the crowded marina and faded apartment tower blocks built up around the bay.
I keep walking, past the Princess Grace hospital, which was renamed in her honour in 1958, as a thank you for her work with humanitarian projects around the world. Not far from the hospital is the jardins exotique – a quiet, well-cared-for botanical garden, where cacti and desert plants stand at the foot of a cliff overlooking the water. More suited to the American desert than Europe’s Riviera, the jardins exotique was opened to the public in the 1950s and is a very popular spot.
The tour leads me back down along the bay, past superyachts at Fontvieille
I peek into the lobby and nearly trip up the stairs when I see someone sitting atmy table. Is it...?
port and buzzing cafés. Summer’s here and at the Place d’Armes – a grand central market square where Princess Grace was often seen – there’s a lively food market on the go.
F armers have come down to Monaco from the French hills, setting up shop with platters of fresh cheeses, pyramids of shiny fruit and vegetables and baskets overflowing with flour-topped bread. Surprisingly, I see plenty of normal-looking people milling around. This is where Monegasques do their weekly shop. By the time I reach Monaco-Ville, I’m enchanted. This is the city’s old town, perched between cliffs and the sea. I stop by the Place du Palais, Prince Ranier III and Grace Kelly’s official royal residence.
“Back in the 1970s Prince Ranier and Princess Grace arranged the development of new beaches and luxury housing. They also restored the palace to its former glory,” says one of the guides, tearing off my entrance ticket and waving me inside.
A few minutes ago I was wandering among food stalls with the locals, but now I’m surrounded by women dressed in Versace, snakeskin designer handbags slung over their wrists. Monaco’s got the world’s highest number of billionaires per capita – and it seems all of them are visiting the palace today.
The promenade curls around the bay, leading me to a pedestrian-only street hemmed in by some of the world’s most exclusive designer shops. I’m keen to take a look in the windows. Brands including Chanel and Valentino have all opened here. They even make lines sold exclusively in Monaco. I can’t afford any of this, so instead I head to Zara – the only non-designer shop I recognise – and buy two pairs of jeans I don’t need.
Back at Hotel Metropole, tourists crowd around the courtyard, their cameras flashing and popping. On my way to my room I peek into the lobby and nearly trip up the stairs when I see someone sitting at my table: a blur of sunglasses, loose blonde curls and flashing diamonds. Is it…?
I look around for confirmation – a rogue autograph pad or a sly iPhone camera shot – but, as Charlotte promised, there are no hysterical celebrity chasers here. Everyone’s as cool as a cucumber, busying themselves as they read the evening papers, drink tea and generally look stylish.
I try to be like them, and end up sitting on my hotel balcony, Zara bags thrown on the floor, wishing I’d been brave enough to go and ask for an autograph. I get up to have a cool drink from the minibar, but quickly slam the fridge door shut when I see the price.
Then, a note is quietly slipped under my door. My taxi transfer back to Nice airport has been cancelled; in its place I’ll be boarding a Heli Air helicopter for a seven-minute flight over the Mediterranean. A helicopter! I squeal to no one in particular. I’m excited and impressed. Since getting to Monaco, I’ve slept at the city’s most exclusive hotel, taken a Princess Grace tour, spotted a celebrity and now I’m going to fly in a helicopter. This really is one of the world’s most glamorous destinations.
The lavish exterior of Hotel Metropole, Monte Carlo; the ideal place to stay for celebrity spotting
Nicole Kidman in the biopic of Grace Kelly opening the 2014 Cannes Film Festival
Hotel Metropole has a pool with a view
The beautiful scenery of Monte Carlo Bay will take your breath away
Monaco is the world’s second smallest city-state
The Princess Grace tour takes in her most treasured spots
Place du Palais was Princess Grace’s official royal residence and is now open to the public