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

Friday - - TRAVEL -

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


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