Hidden beneath a Monaco glittering with new age bling, Simon discovers a treasure trove of elegance left over from a gentler time
Monaco... it conjures up visions of Grace Kelly at the wheel of a classic convertible on the Grande Corniche, Aristotle Onassis chomping a cigar on the foredeck of his superyacht in the shimmering harbour, and, of course, high octane thrills and spills around the narrow streets of the most historic circuit of them all. Right?
I’m trying hard to channel that vibe sitting in a Russian-owned seafood restaurant overlooking that same harbour, the table next door occupied by a gaggle of Chanel-clad Russians girls, and a lonely Italian lady in the corner singing to an echoing backing track. In Russian.
There’s no sign of Onassis, but looming offshore are two gargantuan Philippe Starck-designed yachts vying for ‘Mine’s Bigger Than Yours’ bragging rights. Except that they both belong to the same man and yes, you guessed it – he’s Russian too. It’s hard not to feel like Eddie Murphy’s character in Trading
Places – the pauper in the Principality. Langoustines are €270 a kilo, the menu boasts a choice of wines at €5400 a bottle, and two cocktails cost €60. You get the feeling that from the moment you step off the helicopter (the cheapest part of your stay) you’re fair game. You’ve saved the tax, so let us help you with what’s left...
Cars? Take your pick. My dinner host has laid out a table in his subterranean garage which would put most London clubs to shame, and they definitely wouldn’t boast a Bugatti Chiron at one end and a Ferrari 250GT SWB at the other. His other 38 cars are on the level below – few visitors would guess how much of this town is burrowed into the land beneath rather than above it.
The next day I’m invited to look at a modern supercar, but the owner's housekeeper can’t find it in the warren of garages tunneled into the rock. This one? No, that’s a Pagani. Or here? No, a Ferrari 550 Barchetta, uncovered and ready to be enjoyed – nobody here looks pale except garage attendants. A Mclaren P1 sits nonchalantly unprotected in another. I’m not sure whether it’s because security is so high, or locals so wealthy that supercars represent pocket change, that owners appear so nonchalant.
Moderns outnumber classics, but the diminutive Fiat Jolly outside our hotel upstages the luxobarges and ‘look at me’ projectiles. Can it take us to dinner? ‘Sorry,
monsieur, it’s not for use.’ The chic playground we all want Monaco to be isn’t entirely extinct though – it’s just hard to find. The Persuaders may have been replaced by The Oligarchs, and Formula E has arrived to snap at the heels of Formula One, but take a stroll down to the port and you’ll find the real life equivalent of Sixties TV’S Time Tunnel.
Built in 1954, Monaco Boat Service’s storage cave – the world's oldest – extends deep into the rock under the royal palace and houses a dazzling fleet of classic Riva launches, polished and tuned to perfection. Genial manager Sebastiano asks if I’d like to have a go. A shot of espresso later and we’re heading for the open water, twin 300-horsepower Chryslers throbbing behind us. I’m hooked. Next stop – a boat licence...
There's still a lot of old-world chic in Monaco, despite the new wealth that's floated in