The tiny Riviera tax haven is one of the most luxurious destinations in the world, frequented by many a celebrity and billionaire yacht owners. Editor in Chief Georgie Bradley stays at Hotel Hermitage and lives out the ultimate high life fantasy…
As the helicopter lifted up from the ground with a shaky hover against its own gusty air from below, I gulped with a pang of trepidation – our next stop was Monte Carlo – a swift 12-minute journey from Nice’s airport. I was flying with Heli Air Monaco – a 50 flight per day service – to the glitzy shores of Monte Carlo, lined with palm trees, quaintly coloured front doors and steeply-inclined streets. The Principality of Monaco has enjoyed a reputation of wealth and glamour, and my choice of transport to it, only seemed appropriate. The helicopter skimmed over the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, where the sun flared its rays onto the slightly choppy waters giving them a soft glow. The surreal “is this really happening?” moments set in from the outset; as we landed in Monte Carlo a fleet of shiny black Mercedes were waiting for us just off the heli pad – ah, a heli pad, the hallmark of Monegasque life.
Winding between low-rise apartment buildings and stand-alone houses with impressive marbling and pillars I caught glimpses of the yacht filled ports as we chartered across the dainty streets. Being such a small place, 499 acres, Monaco feels like a playground for adults – with unlimited funds. What fun.
Monaco is home to a clutch of handsome hotels, historically rich and dripping with decadence. At the time I had just finished a breathtaking week in Paris for Fashion Week – my energy levels were down and I needed to luxuriate to get back on track – it’s a fabulously hard life, what can I say? Hotel Hermitage, my home for three nights, sits lordly on a gradient above the main port, overlooking the old-town.
The grounds are endless, or rather, deep and layered. The main lobby is of a modest size but with the prestige of crystal chandeliers and elegance in its furnishings. It is said to be the birthplace of a luxury palace where at the dawn of the 20th century, Monegasque architect Jean Marquet built an upscale and luxurious hotel, a neoclassical edifice among orange and olive trees dotting Monte-Carlo, facing the sea. The labyrinth layout hints at The Shining’s Overlook Hotel, minus the twins and the general sense of foreboding – the Hotel Hermitage’s historic soul lingers on every staircase, every inch of the ceilings and the Winter Garden’s iconic glass roof speaks volumes of sophistication – even with its restoration, its former glory is still very much intact.
The 278 rooms and 88 suites and 12 Diamond Suites renovated by Pierre-Yves Rochon offer unique comfort, a beautiful blend between ancient and contemporary. Hotel Hermitage perpetuates the chic quality of the Riviera and Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer’s art of entertaining. When I’m shown to my room, it’s as if I’ve walked into legend. The Belle Époque style interiors are intimate, cosy and rich – if you’re a lover of luxury, you’ve met your match here. Despite being tastefully modernised, you can’t fault the historical loyalty – it almost feels like a black & white film set where Grace Kelly would be sitting all plumped up in a dramatic gown getting her makeup done against the vastly high ceilings.
The nods to neo-classical style give an apt worldly touch to a hotel that has seen its fair share of the world’s glittering stars but also discreet tycoons who come to bask in the fruits of their labour in absolute splendor. The bed, more than your typical King size proportions is exceedingly comfortable.
The balcony overlooks the main port and the stacked up city – Monaco has a very tight feel to it but the residents are so warm and happy you look past it. I can imagine drooping over the balcony during the Grand Prix – taking in all the excitement and fervor of the season –is a sight to behold. The twee table and chairs make for a perfect spot for breakfast where you can gaze longingly as the day rises above you – again, the makings of a movie!
I was travelling solo but joined a dynamo of Brazilian journalists, also on this press trip, to experience this opulence together. We started off by going on a complete hotel tour – we were even given a map so as to chart our whereabouts, it’s a real complex of a hotel – and we visited the many showpiece suites in this plush property. Among them was the Diamond Penthouse Suite of unparalleled splendor. Each room in this suite is delicately infused with haute-couture tones of taupe, aubergine and gold. You’ve got ample space including: three bedrooms, three living rooms, three bathrooms, two dressing rooms and one playroom for children with two terraces offering a panoramic 360 degree vide of the port. The classic touches are balanced with contemporary finishes (cutting-edge technology) that make it uber special.
When it comes to dining, Monte Carlo is the centre of gastronomic greatness. In the four days I was there, there wasn’t one meal which wasn’t of Michelin standard. Dinner at Le Vistamar by Chef Joel Garault on the first night proved to be the best entry into the amazing offerings at this property. This restaurant is devoted to culinary art as well as home-grown goodness. Chef Garault sources his vegetables, fruit and herbs at the Condamine Market in Monaco, all provided by a local farmer.
Each dish came meticulously prepared with flair and grace – my Hake fish gambero
rosso from Genoa gulf/fennel was particularly smooth to cut into and was subtle and fresh in flavour and was my first foray into this member of the fish family, a real treat. With its idyllic setting overlooking the sea, you can’t go wrong here.
For a tipple before lights out, I sauntered to the Limun Bar, located close to the lobby. It’s an intimate and elegant space decorated in pastel hues and is a prime venue to unwind after dinner. When it comes to spas, I cannot call myself a novice anymore. I have had my fair share of experiences that can only be likened to heaven-state. I was booked in for a Cryotherapy experience and a massage at Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo.
The former left me with the most exhilarating feeling – I felt exhausted and energised in one go. You enter two cold chambers, one at -60 degrees and the other at -110 degrees (this is said to be the temperature in space) and you quite literally freeze. I managed to get through two whole minutes before my brain was about to explode. The experience is said to procure relaxation and reduce stress, I can also add that it gives you a youthful glow afterwards – all that freezing gives you a renewed freshness. I then headed to the treatment rooms for a soothing massage in a white washed, calming set up. Stress doesn’t stand a chance at Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo, it’s supreme. You can also enjoy a light lunch at the health restaurant, L’Hirondelle, on its sun-dappled terrace. My meal was luminous in colour (prawn fritters, mango carpaccio, avocado tartar with fresh tomatoes, ponzu dressing) and a complete knockout in taste.
Beyond Hotel Hermitage the Brazilian journalists and I whisked around the coast of Monte Carlo to visit other Société des Bains de Mer properties, namely the famous: Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort and Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel. These choice properties are in the high-rolling heart of the hotel circuit and are ludicrously luxurious in every possible sense.
If you want to soak up the sun in the summer months, these hotels offer the perfect getaway experience, taking care of your and your every want and need. We also had a nine (nine!) course meal at the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort’s Blue Bay restaurant by Chef Marcel Ravin. As far as sensory journeys go, this one was on overdrive. Among the standout dishes were: roasted racks of lamp coated with homemade lard and honey as well as the Elsa soufflé with Sicilian almonds. It was impossible to get more out of the Monte-Carlo dining experiences – ah, what a struggle to have.
Monaco is a packed bubble of extravagance and spectacle. I highly doubt I will ever be a true Monegasque, but this extraordinary trip gave my mere mortalness an exciting jolt into a world like no other.
Editor in Chief