The Hedonist: Monaco
What to see and where to be seen
Friday 30 March 2012
It's the playground of the rich and famous where millionaires, billionaires and gazillionaires pack themselves in like sardines for the privilege of having an address on this grain of sand on the Côte d'Azur. In these straitened times, it's easy to assume a strong dislike for a place such as Monaco, but embrace the grandiosity for what it's worth and you'll quickly forget about notions of austerity.
The stretch of highway from Nice to Monaco is just like a Grace Kelly movie, only I'm not in an open-topped car (I'm in a taxi) and my male companion (the taxi driver) isn't quite so swoon-worthy.
After driving through the trenches of mismatched high-rises, narrow palm tree-lined boulevards and a short stretch of coastline filled with yachts and cruise ships seemingly bigger than the country itself, I arrive at the Monte Carlo Beach Club (00 33 493 286 666; monte-carlo-beach.com).
Perching prettily in a quiet cove at the end of Avenue Princesse Grace, the hotel is the perfect place to watch over the everyday humdrum: Monégasques driving Ferraris, Monégasques lying by the pool. Inside the fire-coloured hotel, the cosy, non-fussy interiors of my room make me feel at ease. The sea view doesn't hurt, either.
Opting out of the transportation mode of choice – any supercar will do – I take a stroll over to the Casino de Monte Carlo (00 377 98 06 21 21; casinomontecarlo. com) for a few aperitifs and a spot of gambling. This is a man's town, and preferably the middle-aged, mid-life crisis kind. Being young and female, my success on the roulette table isn't attracting the best attention. I can feel daggers being thrown at me, so I take this as my cue to cash in my chips and head for dinner.
I've heard rumours that this tiny principality isn't all about champagne and caviar and in fact has its own distinctive foods, such as barbajuan, a fried ravioli stuffed with cheese and spinach. The roulette croupier tells me the best place to try it is at Le Castelroc (00 377 93 30 36 68; restaurant-castelroc.com). Across from the Prince's Palace, hidden among souvenir shops and tour buses, this is no hole in the wall, but definitely a locals' hangout.
After polishing off an estocaficada (Niçoise fish soup), a cigar and schnapps with a local couple, we head over for drinks at Sass Café (00 377 93 25 52 00; sasscafe .com). There's a sea of blazers and heels queuing to get in for a drink in the bijou bar. As I'm with locals, I manage to rush the queue and walk straight in. Inside, Sass looks like any old French bar with stained carpets and mirrored walls, but in a place where you are likely to rub shoulders with Bernie Ecclestone and Philip Green on a slow night, there's a buzz of self-importance among the crowd that even the most self-effacing will be excited by.
My new friends and I head to the bar to knock back a few shots and, before we know it, we're belting out the lyrics to "I Will Survive" with a balding oligarch and his Romanian mistress. Before the pace has a chance to slow, we head to Jimmy'z (00 377 98 06 36 36; fr.jimmyzmontecarlo.com). Jet set is the only way to describe the crowd of loafer-wearing Europhiles that has been living it up in this club since the Seventies. After many more drinks and a boogie with an Elton John lookalike, I stumble along the boulevard back to my hotel.
In the morning, head throbbing, I head over to Thermes Marins Monte Carlo (00 377 98 06 68 68; thermesmarinsmontecarlo. com) for a swim but, before I know it, my credit card is being swiped for the full-day €260 Monte-Carlo Harmony package, and a young masseuse named Vanessa is covering me in a green algae that promises to take inches off my thighs. I get so excited by the promise of a new, youthful glow that they even talk me into a shot of Botox to help with the fine lines left over from the night before.
By the end of the treatment, I'm feeling so happy with my new, trimmed self I head over to Larvotto beach to show off my expressionless face. My tiny sunlounger costs €10 for the hour (towel not included) but it pays off when a hairy-chested Saudi sends a bottle of champagne my way. Soon we're talking about his yacht parked in front of us and make plans for dinner at the Hotel Metropole (00 377 93 15 15 10; metropole.com), and specifically the restaurant of Joël Robuchon, before clubbing (again) at Jimmy'z. It's only day two in Monaco and I seem to be getting the hang of things.
A Hedonist's Guide to ... (Hg2) is a luxury city guide series for the more decadent traveller. For more information, see hg2.com
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