A country’s identity can be hard to pin down. Monaco, however, is synonymous with one thing: luxury. It’s everywhere you turn, from the Lamborghinis that roar along the winding roads to the super-super yachts that glint in the harbour. So it’s no surprise that the tiny municipality has 12 Michelin-starred restaurants all within a stone’s throw. If it’s glamour you’re after, Monaco is the place to come. And, for a long weekend, it’s a foodie’s paradise too.
I was there to celebrate the coming together of six Michelin-starred chefs – all members of Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer – in the lavishly ornate Salle Médecin (a room within the Monte-Carlo casino usually reserved for the highest of the high rollers).
The food was spectacular, the wine sublime and I didn’t even mind that we weren’t supposed to leave the table (even to go to the bathroom!) while H.S.H Prince Albert II was still seated. But more on that later…
Where to stay
The Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo has been welcoming guests for more than 150 years and after a four year $280 million renovation, it shines bright as one of the world’s top five-star hotels. The grand atrium is the place to see and be seen; a quick peruse of the hashtag tells me this spot carries social media cachet.
But away from the dazzle of the lobby, there is a tranquillity to be found. We stayed in a superior double; the room was beautifully furnished with white wooden panelling and a little terrace that overlooked the sea. Despite the renovation, the walls feel steeped in history and little touches like personalised biscuits – “Welcome Alexandra, My Monte Carlo” – upon arrival elevate the experience.
Breakfast is served on the top floor terrace overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean and, like all great luxury hotels, it is a feast. It’s buffet style, with everything you could desire from delicious pastries and velvety scrambled eggs to fresh fruit and excellent champagne if you’re feeling celebratory.
I loved Le Bar Américain, which sits inside the hotel lobby. The vibe is 1920s charm with live jazz, low lighting and polished wood, and I half expected Daniel Craig’s James Bond to come sauntering through the door. Classic and modern cocktails are served with nibbles, and I could have spent a whole night there sipping Old Fashions and people watching.
Rivilling Hôtel de Paris is its classy sister, l’Hôtel Hermitage, which we could see from our balcony. It has a charming, old world elegance – and while it might not have the Insta-influencers flocking to take pictures, you get the feeling that neither the patrons nor the staff are missing them.
What to eat
The Festival des Etoilés Monte-Carlo gala dinner, which I attended on the Saturday night, was the culmination of a six-month culinary celebration. It saw six Michelin-starred chefs (Manon Fleury, Yannick Alléno, Franck Cerutti, Alain Ducasse, Dominique Lory and Marcel Ravin) come together to serve spectacular dishes such as Monte-Carlo egg with alba truffle and cassava, and a delightfully fresh squash laced with orange blossom water and cream. It was a red carpet, black-tie affair – €800 a head – and was a window into the world of Monaco’s elite.
The gala might not be an everyday affair, but, as previously mentioned, fine dining isn’t hard to find here. We had lunch at Yannick Alléno à l’Hôtel Hermitage (formally Vistamar restaurant); a light, airy room towards the back of the hotel with panoramic views over the sea. I knew we’d be in safe hands with Alléno – who was awarded his first Michelin star more than 20 years ago – but this lunch was a real highlight of the trip.
We were tucked away near the window in front of a large bed of fresh white orchids, the scent of which occasionally drifted through the room. To start, we had melt-in-the-mouth scallops encased in a creamy froth and finished with raw mushroom; they were a little taste of heaven.
Our main course was veal, soft and milky, accompanied with the lightest of onion rings. Dessert was a structural delight; a concrete ceiling of candy, with strong orange blossom, smattered with candied fruits and rose water that tasted like Turkish delight.
It was a three-course fixed menu but we were spoiled with little treats between courses; basil seaweed snaps to start and a little creme caramel tartlet with coffee that I thought I couldn’t possibly finish, but devoured in minutes.
A great place to spend a lively night of gourmet dining is Le Grill – the one Michelin-starred top floor restaurant at Hôtel de Paris. We were there on a Friday night and the coastline was twinkling, the chatter animated, and the waiters energetically attentive. The vertical charcoal grill opens out into the dining room and perfumes the room with slow-cooking. Our sommelier helped us navigate the wine list that was as long as Homer’s Odyssey, recommending us a full-bodied white from his home region of Bordeaux.
There’s only one question for pudding: which flavour soufflé? I opted for hazelnut, my partner went for raspberry, and we both actually clapped when they arrived. Roughly the height and diameter of my head, they were a spectacular architectural feat. Once I’d taken a number of pictures from all angles, I dove in – and it was as light and airy as you’d hope for, with a subtle nutty taste.
What to do
We spent a good portion of the weekend gorging, but when we did tear ourselves away from the tablecloth, we visited the newly opened Hauser + Wirth gallery. Their new underground exhibition space, designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, is lit from above by a dramatic skylight, illuminating an expertly curated selection of modern works from around the world.
Space is at a premium in Monaco and while the American humourist Mark Twain famously said “Buy Land. They’re not making it anymore”, that isn’t strictly true here. In Monaco, they build out not up; the latest expansion (costing €2 billion) builds out a further 15 acres into the Mediterranean. In keeping with that theme, the gallery building ingeniously challenges the impulse to extend skywards, instead creating a subterranean cultural sanctuary in the centre of town.
It was mid Autumn but the skies were blue, and the air fresh. Since the municipality is roughly the same size as New York’s Central Park, a great way to sightsee (unless you’ve arrived in a sleek convertible) is by electric bike. They’re cheap to hire and you can zoom along the Grand Prix race track pretending you’re in Formula 1.
We cycled over to the old town and up to the Prince’s Palace. The peaceful, pastel-coloured streets are lovely to wander through, and the views from the ramparts are spectacular. We meandered leisurely back down towards the ocean, soaking in the historic buildings and dropping into some boutique stores.
The only way to end a weekend of opulent dining is an afternoon at the Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo spa. I had a transformative 90 minute massage, personally tailored after a brief consultation.
We dined at the spa’s L’Hirondelle restaurant, situated at the crest of a hill overlooking the Port. Even a casual lunch in Monaco – some patrons still wore their spa robes – didn’t disappoint, with exciting ocean-inspired seasonal flavours prepared with an artful flourish, and excellent service. Chef Jean Laurent- Bastille’s light and healthy menu is the perfect accompaniment to a spa day.
We finished our indulgent Sunday sat in the jacuzzi that overlooks the harbour. And, as the occasional sailing boat made its way along the horizon, we couldn’t help feeling on top of the world.
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