Monaco: In the fast lane

27 Aug 2015 by Michelle Harbi
There’s more to Monaco than its casino and couture – but it’s a good place to start, says Michelle Harbi Pretty young things with year-round tans pose poolside against the backdrop of a vast Grecian-inspired Karl Lagerfeld mural. A moneyed older gent peruses the business pages, his bored-looking wife touching up already immaculate make-up; chic groups chatter over Joel Robuchon-designed dishes; and flirtatious couples sip champagne on their sunbeds. On the streets below, the sound of supercars careering around hair-raising bends interrupts my post-lunch snooze, the toot of a cruise ship audible in the distance. Monaco has long been a playground for the rich and famous, and spending a couple of days here makes for a fabulously decadent break. Start as you mean to go on and arrive by helicopter. Heli Air Monaco will whisk you up the coast from Nice airport in only seven minutes (compared with about 40 minutes by road), the densely packed principality suddenly coming into view to your left as the Mediterranean glitters to your right. Flights depart every 30 minutes and start from €220 return, with a taxi shuttle service to anywhere in Monaco included (heliairmonaco.com). My driver deposits me at the Hôtel Métropole Monte-Carlo, scene of my poolside people-watching. Dating back to 1886, the luxurious five-star property is well placed for enjoying a break here, being right in the heart of Monaco’s most glamorous quarter – steps from the casino and the couture – and yet tucked away at the end of a discreet front courtyard. While opulent, the Métropole is also relaxed and comfortable, with welcoming, highly professional staff, 141 spacious rooms and suites with sumptuous beds, marble bathrooms and Hermès amenities, a tranquil spa, and a grand, high-ceilinged lobby lounge that attracts locals as well as guests for leisurely lunches and coffee. All of the hotel’s food is overseen by Robuchon, who has two Michelin-starred establishments here – so that’s your weekend dining sorted. The two-starred eponymous restaurant serves up masterfully flavoured Mediterranean cuisine – book the chef’s table to see his team at work – while the one-starred Yoshi offers delicately prepared and presented Japanese dishes. Once you’ve finished, stroll across to the casino (and actually go in, unlike the hordes that gather simply to gaze at the grand Beaux Arts building and the luxury cars lined up outside). It’s surely worth a flutter, but even if you’re not into gambling, watching those who choose to chance their arm at the tables is tremendous fun – as is taking in the beyond-lavish décor and the frequently interesting fashions. Speaking of clothing, you won’t miss the bizarre-looking oversized pods on the other side of Place du Casino – housing not alien life forms but the world’s biggest luxury brands. The Pavilions Monte-Carlo opened last year as a temporary home for the likes of Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent while renovations are carried out at their usual locations in the Hôtel de Paris and Sporting d’Hiver building. The shopping centre next to the Métropole houses a wide range of other brands in a more traditional chandelier-clad space. Still, you don’t want to spend all your time indoors. At 2.2 sqkm, Monaco is tiny, so is easy to explore on foot in a short time, although be prepared for sharp inclines. (There are tucked away lifts and escalators if you want to save your legs – ask the locals.) If you have only ever seen Formula One’s best-known hairpin bend on TV, then take a walk down in person – it’s just in front of the Fairmont hotel. It’s a pleasant stroll north-east of here along the modest beachfront, although the real spectacle is to be had in the other direction, where some of the world’s most jaw-dropping superyachts are moored around Hercules port. Towering over them all on the harbour is the sleek new home of Yacht Club de Monaco, which opened last year in a vast cruise liner-shaped building designed by Norman Foster. The private members’ club organises Monaco Classic Week, which takes place this month, as well as about 20 international regattas a year. Pop into Brasserie de Monaco, by the Grand Prix finish line, for juicy burgers, sizeable pizzas and craft beer brewed on site (brasseriedemonaco.com). Then take the steep walk up to the charming narrow streets of the old town – the Rock – where you’ll be rewarded with fine views down to the port and out to sea. Should the trek be too much, there are frequent signs advising how far it is to the nearest defibrillator – just in case all this good life has got to you.
  • Room rates at the Hôtel Métropole Monte-Carlo in October started from e440 online. 4 Avenue de la Madone; tel +377 9315 1515; metropole.com 
  • visitmonaco.com
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