Writer and intrepid traveller Ben Chin always has his heart on the road, whether it’s spontaneous jaunts to Barfleur, Normandy or a week’s worth of art exploration on Naoshima island; there are always more gems to uncover. So naturally, when he found himself in Monaco, it didn’t take long for him to fall for the glittering Principality’s Mediterranean charms.
Ben’s luxurious sojourn in Monaco was nothing short of pleasant surprises as he shares with us his experiences in the Principality.
The helicopter had just barely landed before I was swept away on a chauffeured car towards Monte-Carlo where my destination, the illustrious Hôtel de Paris awaited. Within minutes, I’m standing in front of the beautiful new facade of the historic hotel. Built in 1864, the grande dame had recently concluded a stunning 270-million-euros renovation spanning four years. In the grand lobby, through the revolving doors is a rich historical past where luminaries and royalty like Rothschild, Debussy, Errol Flynn and Audrey Hepburn once sipped cocktails and socialised under its lofty ceilings. Suffused with light, thanks to a new courtyard patio, the lobby feels airy, modern. A sharply-dressed waiter brings over a small basket of barbajuans – perfect, delicate morsels of spinach and ricotta – a classic Monegasque canapé.
Up to my room to freshen up before dinner at Alain Ducasse’s second restaurant in the Principality – the Mediterranean-influenced Ômer. One of the only three casino-view rooms in the hotel, the balcony opens up to the bustling Casino Square and the glamourous Casino de Monte-Carlo, a location James Bond has favoured not once, but twice. The room is elegance itself. Awash with white and soft grey, and accented with gold, pale wood and marble, it exudes stylish modernity without sacrificing its original Belle Époque charms.
To take full advantage of the sunset, we opted to go alfresco in the beautiful Jean Mus-designed garden at Ômer, sitting pretty in the new Rotonde wing of the hotel. With an impressively unimpeded view of the sea, it was like dining on board a luxury cruise. Chef Patrick Laine takes inspiration from all parts of the Mediterranean, turning out lovely mezzes like grilled artichokes with confit lemon and ‘zaatar’ aioli, and bass carpaccio. In the mornings, Ômer serves up classic breakfasts to hotel guests – arrive a little early to enjoy your own private breakfast nook under one of the sculptural ‘gazebos’ in the garden.
After a rejuvenating massage at Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo, via the private access corridor through the hotel, a quick dip in the heated saltwater pool before a light lunch at the spa’s own L’Hirondelle is in order, just to get the juices flowing. Chef Jean-Laurent Basile’s specially designed menus incorporating healthy locally-sourced produce not only taste good, but are good for you. Whether it’s meat-free or gluten free, a gourmet lunch here is never flavour-free – just expertly prepared balanced, nutritious, and delicious meals. You’ll walk back to the hotel feeling lighter, healthier, as I did.
A day of clean eating and wellness is its own reward, but I decided a little decadence in the evening was apropos. So down to the hotel’s legendary Bar Américain for a cheeky aperitif. Renowned for its cocktails and live jazz music, the storied lounge exudes 1920s glamour and has seen performances from iconic musicians like Bono.
Up on the 8th floor at the Michelin-starred Le Grill, the panoramic view of the Mediterranean coast was breathtaking. A balmy sea breeze wafted through the terrace, and through the open roof I’m seated under, carrying scents and sounds of the bustling port. My starter of the gilthead seabream ceviche with citrus from nearby Menton, France was a joyful marriage of sweet, fresh flavours. After the next course of a perfectly cooked gamberoni on saffron risotto, it quickly became apparent that Le Grill’s modus operandi, like its name suggests, is to let the premium ingredients shine through simple, straightforward preparations. Take the main course – a beautifully roasted 28-day-old chicken fragranced with Provence-foraged herbs. No frills, but brilliantly executed. Paired with a glass of velvety Cheval Noir Saint-Émilion 2016, there’s not much more one could ask for. Except perhaps an order of the hotel’s signature Grand Marnier souffle to round off the meal in style.
But the true pièce de résistance is undoubtedly Le Louis XV, Alain Ducasse’s 3 Michelin-starred flagship restaurant. Recently reimagined by designers Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku in 2015, its ornate Versailles-inspired interiors are at once opulent but modern. A stately halo-shaped chandelier holds court in the dining room decorated with classic frescoes and Baroque-style mural art – the perfect setting for Chef Dominique Lory’s contemporary haute cuisine. The first hotel restaurant ever to receive three Michelin stars, Le Louis XV refreshingly eschews the traditions of formal French dining. Service is impeccable, charming, unobtrusive. Minor flourishes enthrall and whet the appetite for courses to come; a light broth is poured over seafood on a bed of hot stones and voila! Perfectly steamed in seconds.
Out on the terrace overlooking the Casino de Monte-Carlo, the chilled melon broth with blue lobster, lemongrass and ginger seemed made for the Mediterranean summer. Piquant and refreshing, it balanced sweet, sharp and umami delightfully. Chef Lory is masterful with his bounty of fresh harvest of produce from the region, highlighting their natural flavours with precise techniques. Ducasse has said that chefs were simply the bridge between nature and customers, and his philosophy shines through in the deceptively simple Provence garden vegetables cooked in black truffle, as well as the coastal turbot with courgettes, squid and nasturtium.
What an exquisite taste of Monaco.
Follow Ben on his travels on Instagram @abenapart
Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo
The ultimate luxury of the palatial surroundings, the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo has been specially redesigned for an unforgettable, 5-star experience. For a stay in Monaco like no other, the palace’s crown jewels are the new Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III Suites, which are simply without equal on the French Riviera.
A gem overlooking the roofs of the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo, the Prince Rainier III Suite pays tribute to the “Builder Prince” of Monaco. This 830 sqm suite – which can be extended up to 895 sqm in a triple suite) is bathed in sunshine for 300 days a year. Inside, sculptures created by Prince Rainier III, paintings from his personal collection and original photographs adorn the suite. Outside, the two-level 350 sqm terrace offers a breathtaking view of the Place du Casino, the Mediterranean Sea, furthermore, a gorgeous panorama that encompasses both Monaco, France and Italy in a distance.
On the other side, the exceptional 2-floor, 983 sqm Princess Grace Suite boasts a refined and modern décor and spectacular terraces offering a 180° view of the Mediterranean. The princess’s work and her personal souvenirs, including her favourite poems and books, are displayed in this magnificent suite.
This is an experience ever so unique, rare and intimate.
Place du Casino, 98000 Monaco
Tel: +377 98 06 30 00