The first time I visited Monaco, I was 15. I participated in a high school program whereby I was lucky enough to spend one month in Nice, earning my grade 11 French credit. We took some day trips during that month, once of which was to Monte Carlo. Visiting some 20 years later, nothing looked familiar to me and so I really discovered Monte Carlo for the first time when I visited with my husband Johnny Jet this past April.
We flew Air France from Toronto to Paris to Nice. Upon landing, we boarded a helicopter for a seven-minute transfer from Nice to Monte Carlo. By car, the drive is about 30 minutes but the helicopter ride takes just a quarter of the time and provides sweeping views of Monaco and the Mediterranean on approach. The rugged cliffs of the French Riviera looming over the sea below make a wonderful welcome for wide-eyed travelers like me.
Hotel de Paris
From the heliport to our hotel was a short drive. We pulled up to the legendary 5-star Hotel de Paris and I had to step back a moment to take it all in. Situated along the shores of the Mediterranean, Hotel de Paris is imposing and elegant and ideally situated on the Place du Casino, across the street from the Monte Carlo Casino. The marble lobby is huge with crystal chandeliers and soaring columns. This is definitely a place to see and be seen. The thrill that something spectacular could happen at any moment is in the air, the sense that someone fabulous might glide right past you is ever-present. Because this is where they would be. Le Bar Americain (where I’ve heard Prince Albert and his family like to come from time to time) is immediately to your left when you enter the extraordinary lobby and if you stop in, be sure to try the ‘barbajuans’ – bite-sized appetizers stuffed with spinach and cheese and the like, that are local to the region.
Our room was luxurious with all the amenities you’d expect from a 5-star hotel. Louis XVI chairs and flat screen TVs collide in a perfect fusion of past and present.
Our room at Hotel de Paris was beautiful, spacious and charming. With a vista of the Mediterranean from our balcony made for two, I went to sleep each night dreaming dreams of sailing away on one of the yachts below. Packed like sardines into a tin can, the Monte Carlo Harbour is lined with yacht after yacht. On our walk of the city one day, my husband and I even stumbled upon one called ‘Nataly’ – the spelling wasn’t quite right, but I’m not one to complain. Anyway, I digress. Back to the rooms. Our room was luxurious with all the amenities you’d expect from a 5-star hotel. Louis XVI chairs and flat screen TVs collide in a perfect fusion of past and present. The room had a sunny, seaside-inspired colour palette of sky blue and yellow, which combined to make our room bright and cheerful. My favourite part of the room was the heated floors in the bathroom. I appreciated the warm tiles underfoot whenever I walked in there. And the big tub, complete with La Prairie amenities, was lovely too.
Dining at Le Grill
Up on the 8th floor of Hotel de Paris, dining is a heavenly experience. Not just because of the divine decor and incredible menu. My husband and I took our seats at a quiet table for two that overlooked the Mediterranean. As if that wasn’t heavenly enough, shortly after our arrival, the ceiling of the restaurant began to slide open, revealing the heavens above. We sat under a canopy of night sky and stars and marveled at the beauty of it all. The canopy closed and opened throughout the night; I suspect because it was a bit too chilly to leave it open all evening. The food was incredible. The menu offers up Mediterranean-style gourmet cuisine; I had the lobster, which I highly recommend. For dessert, we tried the chocolate soufflé (soufflé seemed to be on every dessert menu we encountered in Monaco and France). The soufflé was delicious and enormous. One is more than enough to share between two.
The Spa: Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo
The Thermes Marins Spa is a must-visit. My husband and I visited as soon as we arrived – the perfect antidote to our long, red-eye journey from Toronto to Monaco. The sprawling spa facility occupies four floors and specializes in seawater therapies. You may want to try the aquagym baths or the hydromassage for something a little different. My body wrap, followed by a massage was wonderfully relaxing and rejuvenating, making the hours of travel slip away, invigorating me for the hours ahead of exploring Monte Carlo. After your treatment, enjoy a light and healthy lunch at L’Hirondelle restaurant on the premises. The lobster salad was delicious and the lemon tart was unnecessary (but delicious too!!) Of course, the restaurant is overlooking the Mediterranean and the Monte Carlo Harbour, too – but trust me, the view never gets old.
Hotel de Paris: Location, location, location
Our hotel was flanked by high-end shopping, especially along Avenue des Beaux-Arts, perhaps one of the most expensive and exclusive shopping locations in the world. Prada, Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent, among countless others, tempt pedestrians with impossibly chic store windows.
Feeling lucky? Hotel de Paris is also directly across the street from the Monte Carlo Casino, which is a must-visit stop whether you’re the betting type or not. If you do plan to drop a few Euros on the roulette table or elsewhere in the casino, don’t forget to rub the knee of the statue of Louis XIV’s horse in the lobby of Hotel de Paris. The knee has been rubbed to a golden sheen by gamblers from around the globe, looking for a bit of good luck.
Monaco is perfectly situated between France and Italy. In just mere minutes, you can be in either country. So that’s what my husband and I did. One day, we had breakfast at the Hotel de Paris, took a 24-minute train ride to Ventimiglia, Italy for lunch and came back in time to have a wonderful dinner at Elsa at the Monte Carlo Beach, which is technically in France. Three meals, three countries, one day. Ah, Europe. Gotta love it!
Hotel de Paris was a delight in every way. The service, the location, the luxurious rooms and the exquisite food all combined with the natural beauty of the French Riviera to create an unforgettable experience.