There’s a model draping herself across a silver-plated mirror in the lobby of the famous Hôtel Metropole Monte-Carlo. She teeters on a replica Louis XV comfort couch, flaunting her silken gown, fluttering her eyelashes at the photographer crouched before her. Guests come and go, oblivious to the sequence unfolding nearby. For glamour is as commonplace as air at the Hôtel Metropole: it wafts through the gilded spaces, brushing up against its surfaces, infusing them with a subtle but unmistakably luxurious scent.
If opulence is indeed the theme of this fashion shoot, then the Hôtel Metropole Monte-Carlo – redesigned in 2004 by architectural and interior designer Jacques Garcia – provides the perfect backdrop. Its chequer-tiled Princes’ Salon and Conciergerie are filled with neoclassical pedestal tables, black basalt stone vases from Egypt, a striking, empire-style chandelier in the entrance, doors upholstered in lush, 18th-century Cordoue leather and vases modelled on those gifted by Napoleon to his darling Josephine.
Though every surface here begs to be touched – gilt, satin, velvet, marble, glass – there is nothing stuffy about this grand old dame. Thanks to Garcia’s vision, she’s kept up with the times – and is just as much at home in modern Monte-Carlo as she was when she came of age here during the fabled era of the Belle Époque (1870-1914).
I could spend my entire Monaco sojourn cocooned here at the Hôtel Metropole, for contained within it is a superfluity of fine eateries (including the two-Michelin-starred Joel Robuchon Monte-Carlo and Robuchon’s very first Japanese restaurant, Yoshi), a spa that combines modern techniques with ancestral therapies, and a heated seawater swimming pool set within an outdoor, haute couture concept area designed by Karl Lagerfeld.
Karl Lagerfeld’s ODYSSEY swimming pool at Hôtel Métropole Monte-Carlo
From the hotel’s perch on Monaco’s Golden Square, I can breathe in the view of the surrounding principality: the Grand Casino and the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo, the palace perched upon The Rock, and the Mediterranean Sea, glittering in the distance – quite appropriately – like diamond-studded carpet.
But there’s too much to do here, too many things to sample: on my first night, I cross the square – past tourists loitering outside the Grand Casino in the hope of catching sight of a celebrity or two – to the Hôtel de Paris. Here I enter a hallowed space: Louis XV, Alain Ducasse’s famous three-star Michelin restaurant. It’s enough to just sit here, absorbing the atmosphere of this newly-refurbished institution: the aura evoked by the creamy-lemon colour palette, the silken string curtains strung from the windows, the simple dome lights that anchor each of the restaurant’s round tables.
The meal is a piece of theatre, conducted from a structure set in the centre of the restaurant and named The Office. As the evening progresses, The Office opens and closes like a stage-set to reveal the bread service, cheeses, an oil selection, liqueurs, chocolates and coffee. Waiters present our table’s six-course degustation in a carefully-timed ballet, revealing as they go such delights as papyrus-thin bread painted with pictures of vegetables; morsels of raw fish set upon pebbles in a glass-and-brass cloche and steamed before our very eyes; and tea made from bouquets of fresh herbs wheeled past our table on a trolley.
It’s hard to digest – in the emotional sense – a dinner as memorable, and as brilliantly executed as this. But in Monaco, one must quickly make space for the next exceptional experience. For me, it’s reclining on a waterbed at the Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo Luxury Spa, and being thoroughly encased in an algae wrap. As I settle back on the heat-and-light-infused bed, contemplating the warm, fishy tang that’s settled upon my skin, I wonder absent-mindedly about the people I spied, through the porthole window, dancing on the rooftop of the Yacht Club de Monaco next door.
Though the club is open to private members only, I’m able to admire its patrons’ sleek yachts moored in Port Hercule a short while later as I sip champagne at the Wine Palace Monte-Carlo. If it weren’t for the club’s Norman Foster-designed expansion in 2014, I wouldn’t be sitting out here: the development reclaimed a strip of land and opened a whole new street for the tiny principality; today it’s filled with wine bars, restaurants and local youngsters whizzing past on roller blades and skateboards.
There’s shopping to be done later in Le Métropole Shopping Centre, conveniently located adjacent to my hotel. But that evening I return to the Hôtel Metropole and take my seat at the chef’s table at the warm, unprepossessing Joel Robuchon Monte-Carlo. Veuve Clicquot flows ceaselessly. The kitchen pulsates with activity beneath the watchful eye of chef Christophe Cussac. The menu is fresh, simple, modern: purple artichoke with fresh squid and a touch of chorizo; quail stuffed with foie gras; a cart offering an impossible selection of desserts.
It’s a short walk through the magnificent salon and Conciergerie to the lift that will take me to my suite. The fashion model draped across the mirror is long gone, the cameras packed away. But the luxury still caresses me like a warm and familiar shawl.
A Mojito cocktail served at Hôtel Métropole Monte-Carlo