Telegraph: UltraTravel Guide to Monaco
It was the helicopter carrying the palm tree that did it for me. As I gazed from my balcony, the willowy tenant of the penthouse apartment above called down: ‘What do you think of my helicopter delivery service? It was the only way to get my palm tree onto our terrace.’ What hit me was the presumption, as solid as her gold Bulgari Serpenti watch, that every rooftop terrace must have a palm tree.
Having moved into my first Monte-Carlo flat one month before, I thought I had seen it all already. I had sipped champagne aboard a superyacht, I had dined on gold-leaf sushi and I had watched a crimson Hermès handbag encrusted with diamonds being auctioned off for over €100,000. Yet it was the flying-palm-tree moment that brought home the unparalleled pampering lived in this tax-free playground where one third of residents are millionaires.
Everything in this miniature principality is spotless. You won’t find litter or graffiti, but you will spot lots of policemen. Even the streets are marble-paved and linked by an elaborate network of lifts and elevators. Central Monte-Carlo delivers with its Rococo façades, designer shops and views down onto the superyacht-lined harbour and up towards the Old Town. Venture further to explore art galleries selling authentic Old Masters, manicured gardens brimming with rare cultivars and children’s playgrounds complete with mini-golf and farm animals. This chock-a-block country is so oversubscribed that it’s expanding into the sea with a €2-billion housing development due in 2025.
Four of the five top hotels are run by the same company: SBM. All have Michelin-starred restaurants, sumptuous furnishings and high prices. Bang-in-the-centre lie the world-famous Hôtel de Paris (from £495 per night) and its discreet neighbour Hôtel Hermitage(from £320 per night): both have underground access to Les Thermes spa. The most modern is Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel (from £258 per night) whose sandy-bottomed lagoon is popular with families. For summertime luxury, it’s hard to beat Monte-Carlo Beach (from £154 per night) with its own beach and jetty for those arriving by yacht.
The outsider to this luxury hotel monopoly is Hôtel Métropole (from £320 per night). With a Givenchy spa, Lagerfeld-designed pool and gardens, it’s a stunning oasis in central Monte-Carlo.
The lunch stops
2019 heralds the opening of Ducasse’s latest venture, Ômer, where landscaped-garden views and Mediterranean flavours are on the menu. You can dip your toes into the sand at La Note Bleue over a simple fish or salad lunch.
The dinner venues
For a taste of France in a Parisian-style brasserie, portside Quai des Artistes delivers time after time – especially with its lamb shanks. For Indian cuisine combined with Moorish architecture and a live DJ, try Maya Jah. (newly-opened sister to the popular Thai restaurant Maya Bay). In summertime, hilltop La Vigie is a memorable place for seafood and sea views, though avoid windy evenings as your tablecloth might blow off.
Port Hercules is lined with oceanfront bars for an informal drink, while the Shisha Bar at Twiga Monte-Carlo attracts a kitten-heeled, young crowd. A more refined place for an evening drink is Hôtel Métropole’s book-lined bar.
The classic tourist spot for live jazz remains Hôtel de Paris’ American Bar, though locals prefer jiving at Sass Café. This Bordello-chic place is where you’re most likely to bump into a celebrity on the dance floor at 2am.
The place(s) to be seen
The seafront Pisco Bar at Peruvian newcomer Coya is where Monaco socialites love to vie for attention.
The places to see
If you only have time for one museum, make it the Oceanographic Museum: its 450,000-litre aquarium houses an impressive coral ecosystem. Afterwards, you can meander through agaves and pine trees in St Martin Gardens towards the Prince’s Palace.
Local expats spend summertime evenings at the Open Air Cinema where English-language films are projected against the dramatic backdrop of Monaco’s rock.
The places to shop
Casino Square’s long-awaited One Monte-Carlo mall opens in March. Until then, intergalactic pods in Casino Gardens are housing Avenue-des-Beaux-Arts’ designer labels.
Taste local orange liqueurs at L’Orangerie. For tableware, head to the principality’s finest manufacturer, Manufacture de Monaco in the nearby Metropole Shopping Center. Monegasques love Sabrina Monte-Carlo whose design trinkets are used by founder Sabrina Monteleone on her interior projects ranging from yachts to private jets.
Monaco’s two biggest events need no introduction: May’s Monaco Grand Prix and September’s Monaco Yacht Show.
For an insight into the secret life of Monaco’s glitterati, buy a ticket to the Monte-Carlo Summer Sporting Festival where pop concerts involve dining in black tie under the stars.
The nearest airport is Nice. British Airways flies from London (City, Gatwick and Heathrow) and Manchester. Easyjet flies from London (Gatwick, Luton and Stansted), Belfast, Bristol, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Newcastle.
Of course, you can always take a 7-minute helicopter transfer over the palm trees from Nice with Héli Air Monaco.