The glamour of Monaco hasn't really changed much since the Twenties, when the Riviera's natural beauties and high-living citizens were a magnet for those like Daisy Fellows -- a swinger if ever there was one. Fellows scared the wits out of Somerset Maugham, entertained Winston Churchill regularly, and chased Cecil Beaton with such enthusiasm that the poor dapper chap had to flee the principality. Her beautiful villa, Les Zoiaides, still graces the principality. F Scott Fitzgerald and the beleaguered Zelda swanned around Monaco too, intriguing even the shockproof citizens of the town. And the greatest opportunist of them all, Wallis Simpson, was a regular as she wove her net to entrap a king of England.
When Prince Albert II of Monaco maried South African
Charlene Wittstock Monte Carlo was suddenly on everyone's radar again. And it's stayed there. Monte Carlo is a bait for celebrities. As for the cars bustling about the winding streets of the principality, they are celebrities too -- Porsches and Rolls Royce are the Hondas and Fords of the land, while the really grown-up citizens swan around in Aston Martins or tiny, "just for fun" Citroëns, which closely resemble orthopaedic boots.
It is easy to see what attracts the rich and infamous, built in the sheltered curve of a magnificent bay,
is embraced by white-faced mountains, covered with villas clinging to the inhospitable terrain. The lavish villas are freshly-painted in creams and buttercup, rose pinks and saffron, apricot and vanilla. Many are festooned with iron balconies; all have shuttered windows and flower- boxes full of cascading summer blooms.
This is a dreamscape - a place of ancient fortresses, pastel villas, vivid blue Mediterranean waters and a Ruritanian palace where soldiers, dressed in theatrical costumes, guard a family that is the still the daily bread of gossip writers. After all the royal story line is pretty compelling; the daughter of a rich Irish bricklayer becomes a movie star and then gives it all up to become a princess, produces two dazzlingly beautiful daughters and a gallant son, then crashes tragically on the roads of the Grand Corniche above Monte Carlo. Now the heir to the throne is to marry another beautiful blonde.
...the royal story line is pretty compelling; the daughter of an Irish bricklayer becomes a MOVIE STAR and then gives it all up to become a PRINCESS.
Ah, it's a glitzy place where you and I, unless we're unspeakably rich, will always feel a little like outsiders - probably because there are so few of us who can really afford to enjoy the enticements of Monte Carlo on a long term basis. But we can at least stay in the lavish hotels and visit the glittering Casino, where fortunes are won and lost and your The Luxury Travel Bible correspondent is reduced to a drivelling heap as I watch my dollars disappear into the croupier's growing pile.
The Casino is a blast, owned and operated by the principalities Big Brother,
, (previously known as La Societe des Bains de Mer), which also operates the wondrous Hotel de Paris, the Hermitage and the Mirabeau - the most glamorous, historic, embellished, luxurious hotels in the world; as well as newest hotels such as the
Monte Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort. The Casino is an Empire folly and nowadays has security that would please even M15 (don't even think of trying to take a camera in) and an unrivalled architectural exuberance - gilt, chandeliers and painted ceilings, such as the one in Le Salon Rose.
Formerly the smoking room but now a paradise of slick slot machines, the ceiling is embellished with lolling ladies in cherub mode, holding cigars and cigarettes. In the Super Privée salon (where one has to be invited to play), the sky is the limit, and it's not unknown for totally serious players to spend the night, emerging either euphoric or suicidal around 10 the following morning.
(The Casino re-opens at around midday. Passports must be produced. Dress standards apply, although the charming manager explained that, "shorts were once excluded, that is until a woman fronted in haute couture satin, fur-trimmed numbers".)
Salle Gamier, the opera house at Monte Carlo, is an integral part of the Casino, and is a mini-clone of the Paris Opera -- a fabulous structure of red plush, gilt, royal boxes and a stage big enough to hold even Pavarotti. It's not all sunglasses and glitz in Monte Carlo - they're big on culture, too - although patrons of the Hotel de Paris and the Hermitage could be forgiven if they think so. The luxurious rooms in these seriously noble hotels have mind-blowing views to the port (where all the rich kids' yachts are moored), dining rooms of rococo splendour and food to die for - which you could easily do when you see the prices.
These days Monte Carlo is also adding modern luxury to its impressive heritage. Monaco's new Yacht Club, situated below Thermes Marin. has been designed by Lord Norman Foster's architectural practice, in collaboration with the Monegasque architect Alexandre Giraldi. It looks as sleek as a luxury liner; with impressive undulating balconies and wide curving staircases. The club is designed to accommodate the kind of larger super-yachts that Monaco naturally attracts.
Then of course there are the new boutique hotels such a Ni Hotel, with 17 rooms and a view of all those wonderous yachts and Columbus Monaco on avenue des Papalins co-owned by racing driver David Coulthard and Ken McCulloch, who created the Malmaison hotel group. Did I say 'racing driver'? Of course how could I write about Monaco without mentioning its famous Grand Prix: that magic time in May where
billionaires, daring race drivers and impossibly beautiful pit- ponies, blonde hair cascading, all congregate around the track. just one more reason (If you needed one) for Monte Carlo's glamourous international reputation.
The Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix is a drawcard for the world's elite but outside that glittering race week you can still live the dream. The Stars'N' Bars restaurant has created a special Raceroom with state of the art driving. More than 500 cars and 45 professional circuits are available on the six frighteningly realistic racing simulators. The driving seat of a Formula 1 car has been reproduced in loving detail and there are three panoramic screens for a sense of total immersion and an uninterrupted view of the racetracks. The simulators can all work together as a network on the same racetracks. Each race can be broadcast on a giant screen and on all the plasma screens in the restaurant. The Raceroom is idea for a business event or for a group of friends who all have aspirations to be Mark Webber (2010 Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix winner).
After much over-indulgence, and a huge pretence that I could actually afford to ride so high on the goose's back, a day at the Monte Carlo Beach Club (open in summer only) seemed to be a return to the simple life. Not so. For a start, I developed a stiff neck gazing through binoculars at the massive Villa La Vigie once rented by Karl Lagerfeld , which is perched above the Olympic-size pool of the Beach Club . And it was pretty strenuous trying to conceal cellulite-dimpled thighs every time an attentive waiter swanned by. Consoling myself with a lavish lunch, brought to my little striped tent by a spectacular Mediterranean man, I decided the unrelenting high life is really for the mega-rich, with mega-stamina it is simply too exhausting (not to mention expensive) on a regular basis.
Jill Mullens Update 23/6/11