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A La Mode in Monaco

grand entrance

Grand Entrance Hotel Metropole

Varoom.

Oh, the sound effects–champagne flutes clinking, roaring cheers, wisps of flirtatious laughter wafting through the air like curling ribbons—and the constant roar and more of a bevy of formula one-mobiles careening, whirring and screeching through the exceedingly well manicured streets of the municipality of Monaco. Up hill, down hill, through a tunnel they’ll go—teams called Mercedes and Red Bull competing for the premier title in car racing. It’s the world’s most expensive race. And, to watch it each year in May, more than 37,000 glamorously attired spectators will pack into a parcel of land no bigger than the expanse of New York City’s Central Park.

On the coast, hemmed in by France, edged by the Italian Riviera, this stunning bit of triumphant landscape revels in centuries-old independence. It’s been ruled by the Grimaldi clan since the 13th century—and the proud fortress that caps the hill lords over the sector to prove it. Long a destination for the uber wealthy, this section of the Maritime Alps exudes elegance and glitz. With royalty and sports stars as top tier inhabitants, its lifestyle begs a lofty price tag. Just to open a bank account here will cost you a minimum of $400,000. But that doesn’t stop the throngs from coming year round to wheedle the game tables of the hedonistic Monte Carlo Casino, to shop the myriad high-end stores that line the streets, to peruse the galleries, rock the bars, board the lavish yachts—or simply gadabout on nearby beaches. Just minutes from Provence, where lavender fields, wineries and olive groves await, Monte Carlo (and Monaco at large) makes for an invigorating base to explore this part of the Mediterranean.

Odyssey at Metropole Hotel

Odyssey at Hotel Metropole

To root straight into the swish spirit, book your stay at Hotel Metropole, long the favorite gathering place for visiting glitterati. On Casino Square, this Belle Epoque hotel has been lavishly retooled by creative designer Jacques Garcia—known for his eclectic references to the past and his celebration of opulence and grandeur. Enter through boulevard like garden that mimics the Roman Appian Way. Settle into the Lobby Bar ,which brings in locals as if it were a living room. A jumble of style and texture, it manages to be both cozy and sumptuous, alight with palatial touches—gold gilt and such–, yet whimsical. Guestrooms follow suit, being a melding of past and present: cream-colored, with Corinthian columns for drama and tangerine taffeta drapes to ramp up the ritzy factor. Come hungry. You’ll want to nosh at one of two Joel Robuchon restaurants The eponymous house, which references a Provencal kitchen, features Mediterranean fare and has two Michelin stars. The best seat in the house faces the kitchen at a bar-like table. Or, try the famous chef’s first Japanese enterprise, Yoshi (with one Michelin star). Rooftop, you’ll find fresco Odyssey, a pool, restaurant and bar area, with ancient Greek undertones, designed by the intrepid Karl Lagerfeld. And a spacious ESPA Spa unravels the physical knots.

The author with Ken Panton in Monte Carlo. Photo credit Kelly E. Carter

The author with Ken Panton in Monte Carlo. Photo credit Kelly E. Carter

Thinking about going for the Grand Prix? Dates are May 9-11 in 2014. Plan to spectate from Hotel Metropole’s Joel Robuchon Terrace. Here, you’ll see the race cars as they exit Casino Square and head down the hill toward Mirabeau. Hovering above the street/race track, nibbling on Robuchon fare, you’ll feel like Grimaldi royalty. As one should in Monte Carlo. Metropole.comvisitmonaco.com

Editor’s note: This article is a tribute and dedication in the memory of Odile Firmin-Guion, Director of Public Relations of the Hotel Metropole.  Our thoughts are with her family and friends.
Becca Hensley

Becca Hensley

Austin-based Becca Hensley has never met a stranger. Award winning, this travel and lifestyle writer, poet and essayist can't resist the unexplored alley, that glass of champagne in an unknown bar or taking the train far beyond her planned destination. An ebullience addicted curiosity seeker, a peripatetic globe trotter, an expert in all things luxe, her work has appeared in hundreds of magazines and newspapers and on myriad websites. She dishes on hotels, food, drink, spas, art, design, people and nature. Read her monthly dispatches in Austin Monthly and San Antonio Magazine. Find her frequently in Washington Flyer, National Geographic Traveler, Toronto Star, Organic Spa, Bridal Guide, Travel Channel, Destinations, Weddings & Honeymoons, Austin American Statesman, Fodors and Virtuoso Traveler.

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