We all need a bit of luxury now and again. That is why Monte Carlo exists. If life has become a chore or a bore, a few days in Monte will perk you up again. The place oozes luxury and style and joie de vivre. And in this little jewel casket by the side of the Mediterranean, no gem sparkles more brightly than the Hôtel de Paris. Constantly awash with gentle waves of the Beautiful People, this particular hostelry has afforded me much joy over the years, but recently there came a moment of pure rapture.
The hotel occupies one side of the Place du Casino, the very epicentre of Monte’s hedonistic culture. Outside the main entrance, guests are wont to leave examples of the world’s most exotic and luxurious motor cars – so much so, indeed, that it has become a customary part of the tourist day to view and examine (sometimes in alarmingly close detail) the line of vehicles thus displayed. The hotel doormen have therefore – if you will forgive the vulgarism – ‘seen it all’. To impress such blasé gentlemen is no easy matter. Hence my rapture. For, as I stepped down from the Royce, I spied two of the doormen eyeing the car and I heard a two-word exchange which made me swell with pride. “Très belle.” Good to know that a lady born in 1963 can still turn some heads…
And so, of course, can the grand old lady born exactly a century before that, the Hôtel de Paris herself. I do not know whether her exterior is painted every year, but she always looks absolutely pristine. As does her interior. On this visit I stayed in room 323 (£300 to £390 a night for two, breakfast extra – depending on the season). This was a room new to me, but I absolutely loved it. Its chief glory was its long terrace (one of only two, I think) overlooking the Place du Casino. This really came into its own for breakfast, which arrived precisely on time, included exactly what was ordered and was set out on the terrace table with considerable elegance. (Service on this occasion, as throughout my stay, was impressively efficient.)
At the touch of a button, fringed blinds surged out noiselessly to shade me from the morning sun as I cut into a runny mushroom omelette and broke open a loaf of brioche. Below, the day’s parade of gleaming automobiles was being assembled – Porsches, Bentleys, Ferraris, Rolls-Royces. (The Silver Cloud was showing its usual discretion, and sensibly remaining in the cool of the hotel’s underground garage.) To the left was the grey stone of the mountains; to the right was the icing cake white of the Casino; and straight ahead over the rooftops was the glistening blue of the sea. Who can be tired of life when there is such pleasure to be had?
Back in the room there was much pink – for the carpet, for the roses on the coffee table and for the silk brocade on the walls. Both the chandelier and the wall lights could be dimmed, the air conditioning was quiet and efficient and the toiletries in the bathroom were those I like best, by Hermès. I was a very happy guest.
Happier still, when I went down for dinner. For the Hôtel de Paris boasts one of the great restaurants, the Louis XV – presided over by one of the world’s most famous chefs, Alain Ducasse. Here it was that, in 1990, Monsieur Ducasse gained 3 Michelin stars at the age of just 33. Now he jets hither and thither, ensuring that the Louis XV, his restaurant in Paris and his restaurant in New York all maintain the highest standards.
For the first time I sat on the side of the room opposite the entrance from the hotel lobby. From this angle this sumptuous classical chamber seemed, if possible, even more spacious and more palatial than I had remembered it. This must surely be one of the loveliest and one of the grandest dining rooms in the world. The table settings are gold, butter is both salted and unsalted, mineral water comes in 19 varieties and napkins are, of course, replaced if you should leave the table for a moment. This is the sort of grand dining of which people dream. Usually, reality shatters the dream: here it more than fulfils it.
My meal was an essay in the delights afforded by Provençal vegetables – for the cuisine here is, despite the surrounding pomp, essentially clear and straightforward. First, the vegetables came simmered with black truffles – a dish as warm and soft and comforting as a good nanny. Second, they partnered the succulent flesh of turbot from Languedoc. And third, again with truffle, they provided the right contrast in texture for a thick square of the tenderest veal. To finish, a ravishing bowl of warm wild strawberries with a scoop of mascarpone sorbet, followed by a finger bowl (gold, of course) with which to freshen up and a few cups of the finest coffee from Zimbabwe. (£145 for these 4 courses from the carte.
As you would expect, the cellar here allows you to dispatch your lottery winnings with some speed. Vintages you are unlikely to find at too many other places in the world – like 1945 Pétrus for your lamb at £7,900 or the 1890 Yquem for your pudding, ‘price on request’ – abound. There are cheaper bottles, however – like a white Jura at £22. And the sommelier, Joël Bajor has, I am delighted to say, a palate very much like mine. His recommendations were, therefore, well nigh perfect. I was surprised that he insisted on decanting the 1992 white burgundy (Puligny Montrachet, Les Combettes, J-M. Boillot - £95). But he was absolutely right, for this delicious, full-bodied wine continued to develop in the glass (giving out hints of honey and even ripe cheese) until its last drop. As for the red burgundy (1996 Gevrey Chambertin, Vieilles Vignes, Sérafin - £118), I should not have been so eager to quaff its appealing red fruit, for by the bottle’s end its complexity was increasing and it was yielding up some lovely sweetness. Wonderful drinking.
So here is Doctor Bown’s remedy for those of you cast down by the cares and woes of this naughty world: get off to Monte Carlo, stay at the Hôtel de Paris and dine at the Louis XV. Now, where’s my fee…
Place du Casino
MC 98000, Monaco.
Telephone +377 92 16 30 00
Fax +377 92 16 38 50
email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.montecarloresort.com
Double rooms: from £230 (low season)