The Hotel de Paris, Monaco’s Belle Epoque beauty on the Riviera, piles up accolades like a roulette player on a roll raking in chips, and it’s not by luck or chance. The latest is Condé Nast Traveler’s 2011 Reader’s Choice Awards, naming it the Number One Hotel in Southern Europe, and that includes all of France, Spain and Italy.
It’s a given that all top hotels offer superb service, impeccable living arrangements, and impressive public rooms. So let’s start with what’s special about the Hotel de Paris.
First, it meets the mantra of prime real estate: Location, location, location. Take a map of the Riviera, and throw a dart into the middle of its glammiest resort, MonteCarlo, and you’ve hit the palmy Place du Casino, the front door of the iconic Hotel de Paris, as well as the vaunted Monte Carlo Casino, the Garnier Opera House, and the famous Café de Paris. It’s the social center of Monaco.
It is no coincidence that these celebrated buildings are in neighborly proximity. The casino, built in 1863, was the first, and immediately became so successful that its management– principally the Société des Bains de Mer, familiarly and now the major corporate player in Monaco’s hospitality industry—soon built the Hotel de Paris next door to accommodate the influx of international gamblers. Based on the Grand Hotel in Paris, it originally had 100 rooms and suites, and sumptuous public salons for balls and charity galas. Over the years, its dazzling guest list included Rockefellers, Rothschilds, and Vanderbilts, royalty, and royalty of the arts, especially after the Monte Carlo Casino itself was enlarged with a theatre for opera and ballet designed by famous architect Charles Garnier as a miniature replica of his Paris Opera House.
Today, after seven renovations, the hotel has 182 rooms and suites, all with state-of-the-art equipment, designer fabrics, and fine furniture, and many with balconies that overlook either the Casino and Opera House on one side, or the Mediterranean and yacht basin on the other.
Up the steps from the Place du Casino and through the canopied entrance takes you to the high-ceilinged lobby and the equestrian statue of Louis XIV, where gamblers seeking good luck have rubbed the horse’s right knee to a shine. Grand and glorious, it has marble floors and colonnades, wide archways, and a domed stained-glass skylight. To the left is the Bar Americain, swathed in leather and wood, where a three-piece combo plays live jazz nightly. To the right is Louis XV-Alain Ducasse, a confection of crystal chandeliers, period furnishings and statuary, and Monte Carlo’s only Michelin three-star restaurant that describes its locally sourced menu as “Riviera Gastronomy.”
World class restaurants are not unique to great hotels, but rarely do their master chefs participate in the general food and beverage service. At the Hotel de Paris Franck Cerutti, with AlainDucasse, oversees all the hotel’s kitchens, and, of course, the two other mainly Mediterranean restaurants: Le Grill, a top floor aerie where a wall of windows looks out to the Mediterranean and the ceiling opens to a starry sky; and the Cote Jardin, a charming breakfast and lunch retreat whose terrace adjoins the hotel’s herb garden.
The most distinctive part of the food and beverage operation is the famous wine cellar deep under the Hôtel de Paris and its SBM sibling neighbor the Hôtel Hermitage. Covering more than one-third of an acre, it is arguably the largest hotel and restaurant cellar in the world. Based on the design of Bordeaux wine cellars, in 1874 a series of small caves, were hewn out of the rock 33 feet down, which now hold some 600,000 bottles stored horizontally on almost a mile of racks.
Today, this Central Cellar serves all the Monte-Carlo SBM hotels and restaurants. Once a week their sommeliers gather in the tasting room to sample various wines to pair with menus. SBM restaurants never serve the same wines at the same time, always offering at least different vintages, so guests dining around at the various SBM properties won’t duplicate their wine experiences.
SBM guests can tour the cellars, entering through a long hallway from the Hotel de Paris lobby, past crates of newly arrived Bordeaux wines and racks of precious vintages. They will see the area where the most valuable wines were hidden during World War II, camouflaged by dozens of empty bottles stacked at the entrance that dissuaded the Germans from entering. Now many of the most valuable bottles have been withdrawn from sale and are displayed in a museum in the cellar.
The hotel also arranges tastings in the cellar tasting room, and catered dinners in the cellar’s vaulted dining room, which showcases wine memorabilia and photographs of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary in the cellar.
Another subterranean hallway connects the Hotel de Paris and the Thermes Marins de Monte-Carlo, a spa and wellness center that had modest beginnings in 1908 and, since 1995, has occupied a pink marble villa overlooking the Mediterranean. World-famous for its thalassotherapy, its facilities include two heated sea water pools, saunas, a hammam, a fitness facility, and 37 treatment rooms for a varied menu of therapies. The underground passage allows hotel guests the privacy of going to the spa straight from their rooms in a terry robe. (A similar corridor connects the spa and the Hotel Hermitage.)
The spa, like the Hotel de Paris and the Hotel Hermitage, is part of SBM, a hospitality company that also owns and runs two other hotels– the modern Monte Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort and the intimate 40-room beachfront Monte Carlo Beach Hotel–plus 30 restaurants and bars, nightclubs, several casinos and spas, and such other leisure activities as tennis, golf, and a beach club. It is, essentially, a seaside resort. All SBM guests receive a “Gold Card” on arrival providing complimentary admission to most facilities (50%discount on tennis and greens fees), and transportation among them via a circulating shuttle bus.
From the beach to the casinos, the sports clubs to the spas, SBM has given Monaco a full-scale resort. The Hotel de Paris, with its history and heritage, is in many ways the centerpiece of SBM and, in fact, of Monte-Carlo.
Hotel de Paris, Place du Casino, 011-377 9806 3000, www.montecarloresort.com.