Monte Carlo is a winter wonderland at Christmas – incongruously in that it can be really quite hot in the midday sun, even in the middle of December. Nonetheless Monaco is tradition, full of it and does not deviate. Winter garb is Moncler jackets by day, for men, women and their adored, though not necessarily adoring, offspring. A few women dare to stray into wearing full-length fur coats at lunchtime but in the main it is Moncler through afternoon tea and then, say, Mila’s Marilyn snow marble fox and mink for Dom Pérignon through dinner. The gal saw this fashion phenomenon at a couple of the Principality’s top luxury hotels.
I loved wandering the public areas on this visit. They are not exactly spacious but they are well thought out. Around the Casino are scuptured gardens with a couple of waterfalls and old-look stone walls and bridges. An optical illusion caught my eye, as did the fact that the tall palms in the square in Place du Casino have, during the Christmas season, to share their space with imported all-white fir trees, a bed of faux snow and a few alpine-type skilift cabins, and artfully-placed pairs of skis. It was a relief to cross Place du Casino to Hôtel de Paris, and up six stairs into the lobby of the hotel that is undergoing such a complete renovation there will not be any bit of the old left, about three years hence.
Ivan Artolli, recently pulled away from years making Sir Rocco Forte’s hotels function better to come and work his magic here, for SBM, explained what is happening. Right now the 1864-vintage hotel has been sliced diagonally and vertically. There are operating rooms facing east, overlooking Place du Casino, and north (I stayed in one, 224, a year ago). Come May 2017 the currently closed diagonal of the whole building will be ready to go, so for the Grand Prix and all summer long there will be absolutely new rooms facing down over the harbour.
Meanwhile, the temporarily amputated hotel still has Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV, and its lobby, with a glorious tree sponsored by Chopard (it gained 30,000 likes within 24 hours of being put up). It still has its American Bar, which does a really good job on sensational steak tartare and yummy, full-of-flavour fries – I do recommend a side of the crudités starter, which for me just completed my meal. And then I put on my wrap (my Moncler and Mila were both inexplicably not in Monte Carlo that day) and walked back across Place du Casino, taking a minute to look back up at the giant cranes towering over what will be eventually, and once again, SBM’s signature luxury hotel.