By Julia McCurley
Photography: Visit Monaco and Author’s Own
Want to get up, get away and travel to one of the most glamorous places on earth? Try Monte Carlo, where the champagne is always flowing, the roulette tables always spins and you can live like a billionaire. Here, Austin’s Julia McCurley lets us join her on her madcap adventure on the French Riviera in the world’s second smallest country.
When I was a little girl and first read of Princess Grace’s Red Cross Ball, I knew I would one day travel to the playground of the rich and famous on the French Riviera. It was meant to be.
Like James Bond, my husband’s theory to travel is for me to “wear the black dress and bring the passport,” so when he came home one day and asked, “How would you like to go to Monaco with me?” what girl in her right mind would say no to the land where champagne dreams and caviar wishes actually come true? So off we flew to this 10 square mile paradise that averages 300 days of sunshine a year and is the fourth richest country in the world.
To me, one can visit Monaco anytime of the yea because there is an event going on every month. From glamorous balls (The Princess of Hanover’s Rose Ball in March) to exclusive outdoor concerts by the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra (Concert at the Prince’s Palace in July). And, for the sporting types, events such as Tennis Masters Series (April), the celebrated Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix (May), and International Marathon (November) make this a year ‘round haute haven. Speaking of Bond, The elegant façade and interiors of the Monte-Carlo Casino had been a filming location of three James Bond films: Casino Royal, Golden Eye, and Never Say Never Again. You’ll need to be at least 18 years of age and not a local of Monaco to be accepted as a guest at the Monte-Carlo Casino.
Keep in mind that you can get there by train, helicopter or yacht, but please, no private jets. Why? There are simply no airports in Monaco. Don’t want to ride the train? Cote d’Azur Airport in Nice, France is just a 30-minute ride to Monaco’s capital. In fact, during weekdays, there’s only an interval of 20 minutes per helicopter flight in Monaco’s heliport. This just shows how busy the economy of Monaco actually is.
You may likely know that as Europe’s tax haven, each citizen of Monaco has enjoyed a tax-free lifestyle since the 1870s and for decades, Monaco has existed solely on its casinos. Monaco’s current efforts to diversify its economy have made tourism its number one source of income and casino profits only at five percent. That in mind, you’ll want to anticipate spending a good deal of money for the privilege to visit Monte Carlo.
This recent excursion was not my first trip there, however, since I had been to visit with a gal pal in my single days. I had just broken up with a boyfriend and was looking for adventure and what better place to find it than the city of royalty where everyone is beautiful, hasn’t a care in the world and are rich beyond belief? The only problem at the time was that we had no idea how much things cost. We were both 25 and in our prime, so we received attention as any cute American girls would who were looking for a good time. After we found out that the drinks at the world famous Jimmy Z’s disco cost $75 each, Nico and the Italian businessman and his posse’ swooped in and bought us a bottle of vodka ($250.00) that lasted us most of the week. They invited us to go to St. Tropez on their yacht, yet out of respect for their wives and the fact that they spoke no English, we tactfully declined. C’est la vie.
Two girls on the go is what we were and because going topless is something that almost everyone seems to do in Monaco, we were no different. Since the nightlife activity begins so late, we would often sleep in until about 2:00PM, then put on our bikini’s to lay out and read trashy novels, usually of the steamy Jackie Collins genre. After a hard day of relaxing in the sun, we then would spend 2 to 3 hours getting ready to go out to dinner around 11PM (that’s dinner time in Monte Carlo), where we drank bottles of Crystal, be sent over drinks and all we had to do was bat our eyelashes and speak bad French. There were many highlights of that Fantasy Island trip in the 90’s, such as kissing a French gendarme in the Men’s room, a Prince Albert sighting when he was much younger and had more hair, and flirting with the muscles from Brussels, Jean Claude Van Damme, at Jimmy Zs, the place to see and be seen. From a shopping perspective, we visited Princess Stephanie’s boutique, Replay to confirm that she is as gorgeous in person as she is in her photos.
Fast forward to 2012 where my better half and I flew to Paris (world famous chef Emeril Lagasse was in the seat behind us and gave me cooking tips), hopped to Nice, and then took a helicopter for the short flight to Monte Carlo. The fabled city is even more beautiful from a bird’s eye point of view overlooking the crystal blue Mediterranean Sea. When we landed we immediately were greeted by our driver, compliments of our hotel, and took the 10-minute jaunt to our accommodations.
Just our luck, we happened to be there during the annual International Yacht Show, so the place was bustling with activity. The only hotel with a room available happened to be the top hotel in Monte Carlo, the Hotel de Paris. This hotel, frankly, makes the Ritz Carlton seem run of the mill. Our room overlooked the harbor where all the yachts dock and we were a stone’s throw from the world famous casino, where Bond gambled next to stunning women, the Monte Carlo Casino. The gambling den is owned and operated by the Société des bains de mer de Monaco, a public company in which the Monaco government and the ruling family have a majority interest. The company also owns the principal hotels, sports clubs, foodservice establishments, and nightclubs throughout Monaco. The Grimaldi family seem to own everything in this town hence the fact the Sovereign Prince Albert’s photo is displayed everywhere and anywhere.
Things have not changed much since I was here last. The streets are still so clean you could eat dinner off of them and there is literally there no garbage to be found anywhere. The omnipresent and extensive flower beds are usually in full bloom and almost look artificial since they are so perfectly arranged. And, of course the streets are full of the most expensive cars in the world… Bentley, Rolls Royce, Maserati, Ferrari and even the taxis are all late model Mercedes sedans.
With the yacht show, we decided to learn more of these check out these million dollar wonders. One has to make an appointment, show them your business card, then they decide if they will let you on or not. I had to turn on the Texan charm and managed to get us onto designer Robert Cavalli’s yacht that was featured in Vanity Fair magazine earlier this year. According to the Italian broker, wecould buy it for a cool ten million and would even get a custom Robert Cavalli gown a part of the deal. The yacht is an iridescent purple that changes shades depending on the light while the interior overflows with Cavalli’s signature animal print mixed with fuchsia, gold, and snake accents such as a stair railing in the form of a serpentine. How much would I have to mortgage our house for to buy this yacht of my dreams that sleeps eight, has crew quarters for 10, and comes with furnishings and accessories such as the 14 carat gold- trimmed bathroom fixtures? Too much, but a girl can dream.
My new friend Emeril told me the best restaurant in town is Alain Ducasse’s new bistro, Louis X. It was a little touch and go about whether we could get a reservation and thanks to my naïveté’, I didn’t realize there was a three-week waiting list. However, once again my Texas charm prevailed, and voila’, reservations for two at 9:00PM magically appeared. Not bad considering that it is only open for 2 hours per night. For those of you not familiar with Ducasse’, he was chosen to prepare the dinner for HSH Prince Albert’s royal wedding.
After this fabulous dinner, we headed over to the Budda Bar around the corner. It was very interesting in that women were on one side of the room, and men were on the other. I decided to put my matchmaking skills to use and put some couples together We narrowly escaped the male-female synergy I created departed at the exact time Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones was walking in. My husband had to almost restrain me to prevent me from running after him. Then, all of a sudden there are sirens a big motorcade headed straight for the casino and yes, it was HSH Prince Albert and his entourage out for a game of craps, Baccarat, and other pursuits of royal casino games. The only time I have seen a parade like that was for a funeral.
The next day we headed to the Monte Carlo Beach Resort. Unfortunately there was no actual beach and that crystal blue Mediterranean Sea I mentioned earlier felt like a dip in a ultra chilled martini. Alas, no one was topless, much to my husband’s disappointment. However there was some great people watching tall 30-something tanorexic blondes in their string bikini’s laying out with their Ralph Lauren look-a-like husbands. These power couples usually had small children and a nanny in tow so that the Mrs. could work on her tan uninterrupted. The usual stream of $500k cars filled the parking of this exclusive club. Afterward, we did some shopping at boutiques like Prada, Chanel, Dior, Gucci. Anything you want there can probably wait until you get back to the states because the cost is twice as much there. Again, money is no object for the Monacans as they are commonly referred to, as well as many of its visitors.
Now for a final stroke of luck, that evening we made our usual trek over to Jimmy Z’s, were the first ones to arrive, literally at midnight, verifying that people actually sleep all day here and party all night. We were able to get an amazing table facing the dance floor so we could take in all the sights of the models and their benefactors. Not fifteen minutes later there were at least 500 people in the club. The lucky part? On the other side of the club my eagle eye spotted Ron Wood again seated in a banquette with his Polish supermodel girlfriend, who appeared recently in Sports Illustrated. I managed to push my way across the sea of today’s version of Studio 54 and marched right up to his booth, used that Texan charm again, and arranged an up-close-and-personal photo of the two of us that is now proudly displayed in my office. He’s a little long in the tooth, but so what, he is a Rolling Stone. With moves like Jagger.
The day of our departure after this three day whirlwind in fantasy land I made a note to myself that the next time we go to Monaco, I will double triple check our American Express card limit.
Must-Do Monte Carlo
Here are my top picks for your visit to this must-see island of riches…
- Arriving by plane: Nice International Airport, then helicopter flight to Monte Carlo, Heliairmonaco.com/ +377.92.050.050
- Pack: designer mini dresses, sky-high heels, and lots of bling.
- Everything is mostly within walking distance; you can literally walk the entire city in an hour, so keep those stilettos on.
- Hotel De Paris Hoteldeparismontecarlo.com/ +377 98 06 30 00
- Hotel Fairmont Monte Carlo Fairmont.com/montecarlo 888.270.6650
- Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort Montecarlobay.com/+377.98.06.25.25
- Le Louis XV AlainDucasse.com http://www.alain-ducasse.com/
- Le Grill at Hotel De Paris, Hoteldeparismontecarlo.com/ +377.98.06.88.88
- Adagio L’Argentine, Restaurant-argentine.ch/ +41.24.498.13.70
- Jimmy Z’s nightclub
- Gamble at the Royal Casino
- Walk along the Monte Carlo Harbor
- Take a helicopter ride over the Mediterranean
- Visit the Formula One race track
- Tour of the Royal Palace
- Visit Princess Grace’s grave