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A playground for the rich and famous, Monaco is unquestionably Europe's capital of luxury. Elisabeth Rushton samples the high life with a long weekend at the Fairmont Monte Carlo, the principality's largest five star resort.

A visit to glitzy and glamorous Monte Carlo

The Principality of Monaco is synonymous with glamour and luxury. It’s a playground for the world’s elite and the backdrop to some of the world’s most glamorous events, including the Formula One Grand Prix and the Monaco Yacht Show. Little wonder, then, that the world’s smallest country but one (second only to the Vatican) is home to some outstanding hotels.

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Fairmont Monte Carlo is one of Monaco’s most prestigious resorts. Not only is it one of the largest hotels in Europe, boasting 602 guest rooms, residences and suites, two restaurants, a bar, 18 meeting rooms, shopping arcade, in-house Casino, and unique wellness facilities, but it arguably occupies the best location in the Principality. Its rock top perch above the Mediterranean Sea offers truly breathtaking views, and it is only a couple of minutes’ walk from the legendary Casino de Monte Carlo. Perhaps most important of all, it offers the best view of the world’s most famous hairpin bend – the so-called ‘Fairmont Hairpin’ on the Monaco circuit, and is thus the best place from which to watch the Formula One Grand Prix, which takes place in Monaco each May. Unsurprisingly, the hotel attracts a glittering clientele: it is popular with celebrities, film stars and international businessmen alike. George Lucas is a regular visitor.

FAIRMONT room (2)

In spite of the hotel’s large size, it retains an unmistakable air of exclusivity and intimacy. The whole hotel underwent a spectacular 45 million Euro spruce-up, and the results are apparent throughout the property, from universal WIFI access to the gorgeous Fairmont Spa. A nautical theme prevails. When the hotel was originally built in the mid-1970s, it was designed as a six-sided ship-shaped structure. Internally, the door to each guest room has a porthole, and the Deluxe Sea View rooms give occupants a very realistic impression of being at sea. There is a variety of room types in addition to those overlooking the sea, including Garden Suites, boasting views over the hotel’s lush private gardens, and Grand Prix Suites and Hairpin rooms, which provide unrivalled views over the circuit. We stayed in a spacious Deluxe Garden View room, which is the largest of the room types (490 square feet). The room was elegantly designed, and featured a beautiful terrace and lounge area. Exclusive Le Labo amenities are used by the hotel – even my husband commented how much he liked them.

Willow Stream spa at Fairmont Hotel, Monte Carlo

The pièce de resistance of the refurbishment is the Willow Stream Spa, which boasts exceptional facilities. I’ve found with some spas, while the treatments might have been fantastic, the rooms have been almost claustrophobic and too warm, detracting from the experience. Not at the Willow Stream at the Fairmont, where the therapy rooms are large and airy, with the space to really revel in the treatment. It also has a dedicated service for couples, with experience suites containing double tubs, double steam and overhead rain showers with chromatherapy. The spa occupies a good third of the space on the hotel’s sixth floor and has eight treatment suites, a manicure/pedicure nail spa and is directly connected to the fitness centre and rooftop swimming pool. There are hammam and experiential shower rooms with bar style seating, and all treatment rooms have balconies where you can sit and soak up the view while resting following a treatment. There is a high level of customer service and my therapist was lovely and chatty, as well as very professional. The decor is minimal, clean lines with enough pale blue colours to stop it from falling into a clinical style. And the communal lounge is stocked with fresh water, juices and, if you’re feeling indulgent, home-made macaroons.

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During my afternoon at Willow Stream Spa, I started with the Willow Stream Signature Manicure, which lasted for just over one hour and included a hand soak, paraffin mask, massage and manicure and polish. The spa claims to have one of the best manicure and pedicure suites in Europe. As I have not visited every spa in Europe I cannot confirm this claim, but its facilities are the best I’ve encountered to date. I appreciated that my therapist asked me how I would like my nails filed; I’ve been a victim before of manicurists who just jump in and start sawing away. Instead, following the hand soak in mineral salts and essential oils, she filed them into a lovely shape that actually made my hands look dainty. As one hand was attended to, the other was sitting in a glove containing the paraffin treatment. At the end, my hands felt wonderfully soft, and with a couple of coats of  polish I was ready to show them off clutching a glass of champagne.

My next treatment was the Willow Stream Elements, a 90-minute session based around the four elements of earth, air, water and fire. It included a mud wrap, aromatherapy, a mineral bath and a warm massage. Being wrapped up in a plastic sheet was not the most pleasant experience but once the wrap came off I could see results, my skin felt firmer and a couple of mosquito bite marks on my hip had disappeared. The mineral bath was heavenly as it was in a Jacuzzi and left me relaxed before my soothing massage.  I left the spa feeling I’d already had a week’s holiday, rather than it being the start of my long weekend in Monaco.

Willow Stream produces its own range of products based on the four elements. Of all the products used during my treatments, the mineral salts for the hand and body soak were the ones that I appreciated most. The scent was so uplifting, strong but not overpowering and afterwards my skin felt refreshed.

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In addition to indulging in some spa time, it is also worth packing your workout gear and visiting the hotel’s well equipped fitness centre. In addition, the swimming pool and sundeck is the perfect place to relax and soak up the divine panoramic view over the sea and the city. From May to October, the pool area morphs into ‘Nikki Beach at the Fairmont Monte Carlo’,  a restaurant, bar and lounge. Guests loll around in ‘love pods’ – large swiveling day beds, sip cocktails, and dance the night away to the live DJ.

Nikki Beach

The hotel has three restaurants: Nobu, Horizon and Saphir24. Nobu Monte Carlo opened at the Fairmont in December 2013, in the presence of the Prince and Princess of Monaco. Otherwise, the 24/7 ground-floor Saphir bar is a splendid place for meeting people, amid a hum of other people meeting people. It serves a bistro menu from 11am to 11pm at €39 for two courses. They also lay on a Sunday Jazz Brunch here, with films, videos, Wii and Playstations to keep the children occupied and live Jazz music. The Fairmont’s ace is the seventh-floor Horizon champagne bar and restaurant. Here, upon the decking terrace, you may eat and sip simply (albeit expensively) and have no doubt that you are somewhere upon the Seven Seas. It’s open from April to October, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Finally, a word on the service, which is impeccable throughout. The hotel concierges are knowledgeable, charming, and immensely helpful. The staff at the spa and in the restaurants go out of their way to make guests feel at home – there is none of the hauteur that so often goes hand in hand with luxurious resorts in rarefied locations. The hotel prides itself on offering a five-star service but with a very casual and friendly atmosphere. This is where Russian millionaires and their groomed, bling wives sit next to middle-America tourists dressed in cargo pants and businessmen waiting for their next meeting or conference session. Fairmont Monte Carlo is lavish retreat with an enviable location, and above all, stellar service.

Fairmont Monte Carlo Hotel 12, Avenue des Spélugues, MC 98000 Monaco, Tel : +377 93 506 500; montecarlo@fairmont.com

www.fairmont.com/montecarlo

Rooms from €199 per night

Willow Stream Signature Manicure €79; Willow Stream Signature Elements Experience €215


 

 

 

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