DESTINATION MONTE CARLO
Landing in Nice airport on a sunny, late-May morning there was only one way to travel to Monaco in style … by helicopter.
It’s the fastest – and certainly the most breathtaking – way to make a grand entrance. As we enjoyed the short 10-minute trip along the stunning French coast, I was completely mesmerized by the dramatic views over the Côte d’Azur and crisp blue sea beneath.
After landing, we were whisked through security and transferred to our hotel. The Monaco Grand Prix had taken place just days earlier, and the grandstands, road markings and barriers were still in place. Our driver explained the infrastructure takes months to build and break-down, and – as I imagined the grandstands, restaurants and rooftops packed full of spectators – it became apparent why the Monaco Grand Prix is renowned as one of the best and most intimate grand prix events in the world.
Our home for our mini-break was the chic Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo. The sumptuous Belle Epoque property was built in 1886 and fully renovated in 2004 by famous French designer Jacques Garcia. The hotel boasts two Michelin-starred restaurants which were developed by legendary French chef Joël Robuchon and his protégé, Christophe Cussac – along with two further restaurants.
The Metropole sits in perfectly manicured gardens, and a stunning outdoor heated pool and sun terrace designed in haute couture style by Karl Lagerfeld. The attention to detail throughout the design is truly outstanding. My room was equally exquisite, light and bright bathed in sunlight and offering dreamy views over the Med. The décor was traditional in keeping with the style of the hotel, with added modern touches and luxurious amenities to enjoy.
Guests staying in the hotel can enjoy exclusive access to the Spa Metropole by Givenchy. This seriously decadent Spa opened in 2017 and is one of only three Givenchy Spas in the world (the others located in Switzerland and Morocco). Designed by renowned architect Didier Gomez, the reception oozed chic and glamour combined with a deep sense of serenity. The crisp white marble floors and sleek walls offered a cooling break from the warm sun and provided a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city outside.
In addition to the 10 treatment rooms, guests can make use of luxurious facilities including a sauna, hammam, caldarium, sensory showers and relaxation lounge with an array of juices, fruits, nuts and sweet treats to tempt you. Those wanting to work up an appetite can enjoy the Technogym studio, with state-of-the art cardio and weight equipment to get your blood flowing.
As I slipped on the soft slippers and gown to head for my facial, I felt instantly relaxed. My therapist, Delphine, guided me through a sensory journey to choose a luxurious Givenchy scent, which would complement my treatment.
I was in spa heaven. My facial began with a warming mask and gentle face massage to cleanse and remove dry skin before Delphine worked across my face with a cyro machine, which is incorporated in to many of the spa’s signature facial treatments.
The intensive cooling sensation was instantly invigorating. My skin felt lifted and completely renewed and my pores felt less visible. The treatment concluded with a flash make-up application in the beauty bar, whilst I sipped on a refreshing antioxidant mocktail of ginger, beetroot and lemon juice. Feeling refreshed, and utterly pampered, it was time to get ready for dinner and experience the Michelin-starred Yoshi restaurant.
With the desire to share his love of Japanese cuisine in France, legendary chef Joël Robuchon and Japanese Chef Takéo Yamazaki opened Yoshi restaurant eleven years ago. Completely innovative at the time, Yoshi was Joël’s first Japanese restaurant and his ground-breaking vision saw him achieve Michelin-star status in 2010, which has been retained ever since.
Designed by leading French designer Didier Gomez, the bright and contemporary restaurant leads out on to a stunning Japanese Zen garden created by Jacques Messin.
The busy kitchen team work in front of guests to create a vast array of Japanese-inspired dishes including sashimi, nigiri, maki and teppanyaki-style fish and meats created with “yoshi” (kindness).
The amuse bouche, tuna sashimi, melted in to my mouth and tasted incredibly fresh. The attentive waiters explained the culinary team take great care in sourcing the most sustainable fish for the restaurant and utilise local suppliers to ensure the freshest flavours are achieved.
Following the sashimi, we enjoyed signature dishes including black cod, wrapped in oba leaf with a mouth-watering homemade mustard and a divine chicken teriyaki. The wine list offers a broad selection of wines and sakes, and a glass of sweet sake chosen by the sommelier was the perfect accompaniment to the strawberry and basil sorbet dessert.
A HISTORY OF RAGS TO RICHES
The following morning, after enjoying an al fresco breakfast in the hotel’s fashion-forward Odyssey restaurant, overlooking the pool, we were able to enjoy a tour of the Monte-Carlo Casino. It was fascinating to learn the history of Monaco, which wasn’t always superyachts and fast cars, and in fact the Principality had for many years struggled as a poor and destitute country.
On the brink of financial ruin, the Monegasque royal family built the Monte Carlo Casino along with a railway line connecting with Paris to attract royals and dignitaries to secretly gamble between its four walls. As the first casino to allow women, its popularity grew and revenue from the casino became Monaco’s main economy.
In more recent times, the casino location has been used in a number of films including James Bond movies Never Say Never Again and Golden Eye, and Oceans Twelve. On an evening, the elegant rooms fill with tourists hoping to beat the bank through a variety of games including trente et quarante, roulette, blackjack and baccarat.
No visit to Monaco would be complete without spending a few hours exploring the marina, home to some of the world’s largest superyachts, and a short (steep) climb up the hill to the Prince’s Palace revealed stunning vistas of the sea and surrounding Riviera.
A LEGACY IN FRENCH CUISINE
Returning to the hotel, I met with executive chef Christophe Cussac, who worked alongside Joël Robuchon to develop the hotels four restaurant concepts – and who carries on his legacy to this day.
Robuchon was not only the world’s most awarded Michelin-starred chef, he was named “Chef of the Century” by Gault Millau and noted for developing the “Best Restaurant in the World” by the International Herald Tribune.
Chef Cussac explained how he and Robuchon had met in Paris, where Cussac had worked as his kitchen secretary, before becoming his protégé and right-hand man. He admired Robuchon’s continuous innovation, and explained they shared the same ethics and philosophies on food.
“It is always about the ingredients, simplicity is key. But you have to love food and have passion. Technical skills aren’t enough.”
Cussac reminisced over the many years the two chefs had worked together at Jamin, Robuchon’s first restaurant in Paris. He knew he was finally making progress as a chef when Robuchon openly complemented one of his dishes in front of other members of the brigade.
“After months of hard work, I felt so happy. Mr Robuchon had been turning my food away from the pass for months, he had such high standards. It truly was one of the best days in my career.”
Cussac went on to run restaurants across France, including his parents’ L’abbaye Saint Michel in Tonnerre, before joining forces with Robuchon to oversee the four restaurants at the Metropole in 2004.
Fifteen years later, Cussac now has a brigade of more than 80 chefs working under him in the Metropole, including a bakery and patisserie which supplies each of the restaurants. He works closely with Takeo Yamazaki and award-winning pastry chef Patrick Mesiano – both also mentored by Robuchon.
That evening, we were able to enjoy the collaboration of the two great chefs, enjoying seats at the chef’s table in the two-Michelin starred Restaurant Joël Robuchon Monte-Carlo.
The open-plan kitchen added a contemporary feel to this classic French dining room. A theme that was echoed throughout the menu that followed. Each dish was intricately constructed, with a firm nod to classical French cooking techniques with a modern, contemporary twist. In the kitchen Cussac and his brigade worked with precision and structure, like a well-oiled machine. Their camaraderie was a delight to watch.
The evening began with bread from the trolley – all made in the hotel’s bakery – which brought a touch of theatre to the dining room. I tried focaccia and black olive bread, both baked perfectly before enjoying a creamy foie gras, port and parmesan emulsion. The beetroot starter, with mustard sorbet, was a stunning dish and a real highlight for me.
Course after course, the unique flavour combinations danced in my mouth. A particular nod must be given to the creamed potato puree, a signature dish across all Joël Robuchon’s restaurants, which was initially developed by Cussac himself.
The puree accompanied a fillet of John Dory, cooked tepenyaki. It sounded so simple, and yet was executed so perfectly. Dessert was a celebration of chocolate ‘la Tendance’ and was heavenly.
The service was exemplary, with continuous refreshes of bread, water and wine. The knowledgeable team carried the same pride and passion as Cussac and his brigade in the kitchen.
The whole experience was faultless, and as I waved goodbye to Cussac I knew Joel Robuchon would be incredibly proud. This was probably one of the best meals of my life, and certainly one I will never forget.
Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo, 125 rooms and suites available from. Rates begin at: €340 based on two people sharing a Classic Room and €550 based on two people sharing a Junior Suite.
Must see sights
Monacair provides Helicopter Transfers from the main airport terminal.