Pauline Ducruet, daughter of Princess Stéphanie of Monaco, shows off the beauty and wonder of the newly renovated Hôtel de Paris.
Hôtel de Paris is one of the world’s best-kept secrets. That might be hard to believe considering the establishment, built in the heart of Monte Carlo in 1864, is one of the most iconic hotels in the world. Yet the secrecy surrounding its famous guests, royal parties, and celebrity goings-on have become part of its legacy. Guests don’t just visit for the service, the prestige, or, most importantly, the clientele – they stay for the privacy.
“The hotel was built by generations of families,” explains one long-serving staff member, who has worked with Monte Carlo Société Des Bains De Mar for 10 years. “My grandfather used to work here for a time. You can feel the sense of family spirit among the staff. They are warm and friendly, not because it’s their job but because they have pride. It’s the same with the guests – we have customers who visited when they were kids, who now return with their own children.”
To understand the story of the hotel, you need to acquaint yourself with the history of where it stands. While today, Monaco is a financially thriving Riviera destination, nestled snugly between France and Italy, in the 19th century it was a bankrupt town. In an effort to alleviate the principality’s debt, Prince Charles III of Monaco and his mother, Princess consort Maria Caroline, built a major entertainment hub that would attract high rollers. The royals were able to convince billionaire French entrepreneur François Blanc to take on the challenge. The Plateau des Spélugues area, which was used to cultivate olive and lemon trees, was transformed to what is Place du Casino today. To fund the venture, the Société des Bains de Mer et du Cercle des Etrangers (SBM) was formed; which still today manages various Monte Carlo properties. As predicted, the casino attracted wealthy visitors – who required somewhere suitably smart to sleep. In 1864, Blanc and his wife Marie opened the most famous hotel in Monaco: the Hôtel de Paris.
Designed by architect Godinot de la Bretonnerie, the hotel complemented the belle epoque exterior of the casino. Its lavish decor oozed opulence, befitting its monied clientele. After the hotel came Café de Paris and soon Plateau des Spélugues became a real town, gaining its formal name, Monte Carlo, in 1866. Three years later it was attracting more than 170000 tourists – and as the crowds got bigger, so did the city. The next major move was entertainment, and in 1878 the opera house was built. More accommodation was needed, leading to Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo and, much later, the Monte Carlo Beach Hotel and Monte Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort, all under the SBM umbrella.
The real metamorphosis of Monte Carlo came during the reign of Prince Rainier III, from 1949. The sovereign prince, who reigned for 56 years, was much loved among his people, who affectionally called him the “builder prince.” Under his rule, Monaco not only became a member of the UN, it was also reinvented as a financial center, where the wealthy could base themselves and see their riches grow thanks to the tax-free regime. Elegant mansions were built, as well as a shopping mall and train station. Land was reclaimed from the sea and the country grew by 20%. While the infrastructure was growing, Prince Rainier’s wife, Hollywood star Grace Kelly, added the X-factor. She helped make Monaco a magnet for the most glamorous and famous faces in the world, all of whom relished staying at Hôtel de Paris.
Celebrity guests ranged from artists and royalty to award-winning stars of cinema. Maria Callas, Charlie Chaplin, Salvador Dalí, Winston Churchill, and the Prince of Wales all stepped through its hallowed entrance. During the 1950s, the world came to visit the Princely Couple. In 1956, they celebrated their wedding breakfast at Hôtel de Paris – apparently, when Prince Rainier III cut into the six-tier white wedding cake, gifted by the hotel’s pastry chefs, a pair of doves flew out. The couple were regulars at the hotel, with it becoming their go-to venue for celebrations – they celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary with an intimate dinner in the cellar and hosted a party to mark 25 years of Prince Rainier’s reign. Actor Errol Flynn also turned to the exquisite venue for his wedding to Patrice Wymore in 1950, hosting a banquet at the magnificent, gold-gilded Salle Empire ballroom, with guests including Rita Hayworth and Michèle Morgan.
When Princess Grace established the annual Rose Ball in 1954, she started a tradition of guests being welcomed in the lobby of the hotel, which is why you see chairs and tables and service from Le Bar American there to this day. The couple was utterly adored in the principality, so it was inevitable that the hotel’s recent €250 million renovations should include two magnificently grand suites dedicated to each royal. The Princess Grace Suite was the first to open, in 2017. Paying homage to the late royal, the two-story room features elegant design elements reflective of her style – precious wood, straw marquetry, mother-of-pearl details, and agate panels. Artwork featuring the princess, borrowed from the palace itself, adorn the walls, while the outdoor rose bush is another subtle reference. The private office, which has its own entrance, was added by her son, Prince Albert II, who felt it necessary to have a space where guests could still work and hold meetings without disturbing the family. Outside, the impressive 440 sqm terraces, with 180-degree views of Monte Carlo, infinity pool, and bespoke granite hot tub, create a feeling of being on top of the world.
The Prince Rainier III suite is the real jewel of the hotel. Inaugurated by Prince Albert II in February, it’s a rooftop villa that stretches across 525 sqm, with 135 sqm exterior space. Designed by Richard Martinet, the two bedroom suite, complete with a large main lounge, smaller lounge, library, dining room, and office space, contains original photos, paintings, and some of Prince Rainier’s personal effects, including sculptures made by him. The star of the show, however, is not the glass-walled sauna that opens onto the Mediterranean sky, but the expansive terrace, with its breath-taking views over the Place du Casino. So impressive is the suite that a day after the inauguration, one young royal family member insisted on hosting a birthday party there. One Monaco resident also booked the suite for at least a month while their home undergoes renovation – at a starting price of €35 000 a night. “The Prince Rainier III suite is really close to our hearts,” says Pauline Ducruet of the space named after her grandfather. “It has a great soul thanks to the sculptures he made that are showcased in the living room. He would’ve loved the suite. He also would’ve loved that it overlooks Monaco.”
The renovations, which took just over four years, also saw additional rooms being built and existing rooms made bigger and brought up to date. “To me, the hotel represents the luxurious, glamorous, chic lifestyle of Monaco without being too pretentious,” says Ducruet. “The location, architecture, restaurants, and service all make it spectacular. I have many amazing memories in the hotel.” Architects Martinet and Gabriel Viora added touches of modernity, breathing new life into the historic features. In the Salle Empire, the original paintings were cleaned, while the lobby was revamped to give access to the boutique-filled courtyard, Le Patio, which leads to One Monte Carlo luxury shopping promenade. The statue of Louis XIV remains in the lobby – be sure to rub the horse’s shiny knee for good luck, Ducruet shares.
Le Grill restaurant, which its retractable roof enabling dinner under the stars, was extended with an outdoor terrace and the new Winston Churchill lounge – the British prime minister was a regular at the hotel. Following the popularity of the three-Michelin star restaurant Louis XV – Alain Ducasse, the chef launched Ômer, with a Mediterranean menu. This latest gastronomic venture, designed by Pierre-Yves Rochon, overlooks the lush new garden. Guests of the hotel enjoy complimentary access to Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo spa as well as Monte Carlo Beach Club – with its seven Michelin star venues, Monte Carlo SBM has the highest number of Michelin stars for any resort in Europe.
While the modernization of Hôtel de Paris continues the efforts of Prince Rainier III to bring the world to Monte Carlo, the soul of the Monégasque icon remains the same. It’s a living museum that continues Francois Blanc’s dream – to be a hotel “which surpasses everything that has been created until now.”
Originally published in the April 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia
Photography Ämr Ezzeldinn
Style Schanel Bakkouche