Whether you’re in Monaco for the mega yacht parties, the 21 gaming rooms of the legendary casino or the €30 cocktails (and €8,000 dames de compagnie) at the Beaux Arts masterpiece Hôtel de Paris, this miniature country is all about excess—furs, diamond heirlooms and magnums required.
The principality spans a mere two kilometres between the sinewy French Riviera and the abrupt limestone hills, and has long attracted some of the wealthiest people in the world—Russian tycoons, Arab princes and the golden young Casiraghis and their jet-set court. And while real estate prices were shielded from the global crisis, Monaco is now getting a much-needed facelift, attracting cooler and posher crowds than the Grand Prix fanatics and tabloid maniacs hoping to catch a princely sighting.
Lately, the royal family has campaigned to create a younger, more artistic and more ecological image for the principality. New museums such as the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco and a bevy of new top-notch galleries have opened, marking the emergence of a solid art scene and market on the Côte d’Azur. “We know people come to Monaco for the sea and the sun, but we want them also to know that we are committed to culture and, in particular, to art,” Paul Masseron, the principality’s minister of the interior, told The New York Times. Princess Caroline, a contemporary art enthusiast, has supported the exhibition of cutting-edge artists such as Anish Kapoor, George Condo and Mark Dion throughout the city.
More controversial is the new Odeon tower currently rising above the harbour. Once completed, it will stand at 170 metres and contain the world’s most expensive apartment—the 3,300-square-metre penthouse features a private water slide and infinity pool, and is expected to fetch as much as $395 million when it is released next year. “They’re targeting Russians and Chinese who are looking for a prestige investment,” explains Charles de Boursac, a British real estate agent, “because the Odeon’s prices are ridiculous even for us who are used to crazy prices.”
Meanwhile, at the nearby Metropole Hotel, a palace housed in a glittering belle époque castle, Karl Lagerfeld has just redesigned the garden swimming pool. A 20-metre-long frieze, hand-etched on a glass panel and backlit by LEDs, depicts fashion models lounging like Greek gods. This summer, the pool area welcomes hotel guests for light breakfast and lunch fare by Joel Robuchon; by the evening it transforms into a bar, serving delicate cocktails and finger food to the backdrop of top-flight DJs. “Monaco has gone through a metamorphosis for the past decade,” explains Jean-Claude Messant, the hotel’s manager. “It used to be a classic place for expats. Now it’s attracting a melting pot of active people. Our concept corresponds to this new demographic. We are the hub of the local jet set.”