Glass goes to Monte Carlo and hits the jackpot at Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo

CHIC IS the word that springs to mind when sitting and people-watching in the lobby of Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo.

Going back in time, it is easy to imagine guests in ball gowns and tuxedos gliding through for gala evenings in the hotel’s Jardin d’Hiver Hall (Winter Garden) and dancing under its magnificent glass cupola, created by disciples of Gustave Eiffel.

Fast forward to the present and even the most casual attire looks to have been seen on a mannequin in a window of one of Monaco’s shops dedicated to a luxury brand. Monte Carlo is a place people go to see and to be seen.

Hotel Hermitage’s belle epoque exterior

Hôtel Hermitage, situated in a quiet tree-filled square, earns its name when compared to the legendary Hôtel de Paris, one of its sister establishments. Hôtel de Paris is next door to the famous Monte Carlo Casino and tourists tend to gather outside, like pilgrims, making it a busy though unavoidable zone.

The good news is that the Hermitage is only a few minutes away on foot from both but with the benefit of enjoying its own calm space. With 277 rooms, including 88 suites, losing yourself in a maze of corridors and wings is inevitable but short-lived and you are soon feeling at home and settling in to luxurious comfort and understated opulence.

My room had its own terrace with sunbeds, amplifying the pleasure of being in the French Riviera by delivering a touch of glamour without the need for one of the superyachts docked in Monaco’s marina.

Hôtel de Paris is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its wine cellars, one of the largest in the world with 350,000 bottles of 3,700 different wines, and to mark the occasion there will be opportunities, for the first time ever, to visit them in the company of a master sommelier.

Needless to say, wine lists at the restaurants in the Hermitage and Hôtel de Paris are second to none and the place to start perusing them in on the rooftop of Hôtel de Paris. Here, in Le Grill, the sea views of the Côte d’Azur, though the large windows or outside on the balcony, are stupendous.

The ultra-professionalism of the staff translates into assured service and, being there at lunchtime, early summer warmth was felt when the retractable roof opened; at night, dinner under the stars here should be a gloriously faultless affair.

Grilled meats are cut at your table, the cooking style is French, of course, and the quality of the food as splendid as you might expect: beef from farms in Ireland, lamb from the Pyrenees, prawns from down the Ligurian coast at San Remo.

If there is a signature dish, it has to be the soufflé, so soft and airy it could be eaten for breakfast in bed, and with a choice of flavours that includes a heavenly mix of pistachio with raspberry; though the Grand Marnier is not be sniffed at. The executive chef, Dominique Lory, worked alongside Alain Ducasse in the hotel’s three-Michelin-starred Le Louis XV so expect à la carte wonders and a table d’hôte menu that changes daily.

Part of the wine cellar supplying La Grill and Blue Bay restaurants

Hôtel de Paris and Hôtel Hermitage both belong to the Société des Bains de Mar (Society of Sea Baths), a company with its majority share held by the sovereign city-state of Monaco. Another member of the group is the Monte-Carlo Hotel & Resort and it is here you will discover Blue Bay Marcel Ravin, a restaurant whose name incorporates its two-Michelin-star chef, Marcel Ravin.

He comes from Martinique and his cooking seamlessly blends Caribbean and French flavours. A little incongruously situated, close to a garishly decorated bar, his restaurant’s décor heads in the opposite direction and displays  a subtle  regard for material surfaces: tiled floor, wood furniture,  wallpaper and lampshades with designs suggestive of waves, a reminder of the Mediterranean Sea’s proximity, and crockery worthy of close attention.

The menus, with five or eight courses, are hugely imaginative and everything that comes to your table is photogenically alluring and not without theatrical touches: if choosing the monkfish you will not forget the introduction to this most strange-looking fish. As with La Grill, the desserts are miraculously good;  the cheese board an extraordinary choice of fifteen kinds, including two from where the sou chef hails (Corsica) and one token Italian contribution; and, for a finale, a herbal tea trolly.

Marcel-Ravin, head chef at Blue Bay restaurant

Blue Bay restaurant, Monaco

Delicacies at Blue Bay restaurant

Visiting Casino de Monte-Carlo, you may anticipate on-the-nose glitz and glamour but I was reassuringly disappointed and did not feel out of place. There were no James Bond-types amassing piles of chips while sipping shaken-not-stirred martinis, though perhaps the scene might be different in the private gaming rooms. Monte Carlo’s jackpots are to be found in its restaurants and wine lists and you can be sure of winning.

by Sean Sheehan

For more information, see Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo. Early-morning  flights from Gatwick to Nice and a 30-minute taxi ride will get you to Monte Carlo in time for a late breakfast. Frequent train services to Gatwick depart from London stations; see Thameslink or Southern Railway for details.