By Rheanna-Marie Hall
Stepping off the plane at Nice airport was just the beginning of a three-day love affair with my oldest and best friend: the sun.
The sun and I have had many encounters over the years, all of them wonderful, and all of them brief. It is what comes of living in the north of England. I was leaving behind the drizzly British winter, however, for a weekend of business and luxury in sunny Monaco.
The drive to Monaco from Nice takes a modest 30minutes, and the time is easily filled by the dramatic scenery and occasional, thrilling glimpses of a sparkling blue sea. My first sighting of the city was from above; I could see the harbour stretching along the coastline, and tall buildings packed tightly together. We threaded our way through the city, until finally we came to the famous hairpin bend of the Grand Prix, and my hotel for the weekend: the luxurious Fairmont Monte Carlo.
The Fairmont Monte Carlo is an experience all of its own. The interior of the hotel is elegantly furnished with an eye for detail – plush sofas outside of the elevators, a lounge and bar with glass walls for stunning views of the horizon – and my room for the weekend was a dream. The vista from my Sea View balcony (completed by a sun lounger to bask on) was breath-taking. It is a testament to the room however that I was also content with the curtains closed. Again, it was all very much in those extra touches: an abundance of quality letter-paper; a personalised welcome card on the dresser; fresh flowers atop the marble sink. It was luxury with a delicate touch.
An hour after my arrival at the hotel, a visit to the roof was necessary. The Fairmont Monte Carlo boasts its very own rooftop pool and bar, which hosts the famous Nikki Beach club scene. Even in late October, the weather was balmy, and laying out on a towelled sun lounger was a blissful way to begin this particular ‘bleisure’ trip.
The majority of business for the weekend was to be conducted at the Grimaldi Forum, a short walk from the hotel along the sea front. A modern build with a glass exterior, it was certainly a versatile venue, with an open exhibition space for an evening networking event – complete with food stations, mood lighting, and a live band – and lecture theatres and workshop rooms for the conference itself.
In between business, there was plenty to do. During a lunch break, myself and a colleague took a walk, past the sights of Casino Square, and back along the coast-side road, to look down on the many yachts moored in one of Monaco’s harbours. On the hill opposite stood the Prince’s Palace. Everywhere you look in Monaco, there is a view.
Our walk also took us briefly into a small casino for a quick peek (though the true casino experience was to come later), as well as around a park. At first I thought that the domed white capsules dotted throughout were futuristic greenhouses – but no. In actual fact, they were shops; the most expensive brands and exclusive designers. Forget the natural greenery. The CCTV was out of this world.
As beautiful as the city is by day however, my most memorable experience of Monaco was the nightlife. One night was dominated by a networking event but, once it finished at 11pm, upon recommendation we headed for the Buddha Bar.
Conveniently enough, the Buddha Bar is located right next door to the Fairmont; there is even a walkway connecting the two, saving guests a steep climb up several flights of steps to the club door.
The Buddha Bar was a sight to behold. I was in Monaco during Halloween weekend, and the club was themed accordingly. The elaborate décor was in the style of the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos. Giant skulls and full-bodied skeletons hung above the door and from the ceiling, complemented by cobwebs draped over softly lit chandeliers and, to complete the scene, the costumes of the bar-goers themselves. Women wore full faces of brightly coloured makeup in the likeness of skulls. Many of the men had opted for masks, which they pulled aside for shots of vodka.
The second night was no less fantastical. After a gorgeous and relaxed dinner amongst good company, despite an early flight we had one more stop to make. Can anyone really leave Monaco without making a small bet at the Grand Casino?
If such people exist, then I am not one of them. Admittedly myself and a colleague spent more time wandering through the beautiful rooms as elegantly and mysteriously as possible (of course) but a few bets were placed – insignificant amounts, that wouldn’t even acquire loose change status in the pockets of Monaco residents.
The roulette table was not forthcoming, but a last-ditch attempt at a slot machine yielded return on my original investment. It was a sum worthy of a good-natured joke by the casino attendant, but exiting the Grand Casino on a win, to make the short walk back to the warmth and welcome of the Fairmont, felt like an end befitting my time in Monaco.
About Rheanna-Marie Hall – Rheanna is the editor of Maiden Voyage, a women’s business travel network. She oversees all of Maiden Voyage’s content and social media, and writes for a variety of blogs and magazines on the topic of travel and/or business. Find her work and follow her travels via Twitter @RheannaM_Hall