If These Walls Could Talk… takes a look at the legendary stories behind some of the world’s most famous luxury hotels. Here we look back at the star-studded past of the 1930s Art Deco gem that is Monaco’s Monte Carlo Beach Hotel.
The Monte Carlo Beach Hotel: The Legend
In 1990, Helmut Newton’s wife pulled out a video camera by the poolside at the Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel. As she started videotaping, Helmut began shooting snapshots of friends. This footage would soon make its way into Helmut by June, a 1995 documentary that shed light into the life of the provocative German fashion photographer.
Newton spent endless days at the hotel, shooting models for Vogue and Vanity Fair, many of which are among his best shots. But he wasn’t the first, or the last, famous guest at this Monaco hotel, which can stake a claim to having the richest celebrity history on the French Riviera.
“Rudolf Nureyev and Gloria Swanson loved to stay here”
It’s been a haven for the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Rihanna and Leonardo DiCaprio, as well as Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. And these modern day stars follow in a long lineage of famous figures who have stayed here, from Grace Kelly to Coco Chanel.
“The interwar period was a very special time,” says Danièle Garcelon, the director of the Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel, “and spending the summer in Monte Carlo was a must-do for the international elite.”
It all started in 1929, when the Art Deco hotel first opened on the Côte d’Azur – at the time a fairly barren strip. The hotel’s founders struggled to draw upscale clientele, so hired New York gossip columnist Elsa Maxwell – a friend of Cole Porter, Rita Hayworth and Zsa Zsa Gabor – to create buzz around the hotel (keep in mind, this was before ‘public relations’ was a job title).
She told the contracting team to build the hotel’s Olympic-size pool and helped draw the jet set crowd, from Winston Churchill to Marlene Dietrich. Maxwell promoted it as the new Lido and hosted extravagant celebrity parties throughout the 1930s.
In her 1963 memoirs, The Celebrity Circus, Maxwell told tales of Monte Carlo parties that would keep guests partying until 5 a.m., and often when the Prince Rainer of Monaco and Princess Grace Kelly were in attendance, they would often stay for breakfast and watch the sunrise. “It soon became a rendezvous for the artistic, musical and cultural elite, including the Royal family,” says Garcelon.
“Rudolf Nureyev and Gloria Swanson loved to stay here. Because of its discreet luxury and the richness of its environment it became known as a jewel.”
Arguably the most discreet part of the hotel (and certainly its best-kept secret) however is not actually part of the traditional premises at all. Above the hotel proper, there is the La Villa La Vigie, the white mansion built in 1902 by Sir William Ingram, tucked into the bushy trees. It was bought by the Monte Carlo Beach in 1952 as an exclusive suite for celebrity clientele (it’s a private suite that goes for €100,000 a night). Lagerfeld, for one, has spent ten consecutive summers there.
This villa is also where Cannes Film Festival juries have held their private parties, and where multiple films have been shot. There was Confessions of a Cheat (1936), in which a young rake cheats his way through the casinos of Monaco bedding various beautiful women along the way, and no fewer than two James Bond films.
This past April, the villa hosted the Nomad design fair, showcasing Guy Bourdin’s estate alongside wooden chairs by John Makepeace. The villa also hosts government galas and fashion photo shoots, where Parisian photographers follow in the traces of Newton’s footsteps.
The Monte Carlo Beach Hotel: The Location
A quarter of a mile to the east of Monaco, the biggest deception is this hotel isn’t actually in Monte Carlo, but a ten minute drive away in the French region of Roquebrune. Tucked among the mountains, the hotel is however, wedged between the Monte Carlo Golf Club and Monte Carlo Beach Club.
The reason for the choice of location is because beaches are scarce inside the city – it’s too overrun with condo towers and shoreside yachts. Out here there is much more free space to relax. That explains why the hotel doesn’t look anything like what’s in Monte Carlo; it almost looks a bit Californian with its terracotta rooftop, which calls to mind something out of Hollywood.
The hotel offers a variety of watersports; from beach volleyball to jet skiing and even parachuting over the sea. The pool has three diving boards, while the hilltop golf club offers stunning views of the shore.
Visit this hotel if you’re looking for a getaway from the high-priced rentals inside Monte Carlo, as this is the palatial, inexpensive route for a serene beach holiday, minus the crowds. Taking a quick cab into the city is just a ten minute ride for €15 (£13), and there’s plenty to check out; nearby is the world-renowned Monte Carlo Casino, or if you want somethign slightly more cultured, the New National Museum of Monaco and the Princess Grace Theatre.
The Monte Carlo Beach Hotel: The Lowdown
The hotel has 40 rooms starting at €221 (£195) a night and 14 suites starting at €480 (£425) a night. Their executive Diamond Suite Sunshine goes for €3,240 (£2,870) a night. The hotel has four onsite restaurants offering different kinds of fare; The Deck, offers an organic buffet overlooking the pool, while Elsa (the restaurant named after its legendary publicist), serves up Mediterranean classics on the rocky beach.
The Pizzeria, which won the best pizza award at the 27th Pizza World Championship, serves savory stone oven pizzas and La Vigie is a seafood restaurant at the tip of the hotel’s shore.
They also have a spa and a nightclub called the Sea Lounge. The hotel is a 30 minute taxi ride away from Nice airport.
Visit monte-carlo-beach.com for booking enquiries and details