Opulent hotels, fine food and quaint villages: Following in the footsteps of the Obamas, Bond and Bono on a fabulous trip along the French Riviera, from Monaco to Cap Ferrat

  • Hollywood producer Frank Mannion dropped in on some of the French Riviera’s most prized spots
  • He stayed at Hotel Hermitage Monte-Carlo, Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat and the Monte-Carlo Beach hotel
  • One of his favourite restaurants is Le Grill, on the eighth-floor terrace of the Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo 
  • He also visits Monaco’s most popular beach and its amazing Oceanographic Museum
  • Here he offers a truly insightful guide to some of the Riviera’s most beguiling places to visit 
  • Frank Mannion’s new film, Sparkling: The Story of Champagne, will be in US cinemas from August 13 

Somerset Maugham, somewhat bitterly, once described Monaco as a sunny place for shady people. While it is true that it is used as a tax haven by oligarchs and tycoons, the description is unfair. 

Monaco is a constitutional monarchy that has been run on and off for over 700 years by the House of Grimaldi, from its family seat of the Grimaldi Palace.

This once sleepy Principality was transformed in the late 1850s when the Blanc family bought the licence to build a casino and persuaded Prince Charles III to rename a downmarket seaside area known as Les Spelegures (Den of Thieves) to Monte Carlo (Mount Charles). By 1869, the casino was making so much money that the Principality could afford to abolish income tax for residents.

Somerset Maugham, somewhat bitterly, once described Monaco as a sunny place for shady people. But Frank Mannion says that description is unfair

Monaco’s photogenic Old Town, which is perched on a rocky hill and home to the Grimaldi family’s palace

Our first destination is the luxurious five-star, Hotel Hermitage Monte-Carlo, in a fabulous location, 200 yards from Casino Square.

This elegant hotel, designed in the Belle Epoque style, is in immaculate condition and is a wonderful, and discreet, place to stay. Hotel guests have access to the amazing 6,600m sq (71,041sq ft) Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo spa, complete with a heated indoor pool (which we had all to ourselves) and a fabulous view of the sea.

Our beautiful suite, with its muted colour design and evocative wallpaper panels, Louis XV-style furniture and marbled bathrooms, is spacious and has a wonderful view of the harbour and the Palace of Monaco.

At night the harbour twinkles with the lights and reflections of the superyachts. Who knew that the Grimaldi Palace basks in a nocturnal orange glow?

The sensational lobby inside the luxurious five-star Hotel Hermitage Monte-Carlo, which is in a fabulous location, 200 yards from Casino Square

One of the stunning suites at Hotel Hermitage Monte-Carlo. Frank says his accommodation was beautiful, spacious and had a wonderful view of the harbour and the Palace of Monaco

Frank says the Hotel Hermitage Monte-Carlo ‘is in immaculate condition and is a wonderful, and discreet, place to stay’. Pictured is a terrace in one of the junior suites 

Hotel Hermitage Monte-Carlo guests have access to the Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo spa (pictured)

The Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo spa covers 6,600m sq (71,041sq ft) and has an outdoor hot tub

Breakfast at the Hermitage is in the magnificent Winter Garden set under a dreamy cupola by Gustav Eiffel.

Casino Square, a two-minute walk away, has never looked more captivating, having undergone a multi-million-pound renovation. It is now mostly pedestrianised allowing for safer selfies to be taken in front of the famous casino – the Casino de Monte-Carlo. It is possible to buy tickets to visit it, although it is ironic that citizens of Monaco are not legally allowed to gamble there.

Casino Square is ‘carparazzi’ heaven with Lamborghinis and customised sports cars jockeying for pole position outside the coveted parking spots outside the casino.

Casino Square, Frank says, is ‘carparazzi’ heaven, with Lamborghinis and customised sports cars jockeying for pole position for the coveted parking spots at the front of the Casino de Monte-Carlo

It is possible to buy tickets to visit the casino, pictured, although it is ironic that citizens of Monaco are not legally allowed to gamble there

All week the Hermitage Hotel was a hive of activity as the scene of the Monaco Auction Week, where classic cars and watches, rare jewellery and a collection of Hermes handbags were auctioned in the ballroom.

There were elegantly dressed high rollers raising their paddle and being outbid by unseen telephone bidders. A 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing sold for over €1.4m (£1.2m/$1.65m). The most sought-after item was the Birkin 30 Nil Bleu Jean crocodile handbag. Despite being 17 years old and its handles having a slight discolouration, it sold for a whopping €65,000 (£55,000/$76,000), prompting deep sighs in the room from the unlucky bidders. 

The immortal words of Lady Bracknell from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest sprung to mind: ‘A Handbag? For €65,000? Some people can resist everything except temptation.’

Oscar Wilde had visited fin de siècle Monaco as a friend of the first American Princess of Monaco, Princess Alice. She stood by Wilde during his trial and imprisonment, and Wilde dedicated one of the fairytales in his A House of Pomegranates to ‘H.S.H. Alice, the Princess of Monaco’.

Alice was married to Prince Albert I who was a keen explorer and oceanographer. The Prince established the truly magnificent Oceanographic Museum of Monaco in 1910. Kids will love it, with over 6,000 specimens on display, including Grimaldichthys profundissimus long thought to be the deepest-living fish in the ocean. Princess Alice is credited with catching the first specimen, near the Cape Verde Islands using a fish trap Prince Albert invented.

The ‘magnificent’ Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, which was established by Prince Albert I, a keen explorer

The Museum also features a shark lagoon and aquariums, where you can come face to face with piranhas, seahorses, clownfish and stonefish with their deadly spines, and marvel at curious sea turtles.

Prince Albert I passed his love of the ocean to his great-great-grandson, Prince Albert II, the current Sovereign Prince of Monaco, who is passionate about ocean conservation and hosts an annual Monte-Carlo Gala for the Global Ocean. In 2017, he presented an award to that well-known eco-warrior, Leonardo DiCaprio, in the beautifully ornate Salle Garnier, known as the jewel of the Casino de Monte-Carlo (the Monte-Carlo Opera House now hosts several performances there each year, with plenty of reasonably priced tickets available in the winter season).

Prince Albert’s wife, Princess Charlene, a former Olympic swimmer, is also a water lover. I was astonished to see her in the sea racing state-of-the-art water bikes with an unlikely companion – mixed martial arts champion Conor McGregor, with whom she is embarking on a 180km (111-mile) voyage next month to raise awareness for water safety in aid of the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation.

The best restaurant for a family lunch is Le Grill, perched on the eighth-floor terrace of the newly refurbished Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo.

 Le Grill restaurant, pictured, has a panoramic view of the Mediterranean from its eighth-floor terrace. It is in the newly refurbished Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo

The panoramic view from the terrace of the Mediterranean adds to the exhilarating sensory experience. Franck Cerruti, the talented chef, works with the treasures provided by the abundant natural habitat of the Riviera. 

This is best exemplified by the aptly named Menu Escapade Romantique at €65 (£55) per person – dishes include a mouth-watering Andalusian gazpacho with lightly cooked San Remo Gamberoni and duck breast cooked in a fireplace, roasted peaches and ‘dolce forte’ sauce, finished off by mountain blueberries crumble or the marvellous Hotel De Paris traditional chocolate souffle.

To walk off lunch, head to the beguiling Princess Grace Rose Garden. 

Those feeling more intrepid should head for Fort Antoine, an 18th-century military fortress and watchtower with a bewitching promontory position overlooking the bay. 

In the summer season, it transforms into an open-air theatre space, and even though tickets are free, they need to be booked online in advance. The Fort itself was heavily damaged in World War II but was later rebuilt.

Fort Antoine, an 18th-century military fortress and watchtower, which Frank says has a ‘bewitching promontory position overlooking the bay’

Although Monaco was officially neutral in the war, it was twice occupied by the Italian Army, but the Germans drove them out after the fall of Mussolini. After the Allies liberated the Principality in September 1944, the future Prince Rainier III joined the French Army and took part in the liberation of Alsace, and was awarded the American Bronze Star Medal for his bravery.

In 1955 the Hollywood movie star, Grace Kelly, arrived in the south of France for the premiere of The Country Girl (for which she later won an Oscar). The late Olivia de Havilland played a real-life match-maker, setting up Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III on a date.

There are some memorable black-and-white photos of their first date, with an official photographer in tow as the Prince showed Grace around the Palace and his private zoo in the Palace gardens, while a tiger looks on curiously at the glamorous new arriviste. 

The couple married the following year, with Kelly becoming Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco. The ‘wedding of the century’ took place at the 19th century St Nicholas Cathedral in April 1956, attended by Cary Grant, Ava Gardner, Gloria Swanson and Aristotle Onassis, and watched by 30million around the globe. The marriage made the Principality world famous.

The majestic 19th-century St Nicholas Cathedral, where Grace Kelly became Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco when she wed Prince Rainier III

The Cathedral, with its majestic white marble altar, is worth a visit. It is also the final resting place of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace.

Avenue Princess Grace, in the nearby Larvotto district, is the most expensive street in the world, located naturally enough in the most expensive ward in the Principality, where average apartment prices are $16m (£11.5m/€13.5million).

Monaco consistently ranks number one in the world for millionaire density, with over 30 per cent of residents having a net worth of over £1million, with several members of the mythical Three Commas Club, an exclusive ‘club’ reserved solely for those with a net worth in the billions. 

But it’s also the location of the Principality’s most popular sandy beach – Larvotto Beach. Most importantly, it has free public access. If you fancy a day trip to Monaco, just bring your own towel, or you can hire a parasol and sunlounger from the beach club.

Monaco’s most popular sandy beach – Larvotto Beach – which has free public access and proximity to good eateries

There are plenty of good eateries nearby including Mozza on Rue du Portier for good Italian dishes in an authentic trattoria with marble tables and red leather seats, and Maya Jah, a buzzy eatery that offers thrilling Mediterranean cuisine with oriental flavours, and is a sister restaurant to the equally excellent and popular Thai/Japanese restaurant Maya Bay, in the nearby Rocabella building.

Maya Jah is a stylishly designed restaurant, with a lively terrace and with a €22 three-course set lunch menu offers value for money. 

At night, it comes into its own with a DJ setting the scene for a trendy crowd to experience a memorable meal with show-stopping cocktails and fabulous dishes where you are whisked off to the Orient without ever having to leave the Mediterranean.

Mozza restaurant on Rue du Portier, which Frank says is for good Italian dishes in ‘an authentic trattoria with marble tables and red leather seats’

The Maya Jah restaurant (pictured) serves up show-stopping cocktails and fabulous dishes ‘where you are whisked off to the Orient without ever having to leave the Mediterranean’, says Frank 

In walking distance of Larvotto Beach and Casino Square is The Metropole Monte-Carlo Restaurant, in a fabulous dining room designed by Jacques Garcia and a pretty tree-lined terrace offering a refreshing Mediterranean breeze.

This mise-en-scene complements an inventive menu such as a starter of green beans ‘al dente’ in a mimosa salad with Solange Imperial caviar, or a sardine with green asparagus and lemon confit from nearby Menton, followed by blue lobster spaghetti with a spicy and coral emulsion.

This is French haute cuisine at its finest and is enhanced by impeccable and friendly service and a tempting selection of desserts from its famous trolley that will drive younger members at the table wild with excitement. 

However, you’ll need to be patient if you want to eat there as it’s currently closed due to renovation work and won’t reopen until April 2022.

For the final two nights, we move just beyond the eastern border of the Principality to the Green Globe-certified Monte-Carlo Beach hotel in the enclave of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. This is a truly delightful five-star resort hotel on the sea with a private beach. It features two outstanding restaurants – the more casual Le Deck combines delicious sea-food dishes, friendly service and an unexpectedly buzzing scene that is as fun as Club 55 in St Tropez.

The Monte Carlo Beach hotel, pictured, is a five-star property by the sea with a private beach

Frank says that Le Deck restaurant, pictured, at the Monte-Carlo Beach hotel ‘combines delicious sea-food dishes, friendly service and an unexpectedly buzzing scene that is as fun as Club 55 in St Tropez’ 

Monte-Carlo Beach hotel’s Elsa eatery is the first organic Michelin-starred restaurant, with ‘stupendous’ views of the sea

Elsa, on a terrace with a stupendous view of the sea, is the first organic Michelin-starred restaurant. It alone is worth travelling to, just to sample the irresistible cooking of the charming chef, Benoit Witz.

And the breakfast? The best in the Cote D’Azur, with the acai and berry porridge being particularly delicious.

Our modern suite is beautifully designed with an ocean view, a terrace to watch the spectacular sunsets, and steps to take us directly to the sea or the Olympic-sized swimming pool, complete with its dual-level diving boards.

Just down the road from the hotel is the newly reopened Cap Moderne site, featuring Le Corbusier’s wonderful Cabanon holiday cabin and the neighbouring E-1027, the influential villa built by Eileen Gray that’s perched on the Cap-Martin cliff face. The villa had been graffitied by Le Corbusier (much to Gray’s chagrin) and used for target practice by the Nazis, but it has now been lovingly restored and it is an architectural joy to behold.

Even though Monaco is the second smallest state (after the Vatican), measuring the size of Hyde Park, it is also the most densely populated country in the world, albeit with only 38,000 inhabitants. The busy streets in and around Casino Square seem like a distant memory in this stunning seaside oasis of calm.

Cap Moderne features Le Corbusier’s Cabanon holiday cabin and E-1027, the influential cliff-face villa built by Eileen Gray (pictured)

The enchanting hilltop village of Eze, which is known for its picturesque narrow cobbled streets

Until the mid-19th century, the Principality of Monaco was much larger and bordered the village of Eze, to the west, and the seaside town of Menton, to the east. Both are within easy reach of Monaco. 

Eze is an enchanting hilltop village that offers breathtaking views of the sea and hills below. The Exotic Garden, with its spectacular collection of cacti, received the Royal imprimatur with a visit from known horticulturalist Prince Charles.

In the summer heat, the picturesque narrow cobbled streets of Eze, with its charming boutiques, offer some welcome shade. 

It is an old truism that the better the view from a restaurant, the worse the food will be. Les Remparts at Chateau de la Chevre d’Or, one of the best restaurants in the Cote D’Azur, disproves that theory. In the summer of 2019 Barack and Michelle Obama were hosted there by Eze resident Bono of U2, where they feasted on the likes of octopus as a bolognese sauce, potato cream and smoked paprika and confit lamb shoulder, eggplant caviar moutabal-style and raita yoghurt.

Les Remparts restaurant at Chateau de la Chevre d’Or – one of the best restaurants in the Cote D’Azur

Barack and Michelle Obama enjoyed lunch with U2’s Bono at Chateau de la Chevre d’Or in 2019 (pictured)

Inside the two-Michelin-starred La Chèvre d’Or Gourmet Restaurant at Chateau de la Chevre d’Or 

Guests can enjoy vintage Champagnes as well as couture pastries at Chateau de la Chevre d’Or’s bar, pictured 

Walt Disney was a frequent visitor to Eze and was friendly with the owner of La Chevre d’Or and an apocryphal story goes that Walt dreamed up the Magic Kingdom while staying there. Pictured is the hotel’s pool 

The chef’s signature dessert is his take on a Menton lemon – simply mouth-watering. Walt Disney was a frequent visitor to Eze and was friendly with the owner of La Chevre d’Or and an apocryphal story goes that Walt dreamed up the Magic Kingdom while staying there.

It is not hard to imagine, since Eze feels like a fairyland of make-believe. If you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, the nearby and less pricey Les Terrasses D’Eze is a lovely family-friendly four-star hotel, whose piece de resistance is an infinity pool and a dreamy restaurant terrace, both of which have a sensational view of the Mediterranean below.

Menton, famous for its springtime Lemon Festival, is only a kilometre from the border with Italy. It was a favourite holiday spot of Queen Victoria, and when she started visiting the south of France in the 1880s, it went from being a place where elderly British aristocrats went to convalesce to being a fashionable holiday destination.

The piece de resistance at Les Terrasses D’Eze, a lovely family-friendly four-star hotel, is its infinity pool, pictured 

The dreamy restaurant at Les Terrasses D’Eze, which has a terrace with a sensational view of the Mediterranean below 

In fact, Queen Victoria described it in her diary as ‘beloved and beautiful Menton’. She stayed at the cosy Chalet des Rosiers. For those seeking a piece of Victoriana, the chalet is now available to rent on Airbnb. It is worth doing a day trip from Monaco, just to see the delightful Marriage Registry designed by Jean Cocteau, with his signature flamboyant murals, and the Jean Cocteau Museum, showcasing the work of this incredible polymath, displaying some of his ceramics and artworks, including his Grecian-style label for the 1947 vintage of Mouton Rothschild.

The elderly Queen Victoria wasn’t so keen on Monaco and reputedly drew the curtains of her carriage when passing through this supposed den of iniquity on her way to Cap Ferrat, 14km from Monaco to the west. If only Queen Victoria had lived long enough to enjoy the best and most beautiful hotel in the French Riviera, Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat.

Originally opened in 1908, the Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat oozes movie-star glamour from the moment the entrance gates open. It is no wonder that it has enchanted the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross and Winston Churchill. Gustav Eiffel designed the soothing Rotonda overlooking the tropical garden and the dramatic funicular taking guests down to the famous cliff-top heated salt-water pool and fabulous poolside restaurant, Club Dauphin, feels like something out of a Bond movie.

The Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, which Frank says is the best and most beautiful hotel on the French Riviera

Originally opened in 1908, the Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat oozes movie-star glamour from the moment the entrance gates open, says Frank

For those looking for a deeper summer tan, this is the place to go as the cape is known as ‘Little Africa’, with the average temperature a couple of degrees higher than the rest of the coast.

The pool is large and divine, and if it all looks refreshingly familiar, it’s probably because of its scene-stealing role in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels starring Michael Caine.

The suites and bathrooms are exquisite and have thoughtful touches like a water-proof pillow to rest your weary head on in the bathtub. Yoric Tieche creates culinary masterpieces at the Michelin-star restaurant Le Cap, in the most romantic setting imaginable. Heavenly desserts are conceived by Florent Margaillan, the imaginative executive pastry chef (and a former Dessert Champion of France), while the team at the impressive Spa give the best massages.

Frank describes the suites and bathrooms at the Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat as ‘exquisite’ 

For those looking for a deeper summer tan, Frank says Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, pictured, is the place to go as the cape is known as ‘Little Africa’, with the average temperature a couple of degrees higher than the rest of the coast

A dramatic funicular takes guests down to the cliff-top heated salt-water pool and poolside restaurant, Club Dauphin 

Frank says of the service at Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat: ‘Every guest is made to feel like an Oscar-winning movie star’

To crown it all, the hotel has the most elegant breakfast buffet on the Cote D’Azur. The helpful and friendly staff make every guest feel like an Oscar-winning movie star – no surprise that the French Government awarded it the coveted ‘Palace’ distinction for superseding the five-star category.

It’s one of many gems on the glittering French Riviera, with Monaco an ever-sparkling pink diamond – its beaches are pristine, crime is practically non-existent and you can follow in the footsteps of James Bond if you visit. Never Say Never Again and Goldeneye were both filmed in the sumptuous surroundings of the Salle Europe in the Casino of Monaco.

A trip to the city-state is bound to leave you stirred, not shaken.

  • Frank Mannion’s new film, Sparkling: The Story of Champagne, will be in US cinemas from August 13. In the UK, it’s exclusively on Britbox from July 29.

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