The Hôtel de Paris on Casino Square was built right after the casino itself, and is generally considered the top property in Monaco. But the five-star, 280-room Hotel Hermitage, where our group stayed for half of its visit in April, is spectacular enough that incentive groups have split between it and the Hôtel de Paris a block away without either feeling they are in lesser or unequal facilities. Both are Leading Hotels of the World members, and the Hermitage's stained-glass-domed, Gustave Eiffel-designed rear lobby is a stunning group check-in area.
Another nearby Leading Hotels member, the Hôtel Metropole Monte Carlo, can be added as a third property for particularly large groups. A smaller, more intimate property offering touches like private in-room check-in, it will also appeal to gourmands, as the chefs of its Joël Robuchon Monte Carlo restaurant manage all on-site F&B events.
The Fairmont Monte Carlo, at which we also stayed, is a beautiful property, although it has a more modern feel to it. Overlooking the Port Hercule yacht basin, the three-country view from its open rooftop restaurant, Horizon Deck, make it an amazing venue. It seats 120.
Another property worth considering is the Le Meridien Monte Carlo, one of the largest at 400 rooms. With the only private beach in Monaco, and a beach club with several event rooms, it offers plenty of outdoor options.
Out by the far eastern end of the Principality, SBM’s seven-year-old, 334-room Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort has a huge outdoor resort area featuring a large pool and sandy-bottomed swimming lagoon, a sea lounge, many cabanas, and a number of other outdoor event spaces. The shoreline is a good spot for water sports like watercraft and parasailing. It shares a small peninsula with the Monte-Carlo Sporting Club, which has several indoor spaces that can hold a combined 1,500. Its 12-room Spa Cinq Mondes, features rituals from five parts of the world.
The last hotel on the eastern side of Monaco, SBM’s Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel is located just past the Monte-Carlo Country Club. A ‘30s-era property renovated three years ago, it’s small – just 40 rooms and suites — and can be bought out except during the high season. The large pool is backed by the Le Deck event space and often used by groups from other SBM properties. Designed especially with group events in mind, Le Deck can host up to 700 for cocktails. Thanks to the curving coastline, all of Monaco is lit up in the background at night.
The Fairmont Monte Carlo
Monaco lives up to its reputation. That's impressive, considering that the tiny Riviera principality situated a few minutes between Nice on one side and the Italian border on the other is famous as the home of the late Princess Grace, as well as for having more billionaires per acre than anywhere else on earth.
That concentration of wealth does more for the principality than ensure attendees will get in a year’s worth of Ferrari and Lamborghini sightings in a week. It means there are many, many ways to have fun.
Where to Play
When it comes to nightlife in Monaco, there are two main spots to keep in mind: the Place du Casino area, and Nice, roughly 20 minutes down the coast in France, which has a large and active nightlife scene. That’s one of the secrets to an incentive trip to Monaco: leaving it for the day or evening. Going in the other direction you reach San Remo in Italy in about 40 minutes. Both are good spots for dine-arounds, day trips, and shopping. Nearby scenic villages include Eze, the medieval village perched on a high cliff that is home to the Fragonard perfume factory, and Cap Ferrat. Both have incredible private villas that can be rented out for an event.
Place du Casino’s nightlife starts with the Casino de Monte-Carlo, of course. It stays open until the last patron leaves. Note that guest of SBM hotels don’t have to pay the 10 Euro entrance fee. The other four casinos, all run by SBM, include the Sun Casino, with more American table games than the others — the Casino de Monte-Carlo has baccarat, for example, and the rules of roulette are different. For late night munchies there is the famous is the Café de Paris, on Casino Square, catty corner from the main Casino, with a very turn-of the (previous) century Parisian feel. It can take groups of up to 350.
The star of the Monte Carlo’s nightclub scene is SBM’s Jimmy’z which has two locations: on Place du Casino and out at the Sporting Monte Carlo complex. It is one of the top clubs on the Riviera, and sees plenty of celebrities. Getting in doesn’t require paying for table bottle service or being on a Vogue cover, but good behavior at the door helps. There’s also a nearby outpost of Buddha-Bar, which has an excellent Asian fusion restaurant, along with a dozen or so other spots, a number of which have live music.
Music, Art, and Exploration
The fact that half of the grandest building in the principality — Charles Garnier’s Casino de Monte Carlo, heavily influenced by his masterpiece, the Paris Opera — is given over to the Opera de Monte Carlo, is indicative of the importance given to the arts. It is a sumptuous space decked out in red velvet, and boasts exquisitely intricate ceilings. Depending on the schedule it’s available to groups, but remember that while it seats 520, the royal box is always off limits, even to the CEO.
While Monaco is strong in the performing arts, it has been working to establish visual arts, which is where the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco comes in. The two grand private homes that make up this museum are both good cocktail venues. The Villa Sauber, which can hold 100, allows behind the scenes tours if the exhibition schedules allow it. In May, it had a collection of Josephine Baker's hats —she was hugely popular in Monaco — that was a treat to see up close. Villa Paloma doesn’t allow drinks inside to protect its art, but its terrace, high above the old city, palace, and yacht harbor has some of the best views in the Principality.
One more museum that shouldn’t be excluded as either a venue or simply a free time destination is the Musée Oceanographique de Monaco, set in a lovely manicured park out past the old city on the western side of the principality. Consider a coaches or cabs for smaller groups, as it’s on the far side of the principality from Casino Square. Venues include the aquarium, grand hall, and the sumptuous, 5,400-square-foot Salle de Conferences, which has a high, coffered-wood ceiling with murals, huge arched windows on either side, and A/V capabilities upgraded during the museum’s 2010 centennial renovation. It can take 300 for conferences or 500 for cocktails. Upstairs are exploration and natural history exhibits that include venues under either a life-size model of a whale or an actual skeleton of one. The museum’s total capacity is 300 for dinner and 650 for cocktails, or up to 1,400 if multiple spaces are used.
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
On the dining front, there are more than a few grand French chefs who have outposts in Monaco, most notably Alain Ducasse, with Le Grill Louis XV and Le Grill, both in the Hotel du Paris, and the two-Michelin-star Joël Robuchon Monte-Carlo, in the Hôtel Metropole. Robuchon also has a one-starred Japanese restaurant, Yoshi, in the property and is opening a third there later this summer, designed by Karl Lagerfeld. (The nearby Villa Ulysse, where the designer lived for 10 years, can be rented for private events.)
For sheer décor, La Salle Empire in the Hôtel de Paris is a banquet space that’s also a listed historical site. Carnivores will want to try L’Argentin in the Fairmont. At Le Meridien Beach Plaza, Monte Carlo, there is L’Intempo, the only 24-hour restaurant in Monaco. It has several areas, including a Live Cooking station centered like a bar. Its spaces can hold can hold 40, 62, and 88. Cooking and wine classes with the award-winning sommelier are available. The hotel’s Sea Club Conference Centre has 14 meeting rooms on five floors, and can host groups of 2,000.
At the Hôtel Hermitage, Le Vistamar is a Michelin starred seafood restaurant with a terrace overlooking the yacht harbor and a private room for 12. The Salle Belle Epoque and the Belle Epoque Terrace are popular spots for gala dinners.
That said, there are more than a few good places to dine that are more casual. One of the most famous is SBM’s Café de Paris, on Casino Square catty corner from the main Casino. It’s a must do, with a very turn of the (previous) century Parisian feel, at least as a dine-around option if not for a dinner. There’s the excellent ground floor Brasserie 1900, which takes groups of up to 30, the upstairs event hall Salon Bellevue for 350, and the Bar des Jeux, which can take groups of 30. The building hosts a second casino, the casino Café de Paris, with American-style table games.
Right at the start of the Grand Prix starting line in the harbor is the Brasserie de Monaco, a very modern dance club/brewpub, which makes several very nice beers, notably the award-winning lager, in the back. Opened with a push from Prince Albert, who wanted a Monégasque beer in production, it has a 40-person private room and 4,300-square-foot terrace, and can handle groups of up to 600. Next door is the Explorer’s Club, which focuses on local produce (the lamb was excellent) and can take groups of 80 indoors and 180 on its terrace. The decor is based on scientific polar expeditions undertaken by the current sovereign and his father.
Excellent views of the palace square, where the changing of the guard is a prime tourist attraction, can be had at Le Castelroc restaurant, on the far side of the square, which is known for Monégasque specialties, and can hold about 70. A nearby old city street, Rue Emile de Loth, has a number of restaurants packed in tightly enough to make a good dine-around site.
A Sporting Country
Cars are a big part of Monaco’s history, thanks in large part to Formula 1’s Grand Prix of Monaco, probably the best-known auto race in the world. While we were there, the principality was preparing its streets for this meet, which goes right through the center of town, past the casino, along the waterfront, and then past a number of hotels, most famously the Fairmont, whose front entrance is the apex of The Fairmont Turn, a hairpin so tight you’d have to slow down on a bicycle, to say nothing of a massively overpowered F1 car.
There is a lot of corporate entertainment around the Grand Prix — one of the premiere meets of the Formula 1 seasons — and it’s a spectacular event to time an incentive around, but the price increases are huge and you’d have to book at least a year out. The Fairmont’s seventh-floor Willow Stream Spa has windows overlooking the track and a rooftop pool that may be among the best places to view the race, although you’d probably lose the calm, relaxing atmosphere typical at the nearly 10,000-square-foot spa.
Of course, that’s not the only big sporting event in Monaco, which because of its wealth and fame is able to fight above its weight when it comes to sport and cultural offerings. The Grimaldi Forum, Monaco’s seaside convention and exhibition center, hosts the UEFA Super Cup, a champions’ soccer match that kicks off the European football season. We arrived in April, just as the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters tennis tournament was wrapping up, and the Fairmont’s meetings team proved its resourcefulness by finding a couple of very hard-to-get tickets to the final match, in which Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic for the first time.
Set up for the finals, the Monte-Carlo Country Club’s red clay center court was a good one (it has 21 in all), large enough but still intimate, with plenty of corporate event areas for sponsors, as well as an amazing view of the Mediterranean. And like pretty much everything in Monaco (technically the stadium is in Cap Martin, France, although there is no noticeable border), it is walkable from the Place du Casino square. That said, for a group event, its far enough away from the center of town to consider coaches if for no other reason than to keep people together.