While considering dreamy destinations for a romantic rendezvous, Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo immediately came to mind. I convinced my late husband, Bob, to take me there after a solo trip to Monaco (via helicopter from Nice-Cote d’Azur) on my first trip to the South of France. Our stays together left such an indelibly delicious memory that I’ve returned multiple times, including in 2018 and 2019. It’s a venue I recommend at any time, especially Valentine’s Day.
Imagine a majestic, multicolored, glass-paneled dome where sunlight bathes the Belle Époque lobby and brightens a sultry, lipstick red, two-sided couch. Consider light and airy bedrooms, like the spacious, high-ceilinged room one we accommodated. The suite-sized space boasted a striped foyer, coffered molding, a garden mural behind the king-sized bed and French doors opening to a balcony and port views. I recall a huge television, an event-worthy chandelier, decorative closet doors and a collection of ornately framed mirrors above an Empire-style day bed.
In winter, few things are as sensual as a hotel spa, and Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo is one of the world’s most extraordinary. Its oversized, oval-shaped, heated, indoor saltwater spa pool is the centerpiece of a four-story, standalone, 75,000-square-foot complex. Hotel guests can reach it wearing bathrobes via underground corridors from both Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo and Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo, and from the street. Among the spa’s attractions is the remarkable panorama from the terrace and through multiple grand and porthole-style windows, showcasing the ship-shaped Yacht Club de Monaco, the mega-yachts docked portside and the ultra-blue Mediterranean.
Whether or not you choose to participate in an à la carte spa service or package, the spa is a swimming, sunning (yes, even in winter) and dining destination.
Within the interior reception area, a staff of English-speaking experts describe and schedule various La Prairie beauty services, Phytomer body treatment packages and extended-stay wellness protocols that maximize the benefits of a team of doctors, nutritionists, therapists and trainers. My most recent thalassotherapy treatment started with a 20-minute soak in a multi-jetted hydrotherapy tub, followed by a grapeseed and sesame seed oil rub and scrub exfoliation called gommage, with sel de guerande, sea salt from Brittany.
The extensive programs offer fitness activities and thalassotherapy to anti-aging and slimming, complete with haute cuisine minceur, or gastronomic spa cuisine menus at l’Hirondelle: Le Menu Wellness (with calorie counts), Le Menu Veggie (vegetarian options) and Le Menu du Marché (fresh from the market), plus à la carte selections. Last year, I sampled scrambled eggs, topped with truffles; a circle of tabbouleh decorated with citrus segments and greens ;and grilled fish which arrived under a silver dome topped with teeny cherry tomatoes, parsley and red onions. Eating there reminded me of the formality of our first meal on its terrace; six people were chatting at an adjoining table — three bath robe-wrapped men and three bikini-clad women — while three servers lifted the silver-dome cloches atop their entrées, in choreographed unison. Wow!
For dining, multiple options at the Société des Bains de Mer are fascinating to fabulous. One of the best meals of my life took place at Louis XV, Alain Ducasse’s Michelin three-star within the adjacent Hotel de Paris Monte Carlo. The caviar- and truffle-enhanced meal displayed the purity of le style Ducasse and illustrated amazing attention to detail. A server placed a hand-stitched, needlepoint-topped foot stool next to my seat for my purse and used a silver scissor to clip fresh herbs growing in pots within a long, plant-laden cart.
Whenever I’m in Monaco, I opt to people watch at Café de Paris on Casino Square, where I always order salade Niçoise. Last April, we enjoyed Asian fare at Buddah Bar. This past August, we dined late at OMER, Alain Ducasse’s newest Mediterranean-menu restaurant on the terrace of Hotel de Paris Monte Carlo, and enjoyed a selection of light, tapas-style dishes and desserts at another new restaurant, Mada One.
The hotel is within Monte Carlo, the magical center of the fairytale principality of Monaco, famous for its gorgeous casino, exclusive shops, exotic gardens, Oceanographic Museum and Royal Palace and a multitude of annual events, from the Monte Carlo Masters tennis tournament to the Grand Prix.
Monaco is reached via train, taxi or helicopter from Nice-Côte d’Azur Airport. Cars are a nuisance; unless you are just driving there for a day or dinner, use taxis, buses and a Société des Bains de Mer hotel shuttle.
Walking across The National Mall, I literally crossed paths with Lonnie G. Bunch III, the Smithsonian Institution’s first African American CEO. Dr. Bunch, who first visited the Smithsonian as a 10-year-old Civil War buff, was told by his father, “Here’s a place where you can understand yourself and your country and not be worried by the color of your skin.” Bunch, who famously created the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, was quoted as saying, “I wanted to give back to those institutions that shaped everything I am.”
By Hainan Airlines
Sure, we’re barely dipping our toes into winter weather, but isn’t it more fun to think ahead to the warm weather family fun your crew could have at the Jersey Shore? Luckily, Atlantic City, New Jersey, offers far more than sandy beaches and casinos — enough to entertain all ages in all sorts of weather.