My first sight of Monaco is via helicopter transfer on Monacair, one of several companies operating out of Nice Côte d’Azur Airport. The “bird” is dark navy, sleek, high-tech… almost military, like something out of a sequel to Black Hawk Down. We swoop down for a fairytale look at the fabled Principality, which – no surprise – resembles a movie set in waiting. And this, I learn, applies equally to Monaco’s glam glittering spa culture: at once Old World and newfangled, understated and state-of-the-art.
SBM (Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer) operates many of the lavish Belle Époque and Art Deco hotels, independent clubs and restaurants like Buddha Bar, and, of course, the famed Monte-Carlo Casino. The company’s own history is nearly as legendary as that of Monaco itself (indeed, Ari Onassis once owned the controlling interest).
SBM’s Hôtel de Paris and its three-star Michelin restaurant Louis XV, adjacent to the casino and delectably opulent Opéra de Monte Carlo, is perhaps the iconic address. But arguably even more exclusive is the Hôtel Hermitage, whose most celebrated element is Gustave Eiffel’s stained glass Winter Garden cupola: You can see the bones of his renowned tower in the graceful yet masculine vaulting.