'A palace built for pleasure in a fairy-tale principality' – inside the newly refurbished Hôtel de Paris, the enchanting grande dame of Monaco

Fiona Duncan
After a truly magical makeover, grande dame Hôtel de Paris is more enchanting than ever

Among the great 19th-century grande dame hotels that are sprinkled across the capitals and resorts of Europe, the Hôtel de Paris has a special place: the sugar plum in a frothy Belle Époque confection.

It feels enchanted – a palace built for pleasure in a fairy-tale principality that decided to dedicate itself to hosting and entertaining the elite of the day. Just to stand in the Place du Casino between the Hôtel de Paris and its famous Casino de Monte-Carlo quickens the pulse. But to be a guest – that’s a real treat, especially now that a five-year, £214 million renovation has been completed, punctuated by the opening of the huge and beautiful rooftop Princess Grace Suite and, this month, the even larger Prince Rainier III Suite. 

The great pleasure of palaces like the Hôtel de Paris is that they make one feel special. Life’s cares fade away and one’s existence becomes, for the duration, charmed. Magic happens: even my flight to Nice was an unexpected joy, surrounded as I was by the 58 members of the Treorchy Male Choir, who entertained fellow passengers with their repertoire, including the beautiful Myfanwy, from take-off to landing. Why were they flying to the Côte d’Azur? To perform at the Hôtel de Paris, no less, at a St David’s Day gala dinner hosted by Prince Albert, who is a passionate Welsh Rugby fan. I knew on the flight that I was going to love my stay.

The 207 rooms are soothing spaces that have balconies or terraces on to the Place du Casino

The best luxury hotels in Monaco

In the mid-19th century, the House of Grimaldi was desperate for cash. Prince Charles III turned to gambling entrepreneur François Blanc, who’d had great success with his casino in Bad Homburg, and invited him to create roulette heaven in Monaco. In 1863, on a plateau used for cultivating olives, lemons and oranges, rose the Casino de Monte-Carlo, still today the most famous gambling house in the world. While Monégasques were, and still are, forbidden from gambling there (the casino was built to give them an income, not to endanger them), Europe’s nobility, aristocracy and filthy rich came flocking. You can still see the clock that reminded gamblers to go back to their villas and hotels along the coast, for at first there was nowhere to stay in Monaco until the Hôtel de Paris was built. All guests of the hotel have free entry to the glorious, gilded Casino (as well as to the Thermes Marins spa and the Monte-Carlo Beach Club), for the two are part and parcel, and together they saved and enriched the principality.

You need to be blessed with good luck to have a good time here. In the entrance of the marble-floored, stucco-ceilinged lobby, now entirely refurbished but still, aficionados say, with its original soul intact, stands a bronze equestrian statue of Louis XIV. The shiny right knee of the horse is testament to the thousands of hands that have rubbed it to give them luck at the tables. Guests can and do win – and lose – millions in a night. “It’s the one thing over which they have no control,” the VIP guest relations manager tells me, “so it’s a thrill.”

And then there’s the Monaco Grand Prix. To the left of the hotel’s entrance is a wrought-iron lift that allows access to a subterranean tunnel to the Casino so that guests can still reach it when the Grand Prix has turned the Place du Casino into a racetrack. Outside the hotel’s Rotunda wing are scented gardens where, during the race, ringside seats for lunch cost £500 per person.

Despite the refurb, the hotel feels as privileged and calm as ever

The best restaurants in Monaco

Though much decoratively has changed, its ambience has not. It feels historic, privileged and, above all, calm – the sort of calm that comes from every whim being answered. It smacks of Princess Grace, of course, but also of Churchill, who came every winter and kept a parakeet in his suite, Onassis and Callas, Sinatra, Cary Grant, Rita Hayworth and Errol Flynn, who celebrated his wedding in the Salle Empire with a cake that weighed 77lbs.

To the right of the lobby is Le Louis XV, the three-Michelin-starred domain, since 1987, of Alain Ducasse. The Belle Époque murals depict the wife and mistresses of the king, but the rather odd circular light fitting and the beige leather armchairs are new; I took against their matching rectangular stools for handbags: they reminded me of cardboard boxes. But I was not eating there. I dined in Omer, a new restaurant also by Ducasse on the ground floor of Rotunda. It feels a little bland, but the Mediterranean dishes are anything but.

Behind the lobby, back-of-house courtyards have been opened up and lined with soaring palm trees to become Le Patio, an open walkway that leads directly to a luxury shopping centre, One Monte-Carlo. You can see the attraction for the super rich: hotel, restaurants, shops and a casino are now all but a designer handbag’s swing from one another.

All these buildings belong to the part government-owned Société des Bains de Mer. The Société’s portfolio also includes the Thermes Marins, accessed from the Hôtel de Paris by a marble-walled tunnel. Here I wimped out of a cryotherapy session, which is apparently frightfully good for you but requires being swathed in protective bandages and standing for three minutes in a booth set at -166F (-110C). Instead, I chose a La Prairie facial and a wonderful hour in the hair salon at the hands of a master stylist.

Le Louis XV is the three-Michelin-starred domain of celebrated chef Alain Ducasse

The greatest hotels in Europe

All 207 rooms and suites have also been renovated. They are soothing, classic/modern spaces that have balconies or terraces on to the Place du Casino. In the case of the ravishing new signature suites, Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III, they have views of all three, plus rooftop infinity pools. In the Princess Grace Suite, in particular, I really felt her presence. She would surely have approved of it, right down to the film about her life made with the help of her family, the recreation of her study and the garden planted with her favourite roses.

Thank God for my glossy hair and glowing skin. A drink before dinner in the American Bar with its live band is a must, and one should at least try to look the part and mingle with the couture-clad lovelies idly scrolling through their diamond-encrusted iPhones.

The following day, I came across my gregarious friends from the Welsh valleys who were assembling for rehearsal before Prince Albert’s gala dinner. “What do you think?” I asked the drily humorous bass baritone. “Oh very posh. It’s not like home, that’s for sure.” And therein lies the magic.

Doubles from £416 per night, excluding breakfast. See more: montecarlosbm.com