It’s a stretch to think of a place where Lamborghinis are daily drivers and Michelin stars are as plentiful as the day’s catch as a small town. But on a recent trip to Monaco, my experience was entirely different from my first one 20 years ago. Back then, I was bowled over by the extraordinary wealth—the multimillion-dollar yachts lining the harbor, glamorous people at every turn and stunning Belle Epoque Casino. This time, my hosts from SBM (Sociéte des Bains de Mer) wanted to share a fresh, friendly, fun-loving Monaco—a destination that’s well within reach for meeting and incentive groups. And with only 8,000 Monagasque citizens living in an area that’s less than a square mile, this principality really is the size of your average small town in the States.
The government of Monaco owns 70 percent of SBM and is investing in its venerable properties, most notably the Hotel de Paris. Through the end of 2017, the property is being completely re-created, with only 53 rooms and its famous restaurants (including the pinnacle of fine dining, Alain Ducasse’s 3-star Le Louis XV) remaining open. Its shops have been moved into the Monte-Carlo Pavilions, a temporary shopping plaza comprised of silver futuristic-looking pods set into the Jardins des Boulingrins just beyond the Casino. Now anyone can peruse these tony shops, with designer names such as Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga and Boucheron, and the only Chanel shoe store in the world.
Another example of how today’s Monte-Carlo can be enjoyed by all is SBM’s free concert series on the Casino Square. Also, Monte-Carlo Sporting, another SBM facility known for bringing in the big names, this year shifted its focus to standing concerts to attract a younger audience, kicking off the summer season with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. In fact, visiting groups can tap into a robust year-round schedule of festivals and events, from the circus to fireworks, yachts to jazz.
Though SBM is associated with ultra-luxe 5-star properties—in addition to the Hotel de Paris, there’s the Hermitage Hotel and the 40-room Monte-Carlo Beach, a Relais & Chateaux property—the lesser-known, perhaps, is the 4-star Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The 334-room hotel is a short walk from the Grimaldi Forum but also offers 10 of its own meeting rooms, many with sea views. It’s an ideal option for pharmaceutical groups where compliance dictates a 4-star property. Centered around a huge kid-friendly lagoon, it feels like the kind of resort that would be comfortable for U.S. attendees, and the décor casual and contemporary.
Don’t be fooled, however; 5-star amenities include the Michelin–starred Blue Bay; but again, this is a more relaxed fine dining experience. In fact, Chef Marcel Ravin can often be found out on the floor chatting with diners. His creative cuisine is inspired by his home base in French Martinique and he is happy to serve up a tasting menu of locally inspired dishes for groups.
Attendees staying at any SBM property can use their Access cards at all four hotels to experience the various facilities, as well as at the famous Monte-Carlo Casino. This allows guests from Monte Carlo Bay to get a taste of the finest SBM has to offer, including the Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo spa at the Hermitage, which is known for having one of only two full cryotherapy (freezing) chambers in Europe.