Mention of the Monaco Yacht Show conjures up images of a sea of bling and blazers, and there is some truth in that.
Each year Monaco’s Port Hercules hosts a fresh display of 120 superyachts, with 2018’s selection worth a collective total of around €3.5bn (£3bn) - more than the GDP of many a poor nation.
So yes, conspicuous consumption is the name of the game, but the rules of superyachting have changed significantly in recent years. The flashy party vessels of recent decades are falling out of favour as a young generation of tech tycoons enter the market looking for floating homes-from-homes on which to spend quality time with family and friends.
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This demand for functional living spaces poses new challenges for boat makers and designers, as the hundreds of experts who congregate at the Monaco Yacht Show will explain. So just what are the pay-offs for guests on these bespoke new superyachts?
The Week Portfolio’s quest for insight - plus a welcome dose of luxury living - sees me heading to Monaco to board one of the stars of this year’s yacht show. The 51-metre Irisha is the culmination of almost four years of work by multi-award-winning Dutch ship builder Heesen and acclaimed British design studio Harrison Eidsgaard for an unnamed Russian client and his wife, after whom the motor yacht is named.
The superb design and finish that set this vessel apart justifies all that time, effort and expense - the Irisha is valued in the region of €30m (£26m) to €35m (£30.5m), though she can be chartered for considerably less through SuperYachtsMonaco when not in use by her owner. Everything is bespoke, from the furnishings and artworks to the double-glazed curved glass exterior windows, which lend the boat a fighter jet-like look.
This sleek exterior conceals surprisingly spacious-feeling interiors decorated in a soothing range of greys with beige and blue accents. A quick tour reveals a master suite and four double cabins, a study with private deck area, a well-equipped galley kitchen, a dining area with seating for up to 20 people, plus a bar and entertainment zone with a pull-down cinema screen.
There’s plenty more leisure spaces out on deck, along with a Jacuzzi and sauna. Up on the top deck we sip champagne at another (massive) bar backed by a TV screen where, we’re told, Irisha’s owner likes to watch football with a fellow Russian entrepreneur who owns a football club. A selection of on-board “toys” including a jet ski and windsurfing boards offer further opportunities for sporty fun.
The Irisha is perfect for entertaining, then, whether docked or out at sea. This latter option is particularly appealing given the power of the engine housed within her midnight blue hull. The hi-tech superyacht can reach speeds of up to 26 knots, or 30mph, which may not sound that impressive to the layman until you factor in the vessel’s not inconsiderable weight - about 350 tonnes.
We slice through the water on a short cruise to Antibes, around 20 miles down the coast from Monaco, as the three dedicated hostesses on the Irisha’s nine-strong crew serve up drinks and canapés. Like the boat herself, what sets such service apart is the attention to detail. One hostess tells us that all of the crew on chartered superyachts - from the captain and first mate to the chef - are expected to know every detail about their guests, down to how strong they like their coffee, within a day or two of passengers stepping aboard.
She also offers a few tips for those looking to dip a toe into the world of charter hire: avoid wearing green, which is traditionally viewed as an unlucky colour on boats (possibly because it’s associated with land and the threat of accidentally running into it). Bringing bananas aboard is another no-no, thanks to superstitions dating back to pre-refrigeration days, when the fruit caused other perishable cargo to go off more quickly. And wearing shoes is forbidden on the deck - no archaic explanations here, just in the interests of protecting the teak flooring.
A further consideration before setting sail is the cost: the Irisha will set you back €300,000 (£260,000) a week to charter in the Med, then add about 30% for food and the like, plus another 10% to tip the crew.
Pricey? God, yes. But as any canny consumer knows, you get what you pay for, and when you charter a superyacht, the experts working behind the scenes deliver a super-deluxe experience.
Landlubbing in Monaco
Expense may also be a consideration if you’re staying in Monaco, with few budget options for food and board. Travel and entertainment needn’t cost too much, though, with plenty of sights to hold your interest while simply strolling around this handkerchief-sized tax haven.
At 2 sq km (0.75 sq mile), Monaco is the world’s second-smallest country, behind Vatican City, yet packs in layer upon layer of streets on winding hills. There are five districts, including the main resort area Monte Carlo, but you can get everywhere by foot via a nifty network of public lifts and walkways - 78 lifts, 35 escalators and eight travelators, at the last count.
Hotspots on the Monaco tourist trail include the Prince’s Palace, Oceanographic Museum and various pristinely pruned public gardens. But let’s face it, aside from the yacht show and annual Monaco Grand Prix, most people come to the principality for the world-famous Casino de Monte-Carlo and neighbouring Café de Paris - and, of course, the shopping (or for most tax-paying visitors, the window shopping).
The Carre d’Or (Golden Square), in the heart of Monte Carlo, is stuffed with a glittering array of jewellery shops, haute couture outlets and art galleries. For a slightly more affordable consumer experience, head to the Metropole Shopping Centre, a marble-clad, three-storey ring of boutiques set around two vast chandeliers.
Take the escalator to the street above the shopping centre and you’ll find a perfect, if pricey, base for your stay right beside you. Set at the end of a herringbone-brick driveway dotted with jasmine and orchid trees, the Metropole Monte-Carlo is one of the few independently owned five-star hotels in Monaco.
Built in 1889 on a site previously owned by Pope Leo XIII, the property’s exterior is all Belle Époque splendour, with ornate friezes and wrought-iron balconies. The interior of the hotel was refurbished in 2004 by French designer Jacques Garcia, who updated the 126 rooms and suites with luxurious Mediterranean-style decor.
More recently, interior designer Didier Gomez masterminded the Metropole’s Givenchy spa, which opened in 2017, while Karl Lagerfeld revamped the rooftop pool area with classic Chanel-esque monochrome styling. The ground-floor public areas, meanwhile, have a hint of the country house, with floral fabrics and tapestries and giant flower arrangements.
Grab a chair among the immaculately groomed clientele in the spacious lobby, where you can nibble on snacks or sip cocktails beside a recently installed origami centrepiece by Paris-based Japanese artist Tsuyu Bridwell. Composed of 15,000 origami butterflies, and titled A Wish on a Wing, the ethereal display celebrates the tenth anniversary of Yoshi, one of the hotel’s two Michelin-starred restaurants.
Both restaurants are under the direction of multi-award-winning chef Joël Robuchon, who also lends his name to the second, French gastronomic destination Robuchon. The hotel’s poolside restaurant, Odyssey, doesn’t disappoint either. Highlights of our lunch there include a starter of purple artichoke salad with Parmesan, and a main of grilled salmon with mango tagliatelle.
There’s more fine dining to be had at the renowned Monaco Yacht Club, situated a short walk away in Port Hercules. The 200-metre-long “clubhouse” opened in 2014 and was designed to resemble a classic ocean liner by its architect, Sir Norman Foster. If you can bag an invite from one of club’s 2,000-odd members - or better yet, from its president, Prince Albert - head up to the second deck for a meal at the in-house restaurant. The fish dishes, as you might expect, are particularly good.
The club is also home to a range of up-market bars and entertainment spaces, including the venue of the main closing party for the yacht show. This year’s celebrations were in full swing as we dined with our hosts at the restaurant below, from where we could hear the disco beats of the party’s surprise guests, the Village People.
High living, indeed, and we ended our mini break on an even higher note, hopping aboard a charter helicopter for the short journey to Nice Airport. Between yachts and choppers, Monaco offers visitors a whirl of a time.
The 2019 Monaco Yacht Show runs from 25 to 28 September. Rooms at Hôtel Metropole Monte-Carlo cost from about €350 (£310). Helicopter transfers between Nice Airport and Monaco cost from €160 (£140) with Monacair.
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