As Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing, of the Monte-Carlo SBM Group – proprietor of the world-renowned Casino and most of the top hotels and ‘where-to-be-seen’ nightclubs in this epicentre of glamour and luxury – Axel Hoppenot knows his way around Monaco better than most. Here he gives us an insider’s guide to the tiny yet spectacular Principality.
Hi, Axel. The Monaco Grand Prix has always been one of, if not the most prestigious races of the Formula One season. Are you an F1 fan, and will you be watching the race in person this coming weekend?
I certainly will! I have not missed a single Monaco Grand Prix in the past eight years.
What’s your favourite vantage point to watch the race?
Definitely the Hotel de Paris, which sits right on the track and has a large choice of spots to watch the race from: the Gardens overlooking the circuit, the Salle Empire on the Casino Square, the Grill on the top floor with a dramatic view of Monte-Carlo, or the American Bar, where you will find a whole host of aficionados commenting upon the race!
What’s your favourite memory from previous Monaco Grands Prix?
The first lap is always spectacular and I enjoy it every year when the cars hurtle up to Casino Square at full speed before rushing down the Spelugues.
A funny anecdote I remember relates to the 2004 Grand Prix, when one of the competing teams had positioned a diamond in the nose of the car following a sponsorship with a diamond company. The car’s driver crashed nose first into the guardrail at the Sun Casino hairpin and the €200K diamond has yet to be found!
Monaco is renowned as the ultimate playground for the rich and famous – a spectacular and compact landscape where the ‘glitterati’ go to be seen. What do you think makes it special, and what does Monaco mean to you personally?
The special blend of adrenaline, glamour and surprise makes Monaco unique. This is the only spot on earth when I have seen such a concentration of movers and shakers, and where every week something new happens. Monaco defines itself as ‘the theatre of your emotions’, and to me, this is the true challenge that the country both sets itself and meets: creating unique moments for those who own and have seen everything.
Monaco is known for having highest number of millionaires and billionaires per capita in the world, but would you say it also offers something to the rest of us?
Monaco is about bringing together those who live a dream life and those who dream to follow in their footsteps. ‘Dream’ is the common factor! However, the country also places a big emphasis on generosity and care - protection of the environment as well as numerous charity causes. This is something that is perhaps well less known to the outside world, but despite its small size, Monaco can be proud of its impact on making this planet a better place to live.
What are your favourite places to go out and eat?
I enjoy the Buddha Bar at the Casino, the Vistamar for its delicious seafood, and Le Grill at Hotel de Paris for the view and its outstanding soufflé au Grand Marnier, which has been prepared to the same recipe for 140 years. Finally, for a truly special occasion, you really can’t look past a culinary experience at Alain Ducasse’s Le Louis XV.
What signature Monégasque cuisine should all visitors to Monaco taste?
Stockfish is one of the traditional signature dishes, but I would advise that you don’t leave the country without tasting the famous barbagiuans – these warm savoury filled pastries are one of Monaco’s specialties.
What’s your favourite nightlife hotspot?
Jimmy’z is the place to be at night, but you will want to start the evening on Monte-Carlo Beach’s Sea Lounge.
If you were advising someone visiting the Principality for the first time, what is the one thing you would say they must see or do?
In the day time, visit the Oceanographic Museum, go to the Palace for the changing of the guard, or test the sandy bottom lagoon at the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort. At night, go to the casino and test your luck on the green carpet - be James Bond for the night!
As such a small place – the World’s second smallest country – does Monaco have any secret ‘bolt holes’ where you can escape the everyday pressures of life and relax?
Les Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo is the place where you can rejuvenate, re-energize yourself and escape the pressure. Relaxation is only a swim, massage or beauty treatment away.
How do you like to spend your time off in Monaco?
I like to attend the shows, concerts and recitals at the Opera House, Salle des Etoiles or the Grimaldi Forum. Monaco offers the lifestyle and culture of a large capital city, with the Opera de Monte-Carlo, Ballets de Monte-Carlo, Monte-Carlo Sporting Summer Festival, the jazz festival... there’s always bound to be something exciting going on to coincide with having some time off!