Sculpture Saturday #8

This week I’ve picked a statue from the Monte Carlo Casino gardens called “Adam and Eve” by Colombian artist and sculpture Fernando Botero. I rather like its playful proportions.

If you want to join in this challenge hosted by the Mind over Memory blogger:-

  • Share a photo of a sculpture
  • Link to the Mind over Memory’s post for Saturday Sculpture

Go on, give it a go, you know you want to!

Potted history of Monaco

While researching my previous posts on the Casino and Hotel Hermitage, I realised that I didn’t know enough about Monaco’s history. It’s the world’s second smallest country, preceded by only the Vatican. Ruled by the (in)famous Grimaldi family. As a harbour town, Monaco has enjoyed a colourful past, but in more recent years has settled as a secure tax-haven for the rich and famous. Let’s have a closer look at its provenance.

The Rock of Monaco was a shelter for primitive populations. Traces of their occupation were discovered in a cave in the Saint-Martin Gardens. The first sedentary inhabitants of the region, the Ligures, are described as a mountain people, accustomed to hard work and an exemplary frugality. The coast and the port of Monaco most probably provided sea access for the interior Ligurian population, the Oratelli of Peille.

The origin of the nameMonaco has been subject to several hypotheses. For some, the name comes from the Ligurian tribe, the Monoïkos, who inhabited the Rock in 6th century B.C. For others, it’s Greek in origin. Indeed, the port of Monaco was allegedly named after Herakles (Hercules).

Initially inhabited by the Greeks in 6 BC, who named it Monoikos, Hercules allegedly visited and a temple was built in his honour. At the end of 12th century B.C., the Romans occupied the region and Monaco became part of the Province of the Maritime Alps. During their occupation, the Romans erected the Trophy of Augustus at La Turbie which celebrates the triumph of their military campaigns.

During this same period, Phoenecian and Carthaginian sailors brought prosperity to the region. After the fall of the Roman Empire (5th century A.D.), the region was regularly sacked by different barbarian populations. It was only at the end of the 10th century, after the expulsion of the Sarrasins by the Count of Provence, that the coast slowly became repopulated. In 1191, Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI granted sovereignty over the area to the city of Genoa, the native home of the Ligurians.

On 10 June 1215, a detachment of Genoese Ghibellines led by Fulco del Cassello began the construction of a fortress atop the Rock of Monaco. As the Ghibellines intended their fortress to be a strategic military stronghold and centre of control for the area, they set about creating a settlement around the base of the Rock to support the garrison; in an attempt to lure residents from Genoa and the surrounding cities, they offered land grants and tax exemption to new settlers.

Monaco then became the object of the ongoing struggle between the two parties disputing power in the Republic of Genoa, the Ghibellines, partisans of the Emperor and the Guelfs, faithful followers of the Pope. In 1269 The Guelfs and their allies, the Grimaldis, were expelled from Genoa.

The Grimaldis, descended from Otto Canella and taking their name from his son Grimaldo, were an ancient and prominent Genoese family. Disguised as a franciscan monk, Francesco Grimaldi seized the Rock of Monaco in 1297, starting the Grimaldi dynasty, under the sovereignty of the Republic of Genoa.

The Grimaldis acquired Menton in 1346 and Roquebrune in 1355, thereby enlarging their possessions. In 1338 Monegasque ships under the command of Carlo Grimaldi participated, along with those of France and Genoa, in the English Channel naval campaign. Plunder from the sack of Southampton was brought back to Monaco, contributing to the principality’s prosperity.

Honoré II, Prince of Monaco secured recognition of his independent sovereignty from Spain in 1633, and then from Louis XIII of France by the Treaty of Péronne (1641). Since then the area has remained under the control of the Grimaldi family to the present day, except when under French control during the French revolution from 1793 to May 1814, as part of the département of Alpes-Maritimes.

The principality was re-established in 1814, only to be designated a protectorate of the Kingdom of Sardinia by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Monaco remained in this position until 1860, when by the Treaty of Turin, Sardinia ceded to France the surrounding county of Nice.

With the protectorate, that lasted nearly half a century, Italian was the official language of Monaco. The Monégasque dialect, like that of the Niçois, is closer to Italian than French, but influenced by both.

During this time there was unrest in the towns of Menton and Roquebrune, which declared independence, hoping for annexation by Sardinia and participation in the Italian Risorgimento. The unrest continued until the ruling prince gave up his claim to the two towns (some 95% of the country), and they were ceded to France in return for four million francs which helped to fund Monaco’s regeneration. This transfer and Monaco’s sovereignty was recognised by the Franco-Monegasque Treaty of 1861.

The Prince of Monaco was an absolute ruler until the Monegasque Revolution of 1910 forced him to proclaim a constitution in 1911.

In July 1918, a treaty was signed providing for limited French protection over Monaco. The treaty, written into the Treaty of Versailles, established that Monegasque policy would be aligned with French political, military, and economic interests. One of the motivations for the treaty was the upcoming Monaco Succession Crisis of 1918.

While Prince Louis II’s sympathies were strongly pro-French, he tried to keep Monaco neutral during World War II but supported the Vichy French government of his old army colleague, Marshal Philippe Pétain.

Nonetheless, his tiny principality was tormented by domestic conflict partly as a result of Louis’s indecisiveness, and also because the majority of the population was of Italian descent; many of them supported the fascist regime of Italy’s Benito Mussolini.

In November 1942, the Italian Army invaded and occupied Monaco. Soon after in September 1943, following Mussolini’s fall in Italy, the German Army occupied Monaco and began the deportation of the Jewish population.

Under Prince Louis’s secret orders, the Monaco police, often at great risk to themselves, warned in advance those people whom the Gestapo planned to arrest. The country was liberated, as German troops retreated, on 3 September 1944.

The revised Constitution of Monaco, proclaimed in 1962, abolished capital punishment, provided for female suffrage, established a Supreme Court to guarantee fundamental liberties and made it well nigh impossible for a French national to transfer his or her residence there.

In 2002, a new treaty between France and Monaco clarified that if there were no heirs to carry on the dynasty, the Principality would remain an independent nation, rather than be annexed by France. Monaco’s military defense, however, is still the responsibility of France.

The current ruler, Prince Albert II, succeeded his father Prince Rainier III in 2005. Prince Rainier, in turn, had acceded to the throne following the death of his grandfather, Prince Louis II, in 1949. But, let’s leave the Grimaldi’s for another post.

Trip to the Hôtel Hermitage, Monte Carlo

My beloved and I are dedicated brunchers and we were keen to again try out brunch at the Hôtel Hermitage which we’d firstly enjoyed just before Christmas. That one had been consumed in the hotel’s splendid Belle-Epoque ballroom whereas this time we were housed in the delightful Winter Garden. I’m pleased to report that the brunch was simply splendid and, once again, the staff were generous with the unlimited champagne.

Aside from a family with a young child, we probably lowered the average age of its brunch clientele. The young French family were mortified when their little girl started to grizzle rather loudly. My skills as a child whisperer were swiftly deployed and in no time at all the little poppet was sound asleep in her pushchair much to the amazement of her grateful parents. I could see they were weighing up making me a job offer but wisely decided I might not be available, at any price.

My beloved and I were much enjoying our splendid surroundings and I resolved to look into the hotel’s provenance, convinced the stained glass cupola above out heads was most likely the work of Gustav Eiffel.

While everyone knows of the Hôtel de Paris Monte Carlo, situated on the Place du Casino and the historic jewel in the crown of the Société des Bains de Mer (SBM). A few metres away, somewhat sheltered from the bustling heart of Monaco, another palatial hotel has enchanted its guests for 120 years: the Hôtel Hermitage Monte Carlo. I would argue that the Hermitage is the most charming and intimate of the Principality’s deluxe hotels.

Overlooking the Port d’Hercule, the hotel is renowned for its Belle-Epoque palatial design including a stunning facade with Italian style loggia and frescoes. I learned that it started life as a small inn and then a restaurant in the late 1800s surrounded by olive and orange trees growing in the shadows of the Hôtel de Paris. It was only in 1900 that the modest establishment was turned into a luxury hotel.

Bought in 1898 by an Englishman Vincent Benoist, then manager of the Princes restaurant in London, the property was totally rebuilt by Monégasque architect Nicolas Marquet whose brief was to create a luxurious residence. In 1928 the hotel became part of the SBM stable.

The facade of the hotel was inspired by the Prince of Monaco’s Palace. France’s finest architects and designers were commissioned to create the hotel’s stunning neo-classical design including the Belle-Epoque room, designed by Gabriel Ferrier, winner of the Rome prize and gold medallist at the 1889 Exposition Universelle, and Gustav Eiffel’s stained-glass cupola in the Winter Garden. The Princes’ Gallery which links the restaurant to the hotel was a 1906 addition.

Of all the renovations carried out by SBM, the most extensive remains that undertaken in the 1970s. This included renovation of the hotel’s signature trompe-l’oeil effects, the blue and gold shades, the woodwork, the frescoes, all of which was undertaken in order to preserve the hotel’s romantic ambience.

The Vistamar restaurant which opened in 1999, flows out onto a beautiful terrace overlooking Monte Carlo. The banqueting hall/Ballroom, the Belle-Epoque was re-designed by André Levasseur. Its ambience is now reminiscent of the Grand Trianon in Louis XIV’s Versailles with a ceiling adorned with frescoes complimented by columns of pink marble and crystal chandeliers.  The sumptuous Winter Garden, where we enjoyed brunch, features soft pastel tones, impressive lighting, a fountain and a large central carpet specially commissioned for the hotel.

Following that renovation the hotel was classified as a listed building and awarded the Renaissance trophy for the most elegant decor by the Gaullt & Millau Guide, whose committee included among its stellar cast the Duchess of Bedford, Paloma Picasso, Karl Lagerfeld, Helmut Newton, Baroness Edmund de Rothschild and Ruggiero Raimondo. It’s safe to say that the hotel is one of the jewels in the SBM crown.

You don’t have to take my word for it, have a look around for yourself.

While the Hermitage is proud of its status as a historic monument, it didn’t prevent the hotel from making additional renovations in the beginning of the 21st century, increasing its bedroom and meeting room capacity.

As far as we’re concerned, it’s a very welcome addition to the brunch scene.

Postcard from Portugal (not): Part I

As you know, we were planning to spend Christmas and New Year in Southern Portugal. The choice of destination had been made by my beloved who’d booked the flights to Faro, booked the car hire and chosen the hotel (with my blessing).

While we were enjoying Thanksgiving on Long Island, he started to question the wisdom of his choice. When we got back from the States, I ascertained we could cancel the hotel and hire car up to two days before our planned departure.

After much dithering, my beloved announced he didn’t want to go. I cancelled the bookings. Having organised meals and drinks with friends prior to our intended departure, this left a bit of a hole in our diaries. Plus, I’d pretty much emptied the fridge, the freezer and store cupboard!

We decided to fall back on our home from home just over an hour up the road in Italy. I booked us in for three nights from 23 December. Meanwhile, we pottered about locally in the warm sunshine and, on the Sunday before our trip, I decided to try out the brunch at the Hermitage in Monte Carlo. We’ve been looking for a replacement for the one at the Grand Hotel Cap Ferret which, after a change of chef, has sadly ceased holding its winter Sunday brunches.

Fear not, the Hermitage with its unlimited champagne offering happily fills the bill. It was also rather enjoyable strolling around Monte Carlo in the winter sunshine, admiring the yachts in the harbour and the flash cars parked outside both the Hotel de Paris and the Hermitage. After a simply delicious brunch in rather splendid surroundings, we window shopped, admired the Xmas market and then drove home.

The following day we were up reasonably early for our drive to Alassio. We ate lunch in one of our regular haunts before enjoying several hours relaxing in the hotel’s Spa. After that delicious seafood lunch we happily settled for an Aperol and nibbles in one of our favourite bars in lieu of dinner.

Unlike last year when it was decidedly chilly, this year the sun shone and we lapped it up sitting on our balcony. We had a very relaxing time, quite different to that which we’d planned for Portugal. We ate out at some of our favourite restaurants and checked out the Aperol offerings at some of the newer bars. We even did a spot of shopping as Alassio has an outlet Vilebrequin, home of my beloved’s favourite swim shorts. I’ve lost count of how many pairs he has but we’re well into double figures.

One of the antiques shops which had a couple of globes in the window was open but after much debate my beloved has decided he wants a modern globe and we’ve now identified a firm which makes them to order. I’m hoping this will be a less expensive option but I suspect not.

We even walked into nearby Laigueglia (where I first holidayed in Italy aged eight) on Christmas Day to work up an appetite for our Christmas Dinner that evening. We returned home the following day, well rested after our three-day break, loaded down with Italian goodies, feeling decidedly mellow after that heady mix of sunshine and spa time.

The weather between our return and New Year was unseasonably warm and sunny allowing us to spend plenty of time out on our bikes. In addition, we were able to lunch with some business contacts who’d unexpectedly popped over to Nice from UK for a few days. We might not have spent our holidays as we intended but it turned out to be a thoroughly acceptable substitute.

12 days of Christmas: day 11

Having showcased the decorations from New York, I thought it only fair to show you some splendid ones from nearby Monte Carlo. Peer closefully at the photo below and you’ll see the famous Monte Carlo Casino reflected in the mirror of these decorations which are outside the Hotel de Paris. As are those in the header. Meanwhile, the beautifully decorated Christmas tree is from the foyer of the Hotel Hermitage where we recently ate Sunday brunch.

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The Sky’s the limit

My guests have departed after a very enjoyable few days. The boys arrived Thursday evening in time for a light dinner. It was very windy that evening and I had hoped it might blow away the rain clouds. But no, we awoke to torrential rain. After a hearty breakfast we went to one of the larger bike shops for a browse and then collected my beloved from the airport.

After lunch, the weather cleared, the sun came up and started drying the roads. We walked down to my LBS for a browse and a chat, returning in time for me to prepare dinner.

Me and the boys

Saturday dawned bright and warm so we set off around 10:00am and headed towards Monte Carlo where we stopped for coffee and the boys admired the local attractions (all female). We decided to return via La Turbie which afforded them plenty of photo opportunities while waiting for me to catch up. Thereafter, it was a swift descent past Eze village to Nice and home.

After lunch the boys had a wee cat nap and then fortified themselves with some of my fruit cake. Saturday evening we dined at a local restaurant which has recently changed hands. We were delighted to find that the cuisine had further improved and the new owners were resting neither on their laurels nor on the reputation of the previous owner.  

Today’s pointage was at Valbonne and it took me longer to warm up this morning so that I was soon distanced by the rest of my clubmates on the climb out of Biot. Resigned to riding on my own, I was shortly joined by a rag bag of riders from other clubs and merrily rode with them. They expressed horror on arriving in Valbonne to discover an Antiques Fair on the spot where the pointage is normally held. I was able to direct them to the correct location on the other side of the village.

I arrived just after my club had departed the pointage so I rode back, as is my wont, with riders from another club, cutting a good 20km off the proposed route so that I could return home in time to prepare lunch for the ravening hordes, all three of them. The boys departed after lunch while my beloved went to meet a business contact in Nice. I rewarded myself with a lazy afternoon on the sofa in my fleecy track suit (what else) catching up on the sports news. Both my football teams recorded draws: Spurs 0-0 AVFC and OGCN 1 – 1 Lille. AVFC take a point from one of their closest rivals for 4th place, while OGCN steadies the ship.

First up, my heart was gladdened by the number of wins recorded by the more mature members of the peloton: Rocket Robbie (Katusha) in the Trofeo Palma de Mallorca, Nico Eeckhout (An-Post Sean Kelly) on the final stage of Etoile de Besseges and Ale-jet in GP Costa degli Etruschi. Sky romped home 8 seconds ahead of the rest in the TTT at the Tour of Qatar putting Edvald Boassen Hagan in the leader’s jersey where he’s going to be difficult to dislodge. Quick Step’s Tom Boonen is 20 seconds down after his team finished 5th. Cervelo initially finished second but were penalized when an eagle eyed Chinese judge saw Barbie Barbie Haussler push a colleague. Cervelo claimed he was just steadying him, but the commissars remained unconvinced.

On a more sombre note, I was saddened to read of the untimely death of the maestro of the Italian road racing team whom I was fortunate to meet in Varese. My condolences go to Franco Ballerini’s family and friends.