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The Magic of Monoco

By Mary Bemis
Posted: May 19, 2008, from the June 2007 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

This principality, long sought after for its pleasure palaces, is in the midst of a spa renaissance. It may be tiny in territory, but Monaco’s reputation as one of the most luxurious resort destinations worldwide is huge. The Principality of Monaco is serenely situated along the Mediterranean Sea, a mere five miles from Italy’s border and nine miles from the Italian city of Nice. Its main industry is tourism, accounting for 15% of its gross domestic product (GDP), and it has long attracted visitors seeking the chic allure of its nightclubs, casinos and, of course, its spas.
        According to the Société des Bains de Mer (SBM), 35,000 people visited three of the top spas in Monaco last year, accounting for
73,250 spa treatments at Les Thermes Marin and 6,500 additional treatments at two of its off-shoot spas, the Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel Spa and the Spa Mirabeau.
       The SBM, which translates loosely to “the corporation of the sea baths,” was established in 1863 under Prince Charles III, who had relinquished half of Monaco’s territory to France in exchange for cash and independence. This depleted much of the principality’s natural resources, explains Maguy Maccario Doyle, director of the Monaco Government Tourist Office. The SBM was created to re-establish an economic base. Today, the group’s portfolio includes five top-notch hotels and spas, restaurants, casinos, and sports and cultural venues.

A spa heritage
       The first spa establishment in Monaco was constructed in 1908 on the terraces of Monte Carlo, but spas in one form or another have been a part of the principality since the late 1800s.
       “Monaco has long been a prized destination for European royalty and the well-heeled, having come to take advantage of the excellent climate, relaxed lifestyle, simple yet healthy cuisine, and most importantly, the waters of the Mediterranean Sea,” says Maccario Doyle. “Renowned for its therapeutic properties, the seawater is rich in iodine, trace elements and zoo plankton, as well as exceptionally high negative ions.”
       The modern-day spa scene really took off in 1995 when Les Thermes Marins, a thalassotherapy center, opened at the majestic Hôtel de Paris. This property, a Leading Hotel of The World, received the Best Hotel Spa Treatment award at the European Spa Awards ceremony in 2006. The 66,000-square-foot spa, said to be the largest of its kind in Europe, is connected via underground tunnels to the Hôtel de Paris, as well as to the elegant, smaller Hôtel Hermitage.
        Today, the spa scene is on an upswing with the arrival of quite a few of the big spa brands. E’SPA recently opened at the chic Hotel Metropole, and the Cinq Mondes Spa claimed space at the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel, a new property that opened in 2005. Fairmont, through a European-focused joint venture with the Bank of Scotland and Kingdom Hotels International, also invested in and manages an existing property in Monaco as of March 2005. The Fairmont Monte Carlo is currently undergoing a $50 million renovation and is scheduled to open in June of this year; however, a Willow Stream Spa is not planned.Here, a look at three of Monaco’s leading spas.

Les Thermes Marins at the Hôtel de Paris
        The grand dame of all Monaco spas, this facility that faces the sea and makes terrific use of natural light was opened in 1995. A four-level space with 37 treatment rooms, Les Thermes Marins has undergone various upgrades and renovations over the past 12 years, and plans are currently underway to create a new concept of wellness for the spa-goer. There’s also a separate beauty salon, as well as a state-of-the-art fitness center, a thalassotherapy center and an award-winning spa restaurant, L’Hirondelle.
       The spa uses seawater collected nearly 1,000 feet out at sea at a depth of 121 feet. The products used are Lancaster and La Prairie, and the spa will be introducing its own retail brand this summer, Montecarlospa. The most requested treatment is the Monte-Carlo Massage. Les Thermes Marins also offers a club membership, and, to date, there are 750 annual members who partake in its individual medical and dietetic visits and personalized sports programs.

Cinq Mondes at the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort
       This spa launched in October 2005 when the new hotel opened its doors. The four-star resort combines a spirit inspired by the splendor of the 1930s with enough touches from the 21st century to keep it comfortable, attracting a hip business clientele mainly from France, Italy and the United Kingdom who like the eclectic design. The contemporary spa is Asian-inspired in décor and design and is a comfortable 8,600 square feet of space with 11 treatment rooms, including three suites. The couple’s suite is a popular choice with guests.
        The spa uses and retails its own line of products, Cinq Mondes Soin du Spa. The line’s Eau Egyptienne, a sultry-scented body and hair mist, is a top-seller. Some of the most-requested treatments are the Ayurvedic Massage with Hot Sesame Oil and the Ko Bi Do Imperial Face Treatment. The latter is based on an ancient Japanese modality that’s designed to tone the face and reduce wrinkles.
      Jean-Louis Poiroux, the founder of the Cinq Mondes spa brand, traveled extensively for 10 years before launching the spa, researching numerous treatments and massages from cultures around the world that helped inspire his concept. To date, there are seven Cinq Mondes spas in resorts worldwide, as well as a flagship boutique and spa in Paris.

E’SPA at the Hotel Metropole
       One of the newest spas in Monaco to date, having opened in April 2006, this E’SPA location has already won designation as a Leading Spa of the World. The three-level space covers 19,300 square feet and features 13 elegantly appointed treatment rooms. E’SPA products are used throughout, and the menu offers E’SPA’s Time treatments where one reserves times as opposed to specific treatments.
       And there are plenty of treatments to choose from, including the popular Purva Karma Four-Handed Synchronized Massage. There’s also a private spa suite; a couple’s suite; a coed Heat Experience, which is a recommended 45-minute pretreatment circuit made up of a sauna, then steam caldarium, ice fountain and rainforest showers; a nicely lit fitness studio; and a Mediterranean-inspired spa cuisine menu by chef Joël Robuchon.
       “The spa is entirely dedicated to the guest’s well-being,” says E’SPA International founder Susan Harmsworth. “It’s a retreat where they can escape and reconnect with their senses.”

Spa haven
       Spa visits are an integral and valuable part of Monaco’s luxury offerings. Maccario Doyle says, “Monte Carlo is the quintessential spa town. Like any great spa, the principality delights all the senses with its beautiful ambiance and weather, pleasure for the eyes, gastronomic delights and agreeable sounds. In Monaco, you are spoiled with exceptional choices in spa, health and wellness services.”