The history of hotels in Monaco is a fascinating one and the Hotel de Paris is no exception.
Jean-Baptiste Robert in his History of Monaco stated in February 1861, at the time of the agreement signed between Napoleon III and the Principality which cemented the transfer of control of Menton and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin to France, that Monaco was a small “town of 1,200 inhabitants, mediaeval and dilapidated looking, almost isolated from the surrounding areas…” Yet Monte-Carlo would serve as a setting for the appearance and growth of these large luxury hotels that multiplied during this half century “attracting the high society from around the world” especially during the winter season.
The Hotel de Paris and the Hermitage hotel are two of the three “5-star” establishments that the SBM owns today, which destiny brought together even if the circumstances of their creation differ somewhat. They both are among these large hotels of the years 1850-1890 built in several stages, juxtaposing buildings that did not necessarily have architectural unity. It is difficult to evoke their history without taking into account the very specific context in which they were built.
Let’s look at the Alpes-Maritimes tourist and cultural directory published in 1997 by Editions Campanile: “In December 1856, a first gambling hall was inaugurated in the rural area of La Condamine. But in the absence of customers and players, the first Société des Bains was dissolved. On 13 May, 1858, Charles III and the young Prince Albert laid the first stone of the Spélugues casino, on the plateau facing the rock of Monaco. Despite great efforts to ensure the transport of players (it took more than 4 hours for the horse-drawn carriages to connect Nice to Monaco and the travellers only had the option of a few rooms at the Hotel de Russie, without any comforts, located in Monaco itself). The company stagnated and suffered another setback.
The turning point was in April 1863 with the arrival of François Blanc, a former stockbroker in Bordeaux, who had assured the fortune of the German Principality of Hesse-Hombourg by launching a casino and a bathing establishment (but who saw his interests threatened by the arrival in power of Bismarck in Prussia in 1862). He bought the concession for the Monaco games (in exchange for 1.7 million francs paid in gold coins and an annual royalty of 50,000 francs, plus 10% of the net profits paid to Prince Charles III) and created the “Société Anonyme des Bains de Mer and the Cercle des Etrangers” in Monaco (the practice of games being forbidden to Monegasques).
The same year, in order to welcome the clientele of the newly opened Casino, he built a magnificent hotel “that exceeded all that has been created so far, even the Hotel du Louvre and the Grand Hotel in Paris”. Composed of two floors and designed by architect Dutrou, the Hotel de Paris was inaugurated on 14 January, 1864. As of March the same year, it was always fully booked, which required the first of seven successive extensions of the establishment. With the arrival of the railways in the Principality in 1868, affluence increased, the 100 rooms of the establishment had to be booked months in advance, and the European elite frequented the now famous Grand Hotel as regular patrons of the establishment: sovereigns, Princes, great Dukes, ministers, artists and writers (for example, Offenbach, Verdi, Alexandre Dumas) of the world.
The Tenao water project begun in 1873 allowed the hotel to distribute water to the floors and the bathrooms that were originally installed underground, and from 1875 customers had access to six washrooms on the 1st floor. On the death of François Blanc in 1877, his widow Marie Blanc succeeded him at the head of SBM until 1881, then his son Camille until 1923. During these decades before 1914, especially during the winter season, the salons of the palace hosted “theatrical balls, competitions of elegance and magnificent banquets”.
In 1908, under the direction of the Dutch architect Jean Niermans, 150 new rooms and lounges at the height of comfort were laid out to accommodate the increasing number of visitors. Though the rotunda built in 1897 on three floors facing the sea and the back part of the original building by Dutrou have been preserved, the facade of the hotel has been entirely remodelled with the creation of a new entrance hall and new restaurant rooms: the Louis XV restaurant and the majestic Salle Empire decorated with a fresco by Paul Gervais on the theme of the Garden of the Hesperides. The new establishment was inaugurated with great pomp in January 1910 and was considered to be the most important hotel (and probably one of the most sumptuous) of the entire Mediterranean coast with its 400 rooms and lounges and its 5 lifts. A publicity stamp of the Hotel de Paris from 1910 tells us that it was open all the year and even evoked the figure of 500 rooms and salons.
Monaco: the second life of the Hotel de Paris
The rotunda of the Hotel de Paris Monte Carlo and the back of the building seem to be constantly growing at the moment. Since October 2014, the five-star hotel has undergone an extensive renovation program. It is even more of a revival considering the scope of work within the establishment itself, but also around the creation of One Monte-Carlo, seven new buildings with hotels in the place of the recently demolished Sporting d’Hiver building.
Four years of work are planned for a complete re-opening of the Hotel de Paris in September 2018. As for the buildings designed by the famous English architect Sir Rogers, it was not until 2020… If this project is somewhat epic, one challenge of the Société des Bains de Meris is to keep the hotel open, at least partially, during the construction work. Fifty-three rooms and suites are potentially available. However, the renovation covers the whole of the establishment, with an overhaul of both dedicated customer areas and service areas.
In the end, and because luxury always pushes the limits, the rooms will be bigger; as will the suites, which will also be more numerous. Among the major innovations of the program are the creation of a garden courtyard in the centre of the building and a roof enhancement that will house a new spa, fitness and pool area, exceptional suites and a “roof-top villa” with private garden and swimming pool. The historic façade of the hotel will remain intact. The legendary places, such as the lobby and cellar, and emblematic establishments, such as the American bar, the Salle Empire, the Louis XV and the Grill, will be maintained.
With its interesting history and exciting renovations the Hotel de Paris will surely continue to be a special establishment in the heart of Monaco.
And in the meantime we will continue telling you about rich history that is hidden behind the walls of the greatest Monaco hotels of today.