L’Hirondelle at Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo
By Irvina Lew
Consider Monaco for your next wellness trip. Though usually considered a warm weather destination, Northern Europeans have been flocking to the Cote d’Azur in winter, for centuries, because the weather is mild and sunny and the seacoast is beautiful.
At Thermes Marins Monte Carlo, sunlight through window walls bathes the grand, oval-shaped, heated saltwater spa pool. It is the centerpiece of stunningly sophisticated, four story, stand-alone, 75,000-square-foot complex adjacent and connected to both Hotel de Paris Monte Carlo and the Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo.
The wellness spa is simply one of the world’s most extraordinary; among its attractions is the panorama—the ship-shaped Yacht Club de Monaco, the mega-yachts docked portside and the ultra-blue Mediterranean–observed from the structure’s outdoor terrace and through its grand windows, glass walls and from smaller portholes, some within treatment cabines. Hotel guests—in bathrobes and slippers—reach the spa via underground passageways; but, the public—including local spa members, restaurant and spa guests, and guests from other hotels–enter the building from a street entry. Thermes Marins is a swimming, sunning (yes, even in winter), and dining destination whether or not you choose a la carte spa services or a wellness package.
The interior reception area is staffed with English speaking experts who schedule men and women for the various à la carte beauty and body services (these feature La Prairie and Phytomer products) and an extensive menu of treatment programs–including day-packages and a series of 4-day extended-stay wellness protocols, which maximize the benefits of a multidisciplinary staff that includes a team of doctors, nutritionists, therapists and trainers. Along with optional accommodations and medical testing, possibilities include fitness activities, anti-aging and slimming programs, and, thalassotherapy treatments, which incorporate the benefits of seawater and seawater products, like marine mud, algae and seaweed.
And, the spa cuisine chef has created gastronomic haute cuisine minceur menus served at the restaurant l’Hirondelle and its adjacent terrace; and, there are healthy choices at the juice and snack bar.At l’Hirondelle, there are three set menus– Le Menu Wellness (gluten-free, light dishes with calorie counts for each), Le Menu Veggie (detoxifying vegetarian options) and Le Menu du Marché, Le Menu du Marche (chef inspired from market-fresh ingredients). Plus, there’s a suggestion menu with starters, pasta dishes, meat dishes, fish dishes and vegetarian dishes, each coded according to whether it’s gluten free, sustainable fishing and/or green detox and a la carte selections, all exquisitely served to the white-cloth-topped tables.The word bio, which substitutes for “organic,” in France, appears throughout the menus, where appropriate. Guests can mix and match from one menu to another, and the price is determined by whether the meal includes a two or a three course formule, (what the French call the prix-fixe menu). A handy, bilingual chart also lists every menu item and indicates whether it incorporates gluten, milk, eggs, fish, nuts. seafood, or soy or sulphites (even lupin)!
On a recent visit, we dined inside the window-walled dining room. I considered the starter choices: a panier (basket) of crudité? shrimp on a skewer? Poached white asparagus? salmon tartare? I sat staring at the beautiful plates being served to other white-cloth-topped tables before placing my order from Le Menu Veggie: Taboulé de quinoa. (The ring of tabbouleh was decorated with individual citrus segments and topped with micro-greens.) I also sampled softly scrambled eggs, topped with truffles and grilled fish Filet de loup grillé with ginger (grilled fish) from Le Menu Wellness (276 calories) topped with teeny cherry tomatoes, parsley and red onions, which arrived under a silver dome. The cloche reminded me of a previous lunch on the terrace, there, with my late husband. Along with tables where Monagasques in business attire—wearing ties or high heels—and tourists, in chic sportswear, there was another table, where three bathrobe-clad men and three bejeweled, bikini-outfitted (younger) women chatted informally. They quieted while three formally-garbed servers raised six silver domes in choreographed unison. (FYI: Desserts were amazing, from chocolate mousse to mango mousseline, sorbets to fresh pineapple or berries. We shared a spectacularly smooth crème brulée bourbon vanilla with a crackly crust under a pear sorbet.)
Years ago, after my first soins there—a soak in a tub facing a huge window and a view of the harbor plus a massage—I was outside, on a terrace deck chair and recall a conversation with a French woman who assured me how much better she and her husband always feel after spending three weeks at Thermes Marins, every year. “We participate in the thalassotherapy protocol for two weeks, take a daily exercise class in the pool and eat lunch at l’Hirondelle every day; then, we spend the third week just relaxing and playing tourists,” she shared. (I recall thinking that three magical weeks in Monte Carlo–with spa services and even without thalassotherapy–would be extraordinary enough to make anyone feel good; but, I kept my mouth shut!)
Last year, after recent treatments with my daughter, she described her service: “I was on an air mattress above a tub when they applied the mud; then they warmed the air in the mattress to warm the mud; afterwards, I took a shower and a soak in a jetted hydrotherapy tub session. Loved it!” In turn, I told her about thalassotherapy treatment: “Mine was in a room with a huge window and view of the port; it started with a 20- minute soak in a multi-jetted hydrotherapy tub, which was followed by a grapeseed and sesame seed oil rub and a scrub exfoliation that felt like a massage and was called “gommage;” she used sel de guerande, sea salt from Brittany, in the oil.” (We both felt lucky, but couldn’t imagine the privilege of spending three such weeks, there.)
The hotel is within the magical center of the fairy tale principality of Monaco, with its exotic gardens, Oceanographic Museum and Royal Palace; the spa, in Monte Carlo, is near the Casino, wonderful restaurants and clubs and fabulous boutiques. Guests of the Societe de Bains des Mer use their shuttle to the Cinq Mondes (Five Worlds) Spa at the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort.
And, the Nice-Cote d’Azur airport is easy to reach via Paris, Lisbon or other European capitals and with a seasonal non-stop Delta flights from JFK.