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French Leave and Monte Carlo Chic

French Leave and Monte Carlo Chic

Sharon McKee from Oasis Travel (Howard Street, Belfast) lets the train take the strain for some rail relaxation, courtesy of Kirker Holidays, before enjoying the high life by helicopter.


When you think of a short break, you generally plan to jet directly in and out of your chosen destination but, as I discovered when I journeyed with the stylish Kirker Holidays company on a rail – and helicopter - adventure to Bordeaux and Monaco, there’s a lot to be said for a different approach.

Starting point was St. Pancras Station for the 08:30 Eurostar to Paris, a really pleasant kick-back-and-relax journey which takes just 2 hours 15 minutes. We were on a standard premier ticket which offers first class seating and a complimentary light snack and drink – that supplement is from £49 per person each way, but worth the investment in my book.

On arrival in Paris we visited the Hotel de la Tremoille in the heart of the city, close to the Champs Élysées and the famous designer boutiques of Avenue Montaigne for a taste of luxury in a chic contemporary setting before moving on to the Grand Hotel du Palais Royal where we overnighted.  The Palais Royal, opened early 2013, is located in a quiet side street overlooking the Palais Royal Garden and within a few minutes’ walk to the Louvre. It has a Carita-branded spa, Turkish bath and fitness centre along with an excellent restaurant – we enjoyed an amazing dinner there.  As a bonus, booking with Kirker guarantees upgrades to deluxe rooms.

After a superb breakfast we departed from the bustle of Paris Montparnasse train station for our journey by TGV high speed train to Bordeaux - a direct 3 hours 15 minutes service which takes you through the charming scenery of rural France.

Into Bordeaux and it was off the train and straight off to the vineyard Domaine du Bouscat for a wine tasting experience … the way you do!  Bordeaux is built on the wine industry and the passion for the product, its heritage and history – as well as its taste – is evident everywhere.  I even began to feel that drinking wine mid-morning is quite normal!

In the afternoon a walking tour of Bordeaux city centre provided still more to admire:  this is a truly lovely city with fascinating architecture and great, occasionally quirky, shopping and lots of delightful little street cafés.  The city is a great addition to a multi-stay trip, but it would also merit a visit in its own right and would be a great short stay break.

We stayed not in Bordeaux, but ten minutes’ drive away at The Saint James Hotel in the pretty hillside village of Bouliac overlooking the city. Le Saint James was originally an 18th century farmhouse, but has now been converted into an elegant hotel with 18 strikingly modern rooms and a Michelin-starred restaurant … and what a restaurant: we revelled in a seven course meal that evening, each superb course accompanied by a different, carefully selected and showcased red wine!

As you might expect in a hotel of this impeccable standard, all of the rooms and the restaurant enjoy fantastic views over Bordeaux. (Style doesn’t stop there - one of the rooms even featured its own Harley Davidson!)

The hotel also has a charming Bistro in the heart of the village as well as a state of the art cookery school where we had a gourmet cookery lesson next morning … the travel business doesn’t get much tougher than this! I was really impressed with this property and with its attention to detail; it would be ideal for romantic escapes or honeymoons and I will certainly be recommending it to some of my clients who, I know, appreciate the finer things in life!

Next morning we took the short flight from Bordeaux to Nice, then onward by helicopter to Monaco. The helicopter seats 5 guests and takes only 7 mins from Nice to Monaco … you could say ‘blink and you’ll miss it’, but it’s an experience that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.  It was great fun and, when I arrived in Monaco, I was feeling like one of The Beautiful People!

Monaco is a byword for luxury and the city boasts some excellent hotels across the whole gamut of grades.

The Fairmont, Monte Carlo is a large, contemporary hotel with over 600 rooms and great facilities including a spa, an outdoor heated swimming pool (open all year) and two restaurants. It is located a short walk from casino square and the famous hairpin turn of the Formula one Grand Prix circuit is directly in front of the entrance. It’s one of my favourite hotels in the city and deluxe sea view rooms offer guests spectacular vistas, with the Britannia moored just outside.

The Metropole is a very stylish and traditional deluxe hotel with a great location on Casino Square. Bedrooms are on a grand and elegant scale with huge bathrooms.  

The latest exciting development at the Metropole Monte-Carlo sees the addition of Joël Robuchon’s first Japanese restaurant, YOSHI. Designed by Didier Gomez, the restaurant presents a healthy, modern cuisine by Chef Takéo Yamazaki, served around a sushi bar and teppan-Yaki cooking in a warm and slick décor which gracefully combines the Japanese influences and the famed elegance of this landmark hotel.

Columbus gets ‘4 star superior’ grading in the Kirker brochure, based on its exceptional service but it is officially a 3 star hotel … making this a clever, great value choice, particularly as Kirker clients will always be upgraded from a standard room to a deluxe room with a balcony. The hotel is located in the quiet harbour district close to a private beach and only a five minute taxi ride from Casino Square. The hotel has a breakfast room but no restaurant, although given the number and range of nearby eateries that probably isn’t a major issue.

If money is no object, it’s said in Monaco that The Hotel De Paris is the hotel to be seen in whilst The Hermitage is the hotel to stay in!  Both hotels are – of course – world class, offering supreme elegance and the understated, attentive service which is the hallmark of perfect guest relations.

Monaco has no shortage of things to see and do, from the world-famous Monte Carlo Casino to the exhibition of His Serene Highness The Prince of Monaco’s vintage car collection; from the old town of Monaco-Ville to the modern delights of the amazing Oceanographic Museum. It’s easy to explore on foot and its charming cafes, bars and restaurants provide perfect ‘refuelling’ opportunities along the way.

The only problem with Monaco is leaving it behind … I feel I could easily become accustomed to its millionaire lifestyle.

Want to hear more?  Call in to chat with me at our Howard Street branch or call me on 028 9031 3311. 

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