If you read Luxury Travel Diary regularly you will know that Monte Carlo has a special place in our heart and that I’ve stayed in most of the luxury hotels in this tiny principality. On my latest trip, I wanted to review a more affordable option to give visitors more choice, especially in the summer months when the most luxurious hotels can be eye-waveringly expensive.
The Columbus Hotel in Monaco is sat in the center of Fontvieille which is to the west of the main harbor in Monte Carlo. The Fontvielle peninsula was reclaimed from the sea in the 1970s and is the location of Monaco’s stadium – home of AS Monaco. Otherwise, the area is largely residential, made up of a number of matching pink-hued apartment blocks, overlooking one of two marinas. You will also find the main heliport for Monaco here, as well as the Princess Grace Rose Garden, numerous waterfront bistros, restaurants, and a small shopping mall containing the largest supermarket (Carrefour) in Monaco. Fontvieille also boasts one of Monaco’s premium apartment blocks, home to a number of famous residents drawn by the large sea view properties and relative seclusion of the area.
As a hotel location, Fontvielle does feel remote from the center of Monaco. The 20-minute trek, largely uphill, to reach Casino square can be draining in the summer heat. If you choose to stay at the Columbus, you really need to take a taxi to reach the main attractions in Monaco. Conversely, Fontvielle’s local amenities are just a stone’s throw away and there are certainly plenty of restaurants and attractions along the marina waterfront, however, they all lack the style and panache of those that you will find in the center. Fontvielle is beautifully kept and feels very safe but for me, the area seems to lack the heart and the joie de vivre that you find around Casino square.
The Columbus hotel itself is located in one of the pinky Fontvielle blocks. It welcomes you with an arched glass entrance that leads to an impressive staircase that sweeps you around to the reception. More recently the bar and evening restaurant which lead off either side of the reception has shut. The foyer area, therefore, retains its chic Asian interiors, mood lighting, and muted house tunes but in the evening it no longer turns into the happening hang out in Fontvielle.
I remember when the Columbus first opened, I was truly impressed with the style and decoration of the hotel’s interior. Many years later the hotel remains trendy and stylish with darkened corridors and lounge areas as well as a sun-drenched, indoor-outdoor breakfast veranda. However, the property could now do with a lick of paint in places and a new carpet or two. Refurbishment is already planned for 2016 with a refresh of the hotel communal areas and the rooms. Even before the refresh the Columbus still feels fun and stylish and attracts a fun and stylish crowd including while we were there the Russian football team!
Bar and Restaurant
As mentioned above, there is currently no bar and restaurant in the Columbus hotel. The good news is that this is not a permanent fixture and the bar at least is expected to reopen in 2016. In the meantime, the bar is no longer in use and management has converted the area into a complimentary coffee and drinks room with a wine machine for the evenings, giving guests a pleasant space to relax throughout the day.
The current lack of bar and restaurant translates through to the hotel’s lack of room service. Instead, the Columbus has partnered with some local takeaway providers which you can call out to, ordering your chosen meal straight to your room. In theory a great idea but when we tried this service after a night out, the takeaways had all closed. We were left hungry and picking at stale British Airways sticky buns for our evening’s dining. It was a realization that I’ve come to rely on 24-hour room service – not having it is an inconvenience.
Our room was one of the few “Suite King Bed”s in the hotel. I also took a look in one of the deluxe king rooms and they are all very much the same in style. The look is once again contemporary with Asian touches. A stripy rope carpet and curtains are offset by oatmeal brown soft furnishings, dark wood desks, and dark wood bedside tables. Lighting is muted and moody to the point of ridiculous – I found it virtually impossible to put on my makeup in the low lighting. On the plus side, you will feel beautiful in this hotel as you can’t see any blemishes or wrinkles! Bathrooms have fun design pieces, a bamboo ladder towel rail, an African mask looking at you as you brush your teeth and ours offered a good, powerful rainforest shower. The Columbus is generous with their own branded shower gel and shampoo although conditioner was lacking.
One thing to note is the rooms at the front are bathed in beautiful sunshine most of the day compared to the darker rooms at the back but the rooms at the front are also noisier as they face towards the busy heliport. I am a bad sleeper so I chose to be at the back, but if sleeping isn’t a problem for you, the front-facing rooms are both brighter and offer a much more fun view overlooking the gardens and entrance. It is also worth requesting a room with a balcony as these give the room more space.
The pool here is also shared by the surrounding apartment blocks, located across the gardens and accessed using your room key. The pool itself isn’t large, when we were there it was busy and I found it difficult to find a sunbed, but it is significantly larger than the pool at the Riviera Marriott up the road, large enough to do lengths in without bashing into others. All things considered, it is a nice facility, and being adjacent to the heliport offers the fun, (if noisy), the distraction of watching helicopters land and takeoff as you exercise.
Breakfast is served in what used to be the restaurant. Cream walls and dark wood tables offer internal dining and an umbrella-covered outdoor area offers alfresco breakfast seating with a view of the gardens. Breakfast itself is never too busy and felt intimate due to the size of the hotel. The spread was excellent considering the 3 star rating of the hotel. There isn’t a complementary option of eggs, “served your way”, but there is a very good selection of buffet items: boiled or scrambled eggs, baked beans, pancakes, cold meats, cheeses, muesli, fruit, and juice. They also offer gluten-free, soya milk, benecol, etc.
So to the question of whether I would return. The Columbus is a loved boutique hotel with a stylish atmosphere, amplified by the trendy music played in the lobby and throughout. It’s far more intimate than some of the larger impersonal chains in the principality, such as the Fairmont in the center or the Marriott Cap D’Ail around the corner. Importantly the staff seems to care and try hard to accommodate their guests.
The excellent bar will return in 2016 and a fresh lick of paint for the slightly tired decor is also impending. These updates will make the Columbus an excellent choice. It’s hard to argue that the Columbus is not already one of the best value hotels in Monaco, delivering a trendy fun environment, stylish rooms, and a great breakfast all at a competitive price. I enjoyed my stay and look forward to returning as soon as the 2016 refurb is complete.
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