Gypsy’s Definitive Guide to the Med, Part One

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Spain has everything and Barcelona tops the list. I would stay at the Omm Hotel and eat in its chic Moo restaurant, with its plates individually painted by the important artists in town and its sculptures on every table. They are not for sale but I did persuade the talented artist, Robert Llimos, to make another of his walking man sculptures for me. It only took six months! Then, after dinner at Moo, I could feel groovy downstairs in its hot Ommsession club where everybody shows up around one or two o’clock wearing whatever will get a standing ovation.

I might also stay at the Claris Hotel where the rooftop is good for a snack lunch and, on some nights, has great music. There is even a little rooftop pool to revive in if you have been stunned (and you will be) by Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia — believe me, it is impossible not to be stunned.

But the hotel that has the press writing “whoopdeedoo” is the Arts. It climbs around the beach in a drunken but happy way, crisscrossing its girders and glass and its views of Frank Gehry’s beached gold ‘Whale.’ The acrobatic Arts gets its oohs and ahhs for its many imaginative places to eat and recline with a drink. It is great-looking and you can pop down to some of the good beach restaurants Barcelona is so proud of. The Agua and the Bestial — you don’t find comfy beach restaurants like those just anyplace!

Don’t leave Barcelona without eating at the great-looking Tragaluz restaurant and the Santa Caterina, which is attached to a food market by a wildly painted hat. And don’t miss the Lobo, the best place in town for a snack lunch or a great midday coffee. The Lobo is said to be snaky sexy at night but I haven’t tried it at night — yet. If you do, please let me know. Or, if what you want is fine dining where you can hear one another, go to Drolma, the classy restaurant in the Majestic Hotel.

Don’t waste time in Girona, but do go to Bilbao no matter whatever else in this world you do. As you have heard, the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry is an experience you will never ever forget.  And do go to Dali country (Figueres and Port Lligat) to see his house and museum in a still unruined part of beautiful seaside Spain. If you think about buying land there please call me – you might have a partner. And do go to El Bulli, considered by many restaurant chefs to be the best restaurant in Europe. Reservations are accepted up to a year in advance: 34 972 150 457.

Wave good-bye to Dali and find yourself in France — in Marseilles of all places. Why in the world are you there? If you must go, be careful and keep your eye out for young illegal immigrants who swim over to that area carrying dangerous tools for dark and dangerous work.

Marseilles has vast moon-crater-like ports, two or probably three of them at least, and it would be the heavenly place to create one large enough to berth all of the new 250- to 500-foot boats the Russians and Chinese and Mexicans and mid-Easterners are building at Blohm & Voss in Germany; they have no pretty place in the Med. Somebody in Marseilles is going to get smart and understand how much more can be made building a port for these enormous godly ships — the fancy berths, the ship suppliers, the restaurants. O-o-o-o-o it pickles me just to think of the restaurants and clubs and shops that could be created for those Russian boat owners and their guests; how much more moola can be made creating ultramarinas than by cutting off a few fingers — or by playing with the Mafia. So hurry away from there to St-Tropez.

There are a lot of hotels that are so-so in St-Tropez – the Byblos is OK and handy but it could be great. Even most of the rental houses are not well furnished or sparkling clean. You have to bring your own cleaning crowd to get them into shape. There is a small, good, walled-in area with a few good houses but they are reserved years in advance — and cost the earth. The best way to visit St-Tropez is on a boat, a big boat or a little boat, and sit out in the bay with the view of St-Tropez looking as if it is in a story book.

There is one classy fashion shop in that town I really like: Erthee, Le Grand Passage, 5 Rue du General Allard. It isn’t easy to find. If you are carrying one of their shopping bags when you walk around town, you get stopped by people who are trying to find it and ask for directions.

There are always hysterical blingy places in St-Tropez to hang out in nights; they come and go. The pretty place to have dinner that is on the port this year is L’Escale — it is white and silver so dress accordingly. I think it is part of the Joseph group of restaurants. The original Joseph is on the side of the far hill coming into town and it has always been simply about good food in the right atmosphere and it is nice. Martine runs L’Escale on the port; when you make a reservation there ask for her! She is the only one there with a memory of reservations. I have always liked Spoon at the Byblos. And there is a small hotel with an all-white cocktail terrace that the cute young set likes called La Maison Blanche on the Places de Lices.

Year after year Club 55 out on the beach roars at lunch with all the famous faces, the super money and the Russians. It is lively though; you sink into one of the cushy white couches and munch the crudités and see what boats are coming and going and who is at lunch with who and who is videoing who for YouTube. Club 55 has become St-Tropez to the upper strata.

Nobody stays long in St-Tropez if they don’t have a good house. Funny about the coast of France: from one end to the other there are very few outstanding hotels. You have to go inland in France to find great ones. The Mirande in Avignon is high style and you think, when you are staying there, that you might like to move in for good. The Four Seasons Hotel de Paris in Paris is carefully, thoughtfully smart. The Meurice has been redone by Philippe Starck and it is a bit too dramatic for me although a lot of my friends have switched temporarily as they do to its bar, Le 228, but the bathrooms are sublime. They should run a bathroom school. The Ritz, for example, should buy new towels for heaven’s sakes. Nobody wants a towel from the 1800s! The Hotel de Cap de Antibes is holding out from selling to the Russians I am told. It is still THE place to go if you are a star at an event like the Cannes Festival. And it is pleasant for lunch especially if you go by boat, even a little boat like a Riva.

There is a glam restaurant in Cannes in summer: Le Baoli Bar and Restaurant on the port. It has a clever disc jockey and it’s one of those places you can shake it and toss your hair or your feathers or something – toss anything! The place feels up to a good toss. Good wines too. La Palme D’Or in the Hotel Martinez is first class and you feel you are on the town there. The Martinez Hotel is as good as Cannes gets – although the best center hotel suite is still at the Carlton during the film festival – woo!!! That is madness and brazen and fun. You throw open the French doors of that suite – or you just go down to the lobby – and you see everything. I am not kidding — everything.

Back up in the hills way behind Cannes is another world and a few good restaurants but that is another story for another time.

The only really good restaurant I ever found in Nice is run by a woman who is as likely to insult you as she is to feed you. You need to dress like a queen to impress her, I think. She is notorious and knows it. But she feeds you well and has a devoted following. Petite Maison is the name. Somehow it works. It is not very far from the port and just off the coast road.

On our way to Monte Carlo up on the high cornice we stop for a look at Cap Ferrat, the best of the best of the South of France now filled with Russians and their Spiderman dogs. I lived there once and that is another story I will tell you another day.

We are on our way to Monte Carlo. There are two ways to enter Monte Carlo: by car or by boat. Entering Monte Carlo’s great port by boat is a sublime experience and I hope my photo is clear enough for you to imagine it. In summer, Monte Carlo invites many countries to compete in a fireworks contest that is set off in the port. It seems to me that China and Italy always win. Frequently, my boat, “Strangelove,” is in a berth so close to where they set off the fireworks it feels as if they are going off through my fingers and toes!

Now we are in Monte Carlo. Please note the fountain in the center of town that is always glamorously blazing in the evening. The Hotel de Paris has Alain Ducasse in full dress and the Hotel Metropole has Joel Robuchon in a stylish and friendly atmosphere. Around the corner is Rampoldi’s and it is always jammed because of the man in charge – he has “it.” I don’t know what it is but he has it. Maybe it was that disco he is supposed to have run in Paris years ago that produced the gleam in his eye. My favorite place of all for dinner in Monte Carlo in the summer is the Bar et Boeuf in the Summer Sporting: 377 98 06 71 71. It closes August 30. It is a very well-designed, outdoor/indoor restaurant with a romantic view of the sea, good food, good wines, good vibes; everybody likes being there. There is also a handsome Japanese restaurant, alongside, for dinner only, called Fuji: 377 98 06 70 36.
Monte Carlo is fun to look at. The buildings are works of art, the cars are vintage multi-million dollar classics and they hang around the casino for all to look at in awe. The palace has soldiers in full dress marching back and forth, the people are a grand stew of the dressed and the undressed. The port is being enlarged and even now it holds an assortment of mega-yachts too big to get into many of the best ports, and they are all accessorized with their submarines, helicopters, mile-long black limos, security staff right out of the movies and the owners dressed for the part. Tom Ford’s black sunglasses shade Monte Carlo!!!!!

Monte Carlo keeps Princess Grace alive and hovering and that is smart. She was their finest hour. It is interesting at a time when we are constantly told how unpopular Americans are in Europe to see the expressions on people’s faces when they look at all the posters and pictures of Princess Grace that are around the town. They love her. Still. They nod their heads – yes. They smile. They wipe a tear. They feel her presence. That is one of the most enjoyable sights of Monte Carlo; its true love for an American movie star who was its beloved princess — and its memory of that good time. Like most Americans, Princess Grace adored the fireworks competitions but even the view from the palace is not as exciting as the view of Monte Carlo’s fireworks I see between my feet sitting on the back of a boat.

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