Princess Grace, James Bond, Brigitte Bardot and now Bastien Gonzalez (I’ll come back to him in a moment) – Monte Carlo has always lured the A list and it’s still pretty glamorous. The roads are packed with Ferraris, Maseratis, Rolls-Royces and, if you really have to scrape the barrel, Mercedes. This is one good reason (there are others) to take the helicopter from Nice airport – you avoid getting stuck in the traffic. You fly out over a sparkling sea and look back across the mountains, the highest and most distant still snow-topped in late April. The tiny overcrowded principality – it’s just over two square kilometres – is laid out before you as you land at the edge of the water just seven minutes later.
The barriers and grandstands are already up for the Grand Prix in late May, the shops are Prada, Dior, Gucci, Hermes, Cartier et al, the buildings are riotously Belle Epoque – the Café de Paris, the Opera de Monte-Carlo and, of course, the jewel in that particular crown the Casino. The Hotel Metropole belongs to the same era, built in 1889, across the road from the Casino. From the outside it has all the froth and ornament of a wedding cake. On the inside it has had a complete make-over, closing down for a year in late 2003 and re-opening with a contemporary style unlike anywhere else in Monaco. The result is the epitome of luxury (they’ve won best hotel and best hotelier awards over recent years) and the restaurants are world class. The Joel Robuchon Restaurant has two Michelin stars and an eerily calm open kitchen. Yoshi (it means “kindness”), the Japanese restaurant has a Michelin star, too, a minimal interior and a beautiful Japanese garden. Odyssey teams up with the spa for lighter dishes to be enjoyed by the pool in the open air. It features a glass mural of the mythological Journey of Ulysses by Karl Lagerfeld. They even have a sound designer to create the right ambience for their Michelin-starred celebrity chefs. It’s based on a flow of music from the Fifties to the present, a recreation of the Riviera Glamour concept that this place exudes.
So here I am in the land of luxe – what could be uppermost in my mind? Actually, it’s feet: those poor neglected parts of our anatomy that take all the strain and get little thanks for it. In the world of the A listers, though, even feet are properly cared for. The likes of Naomi Campbell and Gwynneth Paltrow care about them, naturally, and their podiatrist of choice is Bastien Gonzalez who just happens to offer his very exclusive treatments here.
Your first impression of the spa comes in its dedicated lift. It tells you that you’ve arrived in a husky French whisper. I am greeted by Christophe Champs, Bastien’s studio manager, who leads me into a calm room and the most comfortable of chairs that he adjusts till it’s just right for my ultimate relaxation. He dims the lights and we begin.
Feeling I have to explain my feet, I recount their history of stress fractures and operations due to the rigours of ballet. Christophe is calm, even complimentary. “No, no,” he assures me. “You have ten nails. This is good. Lots of women lose the little toe nails.” I am so amazed by this information I can’t quite bring myself to ask where they mislay them. “My last client had terrible nails. She was Russian. They use lots of acrylic. Natural beauty is better.” I assume this was a manicure as the studio does those, too – even Russians must draw the line at false nails for the toes.
Using a glass file, Christopher shapes my nails, explaining that glass is best as it sends vibrations to the nail matrix and stimulates strength and growth. It also last forever. “It feels nicer, too,” Christophe points out. And it does, it’s a more gentle sensation than a metal file or an emery board.
Bastien’s system doesn’t go in for cutting nails with scissors or prodding back cuticles (though hard skin is removed with a scalpel – eek! – that you don’t actually feel). Tactile pleasure is a big factor here and the emphasis is on pleasing textures and massage. “Olfactory identities” are important (nice smells to you and me) and the ingredients are all natural. And what ingredients they are! The sensitive feet balm has essential oils of sage, lavender and thyme, extracts of watercress and mint as well as zinc, important for cell renewal. The scrub is a mixture of crushed diamond, mother of pearl and black volcanic sand (it looks like caviar). There’s a “cool veil” based on kaolin and sage, an unguent for nails with Argan oil and arnica, and a buffing cream with more mother of pearl. There are definitely no soap, no chemicals and no paint. One long-time aficionado of Bastien’s method was tempted by a friend to have colour on her nails for a wedding. “No,” she is reported to have said after a moment of wavering. “I couldn’t do that to Bastien.”
Whichever Bastien studio you go to – there are 15 around the world based in luxury spas in glamorous locations such as the Maldives, Mauritius and UAE – there is always the same philosophy and protocol. “The aim,” explains Christophe, “is not to make you beautiful but to restore your natural beauty.” So, the nails are exfoliated, just like the skin. Chemicals are banned – “even soap has chemicals” – the underlying cause of ridges and discoloration. You should never push back cuticles as this reduces the matrix and causes ridges, too. And, of course, you don’t use nail polish let alone – God forbid! – any kind of false nail. So what do you do?
The answer is: you buff. Bastien saw his grandmother buffing with chamois leather and the shine this gave to her nails. If your nails are healthy and they’re buffed, they look good. Christophe’s certainly shine. By now, I’m exfoliated and the nails are shaped and Christophe is on to the buffing. The buffer is made of natural horn and has a chamois leather cloth on its head. Each nail is given a tiny dot of Nail Brightness Pearly Buffing Cream and we’re away. The shine, Christophe tells me, will last for four weeks on the toes (two weeks on the hands that get more wear and water).
When I am properly buffed, there’s a wonderful massage of my feet and lower legs, a sprinkle of “cool veil” between my toes (a bit like talcum powder) and finally a spray of Celeste leg shimmer dry oil, silky to the touch and with a bit more mother of pearl for gloss. My feet have had an unheard-of hour devoted to them. And they do look good, with my post-flight fluid gone and nails that really do shine.
Keeping this up is going to be slightly more difficult back in London. There is certainly a plan to open a studio here but at the moment, it’s all down to booking an appointment with the great man himself who comes over once a month. Time to join the A listers then.
For London appointments: email@example.com or call 07766 663271.
Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo, 4 avenue de la Madame, BP19 98 007 Monaco. For more information, visit www.metropole.com.