If money is your god, this must be your idea of heaven. Nature provided the perfect setting – a beautiful bay with steep mountain slopes running down to clear crystal blue waters. Money provides the rest.
Three short sentences and you already know we are no longer in England. We have joined a cruise ship in Barcelona and will be sailing the Mediterranean for the next 24 days. The first stop is the incredibly decadent city of Monte Carlo.
We have arrived one week after the Monaco Grand Prix took place.
Monaco is smaller than New York’s Central Park and yet it is home to 38,000 people living the most lavish lifestyle. There is not a square foot of land that isn’t utilised. That and its narrow winding roads suggest that it is hardly the perfect place to hold the world’s most important motor race. And yet it is.
To stage the Grand Prix every year takes a vast amount of money and extraordinary organisational skills. Fortunately Monaco has both. Work starts 6 weeks before the race. During that time huge grandstands, pit garages and private glassed in viewing boxes have to be erected,
Then there is the 21 miles of barriers that have to be installed. And everything has to be done while allowing everyday life to continue uninterrupted.
The day after the race the job of taking down all of this temporary infrastructure begins. Today the barriers are all gone and work has begun on the dismantling the grandstands,
and then the pit stops and boxes will be taken down.
Somerset Maugham described Monaco as “a sunny place for shady people” and that description seems just as relevant today. It is a city of obscene wealth, but money doesn’t necessarily mean class
Even the extreme cars favoured by many of the inhabitants can seem a little tacky
A Lamborghini, yes. A gold Lamborghini, no!
And then there are the yachts. On the day we are there the bay is dominated by the largest sailing yacht ever built. It comes as no surprise to learn that it is owned by a Russian. What is surprising is that he claims to have made his money honestly.
Andrey Melnichenko is only in his forties and his biography claims that he made his fortune in fertilizer, which presumably is where the rather crude expression “a shit load of money” comes from.
The yacht is rumoured to have cost something over three hundred million dollars. When you are talking three hundred million, the phrase “something over” presumably does not mean three hundred million and one.
It comes with everything except good taste. Although it only sleeps 14 it boasts a professional galley large enough for a five-star hotel, a helipad, a submarine and 4 tenders. Every last detail is over designed to match the look of the yacht. In order to protect his privacy, from a distance there is not a window to be seen. The only clear glass anywhere on the yacht is around the Captain’s bridge, but you will have a hard job seeing into it
Even the tenders have the same sleek look. They have a narrow wrap around window to allow the people inside to look out preventing anyone outside from looking in
The ship has no name emblazoned on the side, such as “Lazy Daze” or “Kathy’s Dream”. Nor does it fly a flag. Mr Melnichenko appears to think that because there is no name he is traveling incognito. Hellooo!
Designed by Phillipe Starck, the sails can be opened with a press of a button, so no crew is required. But despite this Mr Melnichenko has a crew of up to 54 .
He brought his yacht to Monte Carlo to show it off while the Monaco Grand Prix was taking place, as you do . That was a week ago, but he is still here never tiring of making a statement. When not showing off, he uses a slightly smaller yacht for everyday use, also designed by Phillipe Starck, which I am sure he sees as a way of cutting costs.
Forbes ranks Mr Melnichenko as only the 97th wealthiest man in the world, which begs the question, what do the 96 wealthier men in the world own.
Someone who used to be thought of as the richest man in the world was Aristotle Onassis. He also owned a yacht that was heralded as the most luxurious yacht ever built. Today that yacht is also moored in Monte Carlo Bay. Mr Melnichenko has cleverly moored his yacht next to it, presumably to make a point that can hardly be lost on anyone.
Mr Onassis’s yacht is that tiny little thing with the yellow funnel.
Our cruise ship is also moored in the bay. Just like Mr Melnichenko we also have to travel ashore in a tender.
Unlike Mr Melinchenko I have to cram into a rather ugly little orange and white number with about 100 other people. That’s it weaving its way between some of the other yachts. It is a little embarrassing to be seen stepping out of it on to the dock. I hope no one sees me. But if they do, they won’t know who I am. I am traveling incognito.