As a procession of Italian dishes arrives at his table at the Odéon Café by Cipriani, the restaurant in Monaco's tallest building, the Tour Odéon, Daniele Marzocco is recalling the extraordinary events that led his family to flee to the pint-sized Principality when he was a child. His father, Claudio - only 29 at the time, in 1988 - had miraculously escaped being held hostage for two weeks by an Italian mafia gang. Traumatised and fearing for the safety of his wife, Doriana, and their two young sons, Daniele and Niccolò, within a month he had moved the family to Monaco, 25 miles away from their home in Sanremo on the Italian Riviera.
'My grandfather, Domenico, was already living in Monaco and working as a property developer, and he had been trying to persuade my father to join him for a long time, but my father thought Monaco was too small,' says Daniele. The kidnapping convinced Claudio, however, that the moment had come to make the move.
'Many of us moved here at the same time - my family, my uncle and his family. I was 11 and didn't speak a word of French, but I integrated quickly. My best friend was Alexandre Giraldi,' explains 45-year-old Daniele, remembering his old classmate, who has gone on to become the most famous Monégasque architect.
More of that later. Today, Groupe Marzocco - founded by Domenico, and now run by Claudio, his brother Luca, and Claudio's sons and nephew - is one of Monaco's leading developers, with 50 major projects under its belt since the early 1980s.
Tour Odéon - where various members of the Marzocco family live - has become their calling card, a global benchmark for ultra-prime luxury living, ever since its 3,300sq m penthouse went on sale several years ago for a reported €388 million and smashed world records. Among the properties on sale there today is a four-bed, 427sq m apartment priced at €28.9 million through Monte-Carlo Sotheby's International Realty.
'It was a catalyst for change in Monaco,' says Daniele of the development that was among the Principality's first to offer residents amenities such as a hotel-style concierge, swimming pool and chauffeur-driven cars. 'When I was young, outside of the summer peak, there was nothing here for 10 months of the year. It was a place for offshore residents just wanting the address, and the properties were expensive but old. Monaco needed to up its quality and services. Now, people are really living here, sending their children to school locally, and you can see the transformation.'
If Tour Odéon, which completed in 2016, brought them global exposure, the Marzoccos' latest project promises to be similarly headline grabbing. Testimonio II in the Larvotto neighbourhood, close to the French border, is Monaco's biggest new development (in terms of built square metres). It's bigger, even, than Mareterra, the €2 billion land reclamation project that will add six hectares to Monaco's land mass.
When fully complete in late 2024, Testimonio II - designed by Giraldi, and Miami-based Arquitectonica - will include a super-luxury element called Bay House, whose 56 huge, lateral apartments priced from €17.5 million, and five vast villas of up to 2,500sq m priced from €100 million to more than €200 million, are all built on the rooftop of the new International School of Monaco (such are the challenges of finding land in Monaco). Indeed, the lack of a school-run commute in often traffic-clogged Monaco has been a big driver for many of Bay House's buyers. That, along with the spectacular sea views and what Edward de Mallet Morgan, Knight Frank's head of super-prime sales, says are the 'widest and best-finished homes that Monaco has ever seen'.
Alongside Bay House are two new residential towers dedicated to rent-controlled housing. Monaco may be a playground for billionaires, but it also suffers from a chronic lack of affordable housing for locals, and these 348 state-owned flats will add 10 per cent to the existing stock. Even the plot itself is remarkable. It's the last big, buildable site in Monaco. 'You wouldn't know there was a site to build on,' agrees Daniele of the buildings that are emerging from a rocky spot with three roads slicing through its various levels. To find space for parking at Testimonio II, they've had to build 13 levels below ground.
It's all something to sing about. But despite their attention-grabbing developments, the Marzocco family are not the singing type. Not in public, anyway. They usually shun interviews and don't like even talking money much. Daniele points out that the much-quoted price of the Tour Odéon penthouse is wrong - but he won't reveal the real one. 'We're shy people,' he says. It's almost unheard of for them to open up about their family, too. But Daniele's moment of reflection today has been prompted by Claudio, who, now aged 63, has written a book about the dramatic circumstances that brought them to Monaco. 'It has taken 30 years,' Daniele laughs. 'But when I ask him what the best thing is that's happened to him in his life, he says the kidnapping. It's part of our life story. It's about freedom. I tell my children that we need to be physically and mentally free.'
They are keeping the book, Il Decimo Anello (The Tenth Link), low-key, printing only a couple of thousand copies 'for family and friends' - with similarly limited-edition French and English versions on the horizon. But the act of writing it - and of collating an extraordinary archive of police reports, newspaper cuttings and photos relating to the kidnap - has put the story at the forefront of their minds again.
In his memoir, Claudio describes how on 22 January 1988 he was in his Sanremo office when three men burst through the doors. 'I remember not understanding what was going on when they took me. I just recognised a southern Italian accent when they spoke, but one of their rules was that I must never look them in the face.'
With a hood over his head and bundled into a car, Claudio was driven 800 miles to some remote woods in the south of Italy. 'It was difficult to guess where they were taking me. I remember trying to calculate but I was too terrified to focus,' he writes. He correctly reckoned it to be Calabria, home to militant left-wing groups including the Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades), which were responsible for numerous kidnappings and murders at the time. Daniele says that there were 10 kidnappings that month alone, 'including one hostage who was held for 700 days'.
In his book, Claudio writes, 'I was never afraid of death, just the prospect of violence.' But he was allowed to smoke, and his salvation came when he was given a flint to light matches. He used it to slowly carve away at a link in his chains, counting down each time to the 10th link - hence the book's Italian title - which he could hide from view.
When Claudio broke through the link on 6 February, he ran 18 miles through the woods in one night, without his glasses and with a chain still around his neck. 'And he's a big guy - he's not a sporty type,' Daniele says, smiling. Claudio survived by drinking water from the ground and repeating to himself '100 steps and a 10-second break', as he ran. Eventually, he arrived at a police station in the Calabrian village of Santa Cristina d'Aspromonte. The kidnappers were never found, but he, at least, was safe.
Daniele remembers moving to his grandfather's house in Ospedaletti while his father was missing. And although Niccolò - who has joined Daniele in the restaurant - was only three at the time, the trauma forms his earliest memories. 'I looked up at my mum and I sensed she was stressed. She told me Papà had gone on a work trip. There was lots of agitation around, and then I remember when my dad arrived home, he wasn't walking well and he was very tired,' he comments.
Although it has taken their father decades to tell his story, it has provided Claudio with 'a sort of psychological release', says Daniele. 'When they closed the court in Sanremo five years ago, we found photos of him from the time in the boxes of documents they were throwing away. He went back to the place he was kidnapped three years ago, alone. It's a life event that has made him stronger, more independent. He also never goes anywhere now without water. He has bottles of it everywhere - his car, his office.'
Monaco welcomed the family 'with open arms', and Claudio talks a lot about the sense of safety he feels there. It's clearly a big factor for Daniele, too. 'Safety is the most important thing,' he says. 'We are a five-minute walk from school. Friends in Milan or London are always telling me how dangerous their cities can be. Here, we have one policeman per 100 people. My father didn't move to Monaco for the taxes, but for the security and the quality of life.'
Monaco's most expensive properties used to be almost entirely bought by Russians, Daniele adds, but that has changed. His neighbours in Tour Odéon are mainly European - Italian, Swiss, Belgian. Many of them have young children. 'Monaco is a very small, very international, very multicultural place. It has 139 nationalities, all the religions, all within two square kilometres - smaller than Hyde Park,' he says.
As in Testimonio II, tenants in Tour Odéon's state-owned flats pay a fraction of the market rent, and they live alongside multi-millionaires. 'There's no division,' says Daniele. 'Monaco is a mosaic of different types of people from different backgrounds who enjoy living together. That's also why we decided to make the spa and fitness centre in Tour Odéon open to the public.'
Niccolò rejoins the conversation and talks about how, in 2014, when Monaco began discussing banking transparency, there were fears that property prices would tumble. 'With no more secret banking, why would people come to Monaco?' he says. 'It used to be a case of no questions asked when you opened a bank account here. Now it's very difficult. But actually the opposite happened - sales prices rose, rents doubled. There were a lot more new buildings and new services.'
Prices levelled out early on in the pandemic, according to de Mallet Morgan, 'when people were stuck in their apartments and wanted bigger terraces. But much of the oldest housing stock is now being renovated, and people are trading up,' he explains. 'Now the biggest demand is for three-bedroom apartments.'
Property prices are now the highest in the world, hitting €100,000 per square metre at the top end, 'and there's nowhere in the world with a greater appetite for off-plan apartments, as there's such under-supply and over-demand,' adds de Mallet Morgan.
Monaco has always been a safe haven, of course - typically for people's cash, rather than their children. But since 2005, Prince Albert has been on a mission to encourage more international families to move in. And the Marzoccos know better than anyone how it can offer safety in a very different sense. For Claudio, catharsis came through writing about his life story. Now, the family is writing the next chapter for luxury living in Monaco.