Prepare to live the James Bond lifestyle in this pint-sized principality.
Does size matter? Not when it comes to Monaco. Covering little more than a square mile, Monaco is the world’s second smallest country, and could fit easily into New York’s Central Park. Yet it has its own Royal Family (Prince Albert II continues the rule of the Grimaldi family) and seven districts, including super-exclusive Monte Carlo, home to the world-famous casino. Palaces, billionaire playboys and the Grand Prix: this is one port that packs a very glamorous punch.
What to see and do
There has always been huge popular interest in the Grimaldi family, particularly when Albert’s father, Prince Rainier III, married American movie star Grace Kelly, in 1956. In summertime, experience royal life with a visit to the State Apartments of the Prince’s Palace (palais.mc), located in Monaco-Ville (Old Town), or turn up at 11.55am for the daily changing of the guard ceremony.
Not far from here is the Oceanographic Museum (oceano.mc), founded by Albert I in 1910, and boasting a giant aquarium where sharks and other exotic fish glide eerily past guests. Moving from fish to fauna, don’t miss Jardin Exotique (jardin-exotique.mc), a collection of cacti and succulents that seems to tumble down the rock face, giving glimpses across the sea to the Italian Riviera.
One of the greatest pastimes here is people watching, particularly in Monte Carlo, where money arrives in a whirl of helicopters, limousines and Lamborghinis. You’ll feel like an extra in a Bond movie as you stroll across Casino Square and Gardens and catch sight of Monte Carlo Casino (montecarlocasinos.com), featured in Never Say Never Again and GoldenEye. Despite promoting an image of exclusivity, it’s actually easy to get into (if you’re over 18, of course) – simply show your passport, or other ID, and pay €10. If you can tear yourself away from the poker table, take in a performance at the Charles Garnier-designed Monte Carlo Opera House (opera.mc).
Where to eat
Enjoy a croque-monsieur and coffee at Café de Paris (montecarloresort.com) in Monte Carlo, the perfect people-watching spot. Beg, borrow or steal to get a table on its legendary terrace, but make sure you have a good look around inside too: the Belle Epoque windows are breathtaking.
Those with a sweet tooth won’t want to miss 1920s chocolate house Carlino’s where the tea and cake are to die for. Feeling flush? Dine at Alain Ducasse’s three-Michelin-starred Le Louis XV (alain-ducasse.com) within Hotel de Paris. If the €200 price tag is too steep but you still want the Hotel de Paris experience try Le Grill (hoteldeparismontecarlo.com). It has one Michelin star and great views, plus an opening roof, for a more reasonable €68 per person.
A-listers and style-setters mingle in the Philippe Starck-designed surroundings of Bar & Bœuf on Princess Grace Avenue. As the name suggests, you can order anything that revolves around bar (sea bass) and bœuf (beef). Also worth a mention for its delicious and very reasonable Italian fare is Le Pinocchio in Monaco-Ville.
Where to drink
Not to be missed is Bar Américain (hoteldeparismontecarlo.com), where Ernest Hemingway was once a regular. This hotel bar’s cellar is the largest in the world, so you might struggle to choose from the list of 300,000 vintages on offer. On Princess Grace Avenue you’ll find restaurant/late bar Zebra Square and the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort (montecarlobay.com), home to the marine-inspired Blue Gin with its impressive cocktail collection and champagne terrace. A few tipples here and you’ll be ready to hit the ultimate dance spot Jimmy’z with the rest of the jetset.
Where to stay
Believe it or not, you can stay in Monaco without having a millionaire’s bank balance. Ni Hotel (nihotel-nibar.com, from €150) and Hotel de France (monte-carlo.mc/france, from €75) are both located in La Condamine and will keep costs down. However, if it’s all about seeing and being seen, look no further than Hôtel de Paris (montecarloresort.com, from €540), the ‘palace’ located on Casino Square, or Hotel Métropole Monte-Carlo (metropole.com, from €275), a five-star home away from home for Britney Spears and Sting, and recently voted Best Hotel in the World.
Where to shop
Be prepared for big boutiques with items bearing no price tags (if you have to ask, you can’t afford it!). Yves Saint Laurent, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton and Cartier are all on or near the Avenue des Beaux Arts. Better value can be found at the Metropole Shopping Centre, facing the Casino Gardens, and it’s here that you’ll find Manufacture de Monaco (mdpm.com) creating porcelain once loved by Princess Grace.
If you are on a more sensible budget (it can be done) head to the Fontvieille Shopping Centre, which has a selection of shops selling more practical items such as music, furniture and clothes. For the perfect souvenir of your time in Monaco try the Old Town (and don’t miss Chocolaterie de Monaco, dating back to 1920), or La Condamine, the second-oldest district in Monaco, with a traditional market. Specialist shops line Rue Grimaldi, Rue Millo and Rue Terrazzani.
|Language||The official language is French. Monégasque and Italian are also spoken|
|Climate||Averaging 300 days of sunshine, Monaco enjoys a mild climate throughout the year. May-October tends to be the best time to visit|
|Dialling Codes||(00 377 for Monaco)|