Rich Pickings

22nd June 2012

Although Monaco is rather expensive to spend time in, the good news is that the place is so tiny and densely packed that it’s easy to see it all in a couple of days.

Rowena Carr-Allinson did just that…

Wedged between France, Italy and the Mediterranean Sea, the tiny 1.7 square mile principality of Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, and one of the most surreal. Best known as the home of the Formula One Grand Prix, it also has another claim to fame: home to more millionaires and billionaires per square metre than anywhere else on the planet. And, as if that weren’t enough to make you keen, it claims to have 300 days of sunshine a year…

Monaco simply exudes old school glamour, partly due to its wealthy inhabitants, and partly due to its royal family, the Grimaldis, and the legendary Grace Kelly. The presence of the Hollywood actress-turned-princess (and mother to the current head of the state Prince Albert II) is still very much felt today.

Le Rocher: the Rock

To See

Start with the heart of it all: Monte Carlo and its fancy boutiques where designer brands like Prada and Hermes sit side by side on their own miniature ‘Rodeo Drive’-style street, ‘Avenue de Monte Carlo’, leading up to the famous casino. The legendary Café de Paris hotel is also located on Casino Square. It’s worth a look just for the luxe ‘wow factor’ and the jaw-droppingly beautiful cars always parked outside.

Le Rocher (‘The Rock’) is what the locals call the impressive cliff, home to the Prince’s Palace. Visit the Grimaldi’s fairytale castle, take a stroll along the tiny winding medieval streets dotted with charming boutiques and cafés, meander through the quaint labyrinth of pastel coloured houses or just take in the panoramic coastline views.

Love the fresh air? Stop at the Jardin Exotique, a beautiful tropical garden with plenty of weird and wonderful fragrant plants. With or without children, the Musée Océanographique Aquarium, an amazing marble temple to the sea, is also worth a stop. Its pride and joy, the shark lagoon, shows off the fearsome predators, but there are also beautiful living corals, turtles and angel-fish. Prefer vintage vehicles? Try the Antique Automobile Museum, where Prince Rainier III shares his 85 strong car collection. Since Monaco is a tax-free haven, it’s riddled with famous residents – from Lewis Hamilton to Roger Moore – so it’s no wonder that supercars are a dime a dozen here…

If you want to take a look at modern Ferraris or any other random sports cars, an idle wander through any of the many underground car parks should deliver!

The Fairmont

To Sleep

To rub shoulders with the A-Listers and sleep in style, check into the Fairmont (right). Ideally located right in the heart of Monaco, it overlooks both the sea and the Grand Prix route’s city centre hairpin bends.

The classic seaside-inspired rooms come with deliciously comfortable giant beds, blue and white striped soft furnishings and tip top service plus fabulous Mediterranean views (see top) and private mini balconies that cleverly don’t overlook any others. The rooftop pool also has fabulous azure views and fantastically romantic ‘love bubble’ pods to cosy up in.

Just next to the pool, the Willow Stream Spa offers 900 square metres of relaxation and pampering. As well as body treatments and facials, there’s yoga, a full gym and a Hammam as you’d expect from such a fine establishment.

On the same floor, is the Horizon Deck, another must. Aptly named, it’s the place to get an eye full of sparkling sea views while trying Sunday Brunch or just a drink or two.

To Drink

It’s only fair that this tiny haven should be oozing with places to down a glass of champagne or two… Well-known for its glamorous jet set clientele, Monaco is all about the bling, the cocktails and the wild, wild parties.

To indulge, stop by Jimmy'z, at the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort: legendary club open until dawn, where you might just spot the likes of Leonardo Di Caprio or George Clooney partying the night away. Do remember to come with a well-stocked wallet though, as drinks don’t come cheap on a night out in the principality!

For a more relaxed approach, the Brasserie de Monaco bar and lounge brew their own beer on site, and have a reputation for attracting great DJs and the younger generation royals.

Grab a drink outdoors under the giant tents to gawk at the most enormous mega yachts you’re ever likely to come across, or head indoors to the packed dance floor…

The Louis XV

To Dine

To go gourmet in a laid-back environment, try the Explorers’ Pub. More like a gastro-restaurant, the menu is a gourmet dream without the fuss. Think fabulous aubergine carpaccio, slow cooked lamb shank and oozing milk chocolate cupcakes…

For more airs and graces, blow the budget at famous chef Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV at the very swanky Hotel de Paris (right; tempting examples of the top class cuisine below) . The first three Michelin-starred restaurant in town, it’s on another level. For a fancy sushi, Joel Robuchon’s Yoshi at the Metropole Hotel is another place to be seen. Even on a smaller budget, the bento boxes aren’t as expensive as you’d expect.

Prefer to go cheap and cheerful? The classiest McDonald’s ever is available under a racing green awning. Only in Monaco would McD’s manage to ascertain a certain aura of ‘chic’…

Arriving In Style

In a place like Monaco, it’s all about style and making an entrance… so you might want to consider arriving from Nice airport via helicopter. It’s the done thing here, at around €120 per person for a six minute ride. Obviously it’s worth it for the thrill factor, the sheer glamour and the views but if you think that time is money and you are visiting in ‘season’ when taxis from the airport will set you back about €100 and take an hour or more it can (almost) make financial sense…

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