Monte Carlo: A Mediterranean gem
A jewel of the French Riviera, the district of Monte Carlo in the principality of Monaco offers a warm seaside climate, red-hot car races, a sizzling casino scene, sunny beach resorts and much more. Bordered by the Alps on one side and the Mediterranean on the other, Monaco may be the second-smallest country in the world, but there is no shortage of things to do in this luxury vacation spot.
The principality of Monaco has been a constitutional monarchy since 1911, with Albert II, the Sovereign Prince of Monaco, as the current head of state. With an area of less than a square mile, the primary language of Monaco is French, but English and Italian are also widely spoken. You’ll want to bring plenty of euros, as the area attracts the rich and the famous year-round due to the Mediterranean climate.
Race to the finish line
Got a need for speed? Since 1911, Monaco has hosted the Monte Carlo Rally each year in January; this rally takes drivers through a demanding course, testing their cars and driving skills. Each stage is a challenge with twists and turns, sheer drop-offs and even patches of ice. It is no surprise then that the winner enjoys great credit and fame.
Monaco’s streets have also hosted the annual Monaco Grand Prix race since 1929. Held in May, this Formula One race takes drivers on a 260.52-kilometer course comprised of 78 laps around a 3.34-kilometer circuit of Monte Carlo and the district of La Condamine. The circuit is the slowest and hardest of the World Formula One Championship, challenging drivers to keep control of their cars on the winding and narrow roads.
This is not a budget-friendly destination if you want to be on the beach, but it is sure to be an unforgettable experience if you decide to splurge! To save a little, look for a hotel or bed and breakfast farther inland, and spend the day at Larvotto Beach, the public beach area that fills up quickly on warm days. While the waves are calm and the beach is family-friendly, just bear in mind that some French women do bare it all when sunbathing topless.
Lifestyles of the rich and gamous
Take a stroll along the port, reveling at the displays of wealth in the form of yachts and sailboats. Daydream a little as you imagine the lifestyles of the rich and famous that live in the lap of luxury. If you visit in late September, you can check out the Monaco Yacht Show, which features an exhibition of 500 major companies in the luxury yachting industry and a hundred super- and mega-yachts afloat in the harbor.
You can’t miss the iconic Monte Carlo Casino, which has been featured in a number of films including “Never Say Never Again” and “GoldenEye” from the James Bond series, and was portrayed in the TV series “Gossip Girl.” The casino was originally conceived as a way to save the royal Grimaldi family from deepening debt; although it didn’t end up being the saving grace it was hoped to be, the casino is still guaranteed to tempt visitors with a little cash to gamble. Even if you’re not the gambling type, you’ll want to make a stop there to see the beautiful gardens outside and the beautiful architecture and people inside.
To see how the royalty of Monaco lives, visit the Prince’s Palace. The Palace is the private residence of the ruling Prince Albert II and his princess Charlene Wittstock, but the State Apartments are open to the public from April through October. Your tour will begin with a walk through a magnificent courtyard, which hosts a series of outdoor musical performances by the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra every July.
Next stop is the Mirror Gallery which is meant to imitate Versailles. Stops on your visit will include the York Room, the Yellow Room, the Blue Room, the Throne Room, the Mazarin Room and the State Hall. Each room is uniquely and lavishly decorated, with silk brocade wall coverings, chandeliers, frescoes and marble mosaics among the decorative elements. If you arrive before noon, you can catch the changing of the guards daily at 11:55 a.m. in front of the Palace’s main entrance.
To grab a bite to eat at the quintessential Monte Carlo hotspot, head to Café de Paris, located just outside the Monte Carlo Casino. Menu items are pricey, but you may just see a celebrity while sipping on your exorbitantly-priced Coke or enjoying a 15-euro ice cream sundae.
Free and fun
When your pocketbook needs a break, there are a number of fun places to unwind and take in a little culture.
Take a walk through Princess Grace’s rose garden in the Fontvieille area. Stop to smell more than 4,000 roses, bask in the sun or enjoy a picnic. If one princess’s park isn’t enough, stroll through Princess Antoinette Park. There you will find a finely manicured garden, a play area for kids and even an 18-hole miniature golf course (extra cost applies).
At Saint Nicholas Cathedral, visit the burial site of many members of the royal Grimaldi family, including Prince Rainier and his wife, American actress Grace Kelly. This beautiful white stone church features a cupola mosaic and a number of stained glass windows dating from the 12th century.
If you’re visiting in July or August, you won’t want to miss the International Pyromelodic Firework Competition. Since its inception in 1966, this competition has lit up the skies over the harbor with a stunning show of pyrotechnics accompanied by music. Grab a prime spot along Avenue d’Ostende or on Quai Albert 1er; these spots guarantee you’ll be able to enjoy the music.
Whether you visit Monaco for a warm weather getaway, to see a car race, or to just get a taste of the life of luxury, there is something for everyone.