Destination Guide: Monaco

Monaco – home to the rich and famous. There’s a secret that the principality hides though, breathtaking cliff top strolls and secret gardens, making Monaco one of the most magical places on the planet. If fast cars and yachts worth more than most of our houses fail to take your fancy, then the most densely populated country in the world is home to stunning palaces and botanic green spaces. Pack your Dior sunnies and your walking shoes for all those steep inclines. You’re in for a treat.

Home to arguably the most prestigious race on the Formula 1 calendar, Monaco has held a Grand Prix since the mid-20th century. With many elevation changes and the intense tunnel-vision nature of the circuit, Monaco never disappoints. The drivers easily regard it as one of the most demanding races on the calendar, with the safety car more than likely to make an appearance.

So, if you are lucky enough to visit this jewel in the Mediterranean, here is the ultimate to-do list for Monaco, whatever your budget.

Eating Out

Bottom line, eating out in Monaco (unless you take a trip to the McDonald’s),  can be more expensive than the usual, but, of course, it depends on where you go. More often than not, the closer you are to the harbour, the more pricey the restaurants are likely to be. If your budget is tight, I suggest eating in the old town. The ambiance is incredible and there are many eateries to choose from.
La Marée – specialising in French cuisine, the views are as captivating as the food in the rooftop restaurant at the Port Palace hotel. The restaurant overlooks Port Hercule, with the emphasis being on freshest and finest seafood available. The lucky customer, if you can afford it, even gets to choose the very seafood you’ll be eating. You can have it prepared how you want as well, paying handsomely for the privilege.

Fredy’s International – A bit more affordable than the above, this gem is situated opposite the imposing cathedral. The charming seafood restaurant, specialising in French and Italian cuisine, can be found in the romantic old streets of Monaco-Ville. It’s a peaceful, laid-back place that serves quality food at very reasonable prices (for Monaco, at least). All the fish dishes are fantastic, although the rump steak in Béarnaise sauce is the real winner that keeps diners coming back for more.

Pizzeria Monégasque is about as wallet-friendly as eating out in Monaco gets. Whilst it might not be in the most scenic spot in Monte Carlo, Pizzeria Monégasque an option serving cheap and tasty pizza in a chilled-out environment. There’s a small covered terrace and a very long list of pizzas to choose from, including a sweet selection. Be warned, however, it does tend to get rammed.

Nightlife

Surprisingly, the restaurants and bars in Monaco close earlier than it’s French Riviera rivals. However, there’s still a number of exclusive all-night party spots where glitz and glamour are taken to a whole new level.

Le TWIGA – Between the Grimaldi Forum and the stunning Fairmont Hotel, Le TWIGA has replaced the short-lived ‘Life’, which closed down just last year. It is the project of Flavio Briatore – who was once famously involved with both Formula 1 and QPR football club. This club is as hip and chic as any club along the Côte-d’Azur. It’s certainly the only one you can access directly by boat! The place has a private jetty, not to mention a seaside terrace, with outstanding views over the glistening sea. Le TWIGA really comes into its own at Grand Prix time, holding “beach parties” every evening, with luminaries at the turntables. You may be partying with the rich and even more famous at this exclusive location.

 

Black Legend – The port-side club is owned by the same family-run company which owns the Byblos in St Tropez and has undergone several transformations since its opening.  It is now smaller and more intimate than before, and favours electro music over the Motown theme with which it opened. Whilst its restaurant has virtually disappeared,  it remains among the original nightspots, and is reasonably priced, for the principality.

Jimmy’z  – The HQ of Monaco Hippodrome for some 40 years and more – it was launched in 1974. The club is HUGE, half inside and half outside (in the very pleasant Japanese garden). Quite simply, it is nothing short of outrageous. But, if you want to share a dance floor with the big names, you’ve as good a chance here as anywhere else. Don’t get your hopes up, though; you’re unlikely to be sharing a table with them. The VVIPs are now directed to – new in 2013 – the Boom Boom Room overlooking the dance floor. But, even if you want table service on ordinary tables in high season, you’re going to have to buy €300’s worth of the booze, gulp.

Seeing the Sights

There is so much to do in Monaco – and a number of these won’t cost you a penny. Be prepared for travelling up lots of steps as you wander around the principality – comfortable shoes are a must (unless you’re finding your inner celeb and braving heels).

Whilst Mala Beach is just outside of the principality, walking 1.8 Miles (3 KM) along the coast will be worthwhile. A stunning walk (or jog, if you’re feeling adventurous), from Fontvieille following the coastal path to Mala is best to be done early morning or late evening. Be warned, however, of runners on the path who are well-known for not moving out the way for anyone! From Fontvieille, head west (past the stadium) to Port de Cap d’Ail where you can pick up the cliff-top path. Views are sensational as you hug the cliffs, meandering past the back gardens of million-pound mansions. A walk in the sunshine later, where you’ll probably be a bit distracted by the stunning scenery, you’ll arrive at Mala Beach, one of the best-kept secrets of the Côte d’Azur. Stop and have a rest in the beach restaurant, before walking back to the principality or hopping on the bus. Mind you, a drink might be the best option before tackling the hundreds of steps on the walk back.

From the warren of Monaco-Ville, with its souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes, stroll through Monaco’s governmental heart to the Royal Palace. Entry is under ten euros each, and get there at 11:55 am for the daily changing of the guard on the square in front. Once leaving the Palace, take in the all-around views from the square. The glorious rock-side St Martin Gardens and Monaco’s cathedral can be found. The tombs of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace are to the left of the choir,  making a striking contrast with the neo-Byzantine over-ornamentation of the rest of the church. It’s stunning.

Jardin Exotique is one of the most interesting gardens in Monaco (and believe me there is a lot of them). Perched contently high up at the entrance to the principality, it drops almost perpendicular down the rock face. Subsequently, there is a bit of climbing to do. It is well-worth it, though, for a world-class collection of cacti and succulents. Some date from early last century and have grown huge, so it’s like wandering through a sort of vertical New Mexico. Well, apart from you don’t quite get the outstanding sea views in New Mexico. The entry price includes access to a cave within the gardens full of stalactites and stalagmites (be warned, there are 300 steps so you definitely had better dig out those trainers).

In all honesty, when I visited I spent a lot of time strolling around, hopping on and off the bus. All-day tickets are very reasonable, so it is well-worth exploring the principality that way. Make sure you charge your camera, pack your suncream and get ready to be amazed.

Monaco is a gorgeous stretch of coastline, hiding away boutique stores whilst at the same time showboating lavish lifestyles. It’s definitely one to visit if you are lucky enough.