24 hours in… Monaco
Tomorrow’s the day of the Monaco Grand Prix, when thousands of well-heeled F1 fans will flock to the tax haven to see the events unfold, and even more will watch it TV. But what about the other 364 days of the year, when Jenson Button and co are out of town? Thomson writer Katie Gregory did her own circuit around Monaco…
The Monte Carlo Casino
When it comes to Monaco’s must-dos, the casino is at the top of the list every time. You can see the building’s ornate façade from way off – it’s flanked by gardens almost as well manicured as the locals, and takes pride of place right in the heart of town. We stayed just around the corner, and found the best time to visit was at night. Come sunset, the whole place glitters with well-placed lights, high-shine Ferraris and an abundance of diamond jewellery. Lots of people come just to get a look at the place, and even those who step inside aren’t necessarily there to play. We got dressed to the nines, posed for the obligatory shot in the gardens – you can’t take cameras in – and paid the 10-euro entry fee just to spend a grand total of 5 euros inside.
Top tip: If you’re planning to hit the tables, come late – the serious players don’t show up until gone midnight. Plus, you’ll need a passport to get in.
Café de Paris
This bar-come-restaurant is right next to the casino, with outdoor tables set up at the perfect angle to watch the high rollers turn up and get their Ferraris valet parked. There’s food served inside, but most people come to bag a seat on the al fresco terrace and work their way down the cocktail menu – the daiquiris are particularly good.
Top tip: If the cocktails have whetted your appetite and you’ve got the urge to hit the dancefloor, the big club in these parts is Jimmy’z. Just jump in a taxi – it’s not really walkable – and prepare to be star-struck. This place is famous for famous faces.
Just around the corner from casino square – passing Chanel and the like on the way – you’ll find this stylish bar. All oversized chandeliers, plush red velvet couches, and lights so dimmed you can’t read the cocktail menu, it fits the opulent Monaco mould like a glove. Even our Coke bottles were designed by Karl Lagerfeld, which says it all, really. Food is served upstairs, and cocktails are served downstairs next to a giant gold Buddha.
Top Tip: Go in the week if you’re planning on sitting down for dinner – the place turns into more of a club at the weekends, so talking gets a little tricky.
Monaco’s old town, a tangle of hilly, pedestrianised streets, is a real contrast to the glitz and glamour of casino square. It’s still perfectly groomed – this is Monaco, after all – but it’s retained the feel of a Medieval village. There are crowds outside the Prince’s Palace every day for the changing of the guard at 11.55am, and Saint Nicholas Cathedral is worth tiptoeing around to get a glimpse of Grace Kelly’s final resting place. Monaco-Ville is also the best vantage point for photos of the famous harbour, thanks to its lofty location on top of a rocky headland.
Top Tip: Pay a visit to the Chocolaterie de Monaco while you’re here. As well as posh chocs, I snapped up some delicate tins of loose tea as gifts to take home.
In between the old town and the casino area you’ll find La Condamine, Monaco’s shopping hub. There’s everything here from haute couture to high street fashion, with plenty of nick-nack shops in between. For gifts, try the open-air market, Place d’Armes, on Rue Grimaldi – the main shopping street. And for refuelling, try any of the little patisseries dotted around. That’s if their neat rows of pastel macarons haven’t already tempted you in.
Top Tip: When you’ve finished looking around the shops, take a wander along the harbourfront. The sight of all the super-yachts bobbing in the water is a spectacle in itself.
Sightseeing done and dusted, Monaco’s public beach – Larvotto – is well worth a stop-off. A man-made curl of shingle backed by high-rises, it’s not going to win any awards for natural beauty, but it’s spotlessly clean and the sea is calm and clear. Plus, like pretty much everything else in Monaco, it’s walkable from Monte Carlo – just head in the opposite direction of Monaco-Ville.
Top Tip: Scope out potential places for dinner on your way back to Monte Carlo centre from the beach. We found a string of restaurants that weren’t in the guidebook, serving fresh seafood under the stars.
Want to see the sights for yourself? Tick off Monaco and Monte Carlo on a shore excursion with Thomson Cruises.