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Make the most of Monaco
What to know before you go
Monaco needs little introduction. Renowned for glitz and glamour — the royal family, the Monaco F1 Grand Prix, the Monte Carlo Casino and the dizzying amount of wealth crammed into its not-quite two square-kilometres — almost everything you hear about this tiny Riviera principality could make your head spin.
For all that, it deserves a bit of getting to know. Monaco is surprisingly welcoming — and accessible. It’s a cinch to get to from Italy or France by car, train, bus, even by helicopter from the Nice Airport. Security, although discreet and unobtrusive, is so tight that you can stroll around any of its seven districts, day or night, without worry. It’s one of the safest places on earth. Monégasques make up less than a third of the country’s more than 35,000-plus residents; over 120 other nationalities live here too and French, English and Italian are all spoken.
With impressive conference venues and centres of excellence in several medical specialties, Monaco hosts an assortment of medical conferences around the year. If you’re planning to include this fascinating bit of real estate in a trip to the Mediterranean region, here are a few things to know before you go.
1. Monaco is eco-friendly
Thanks to Prince Albert II’s commitment to the environment, sustainable development and renewable energies, Monaco is very green. The best way to see it is on foot, using stairs, elevators and walkways that wind pleasantly through gardens and along the coast.
Hop aboard the solar-powered electric bateau-bus for the 10-minute ride across the Port Hercule harbour; it’s the perfect way to get from Monte Carlo to historic Le Rocher/Monaco-Ville and snap a few super-yachts on the way. Then it’s a quick walk to the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium, the Cathedral and the palace.
2. Monaco has a world-famous oceanographic institute
Monaco’s prominent role in marine environment research and study was spearheaded by Prince Albert I, a celebrated navigator and oceanographer who completed several expeditions aboard his impressively-outfitted research yachts.
In 1910, he founded the magnificent Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium (oceano.mc/en), part of the Oceanic Institute and home of the intergovernmental Mediterranean Science Commission. Envisaged as a palace devoted entirely to art and science, this stone behemoth rises 85 metres out of the sea cliff and is nothing short of jaw-dropping, inside and out. Jacques-Yves Cousteau was director from 1957-1988.
3. Motor sports were born here
Walk the streets of the Formula One circuit (formula1monaco.com) — the 74th Grand Prix is May 26-29 — or get behind the wheel of a sports car and take on the hairpin turns and narrow tunnels of the world’s most famous track.
A taste for speed comes with the territory and exotic car rentals are easy to come by. Try Roadster’z Monaco (roadsterz.com), Monaco Luxury Rent (monacoluxuryrent.com) or Europe Luxury Car Hire (europeluxurycarhire.com).
For something a little more chill, walk through the eye-popping collection of vintage cars owned by Prince Rainier III at the Top Cars museum (bit.ly/1SelR3k). You don’t have to be a car buff to appreciate these beauties.
4. It has one of the loveliest libraries in the world
The Princess Grace Irish Library (pgil.mc), a warren of small, charming rooms, is tucked into a historic hôtel particulier in Monaco-Ville. An active centre for all things Irish, including a writers-in-residence program and a lively event calendar, it was inaugurated in 1984 by Prince Rainier III as a tribute to his late wife, the former Grace Kelly, and the attachment she felt for her Irish origins.
The library operates under the aegis of Fondation Princesse Grace, which she established in 1964 to support pediatric patients and families, hospital units and research. Her personal library of Irish books forms the core of the collection, since expanded to include more than 12,000 books, from early works through the Irish literary revival to contemporary writing; new academic publications arrive monthly through the generosity of designer Karl Lagerfeld.
Judith Gantley, who runs the place with great warmth and verve, says, “Two types of visitors come to the library: those who are interested in Irish works and those who are interested in Princess Grace.” And then there are those of us who just love libraries.
5. Monaco has a total of nine Michelin stars
It would be crazy to pass up a good table in a place this high on the food chain. Five big-name chefs have racked up a total of nine Michelin stars in Monte Carlo restaurants that are as fabulous as the food they serve.
The gloriously traditional Hôtel Hermitage (hotelhermitagemontecarlo.com) nails Monte Carlo gastroglam in the one-star Le Vistamar, with panoramic views, superb service, the impeccable seafood of Chef Joël Garault and artistic dessert creations of Nicolas Baygourry. Alain Ducasse’s three-star Louis XV rules at the Hôtel de Paris (hoteldeparismontecarlo.com). Joël Robuchon (28 stars and counting) has the lead restaurant (two-star) plus Yoshi, his first-ever Japanese (one-star) at the Hôtel Metropole (metropole.com).
If you find the heights of haute cuisine a tad dizzying, take time out for a meal at the Café de Paris (montecarlosbm.com/restaurants-in-monaco/brasseries), the landmark of brasserie chic on Place du Casino. The outside terrace is the place to see and be seen.
6. Monaco’s got game
Monaco is like Disney World’s posh cousin — the one who rode horses, went to finishing school and loves to take in the Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. It’s sophisticated, stylish and sporty, dedicated to living the life of glittery fun and games. Off-season is a great time to experience it.
You can be royally entertained at the International Circus Festival (montecarlofestival.mc), Princess Stéphanie’s pet project, in January; a month of great classical music concerts in March-April at the Spring Arts Festival (printempsdesarts.mc), whose patron is Princess Caroline of Hanover; the Rolex Masters tennis championship (montecarlorolexmasters.mc), under the banner of Prince Albert II, in April; and the Grand Prix in May. The opera season (opera.mc) is November through April and there’s a lot more.
For more info on travel to the region, go to Visit Monaco (visitmonaco.com).
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