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Monaco pit-stop | French Riviera | Monte Carlo millionaires

Sexy and glamorous. Red carpet ready. Did someone say 'rescue fantasy'?

Monaco is a magnet for the rich and famous, a dazzling collage of yachts and cruisers in Port Hercules, fast cars, and hotel porters weighed down by designer shopping bags, reports Susan Skelly

Once labelled “less a real country than a glorified safe deposit box”, the tax haven of Monaco stands tall in glitz, glam and high-density living. Drop in via cruise ship, helicopter (seven minutes from Nice), or via curvaceous mountain roads. Monaco is tiny, about 2sq km, although desperately trying to grow. A 6ha waterfront commercial/residential reclamation development at Larvotto is in the pipeline.

Each May, the throaty grunt of F1 engines is background music to both day and nightlife as the principality becomes a Grand Prix racetrack. Summer has a full program of festivals, alfresco dining and open-air cinema.

However, the glue that holds the place together is the Grimaldi legend. Princess Grace, the Hollywood star who married Prince Rainier III in 1956 and died tragically in 1982, has goddess status. The streets are named for Grace and her family, and a revamped rose garden in her name is flourishing.

Here’s a day well spent….

The morning after
As dawn breaks, stroll along Route de la Piscine by the sparkling, choked marina and watch the deckhands cleaning up after a night on yachts the size of three-storey apartments while the populace sleeps off its hangovers. This is my-boat-is-bigger-than-your-boat territory.

To market, to market
Join the early risers at the local market, Le Marche de la Condamine, in the Place d’Armes at the foot of the Rock, or Monaco-Ville, the old part of town. Find in abundance: fruit and vegetables, flowers, fresh fish, souvenirs, breakfast, pastries and, of course, coffee.

For the bookish
Monaco and Irish literature are entwined in an unassuming library, The Princess Grace Irish Library, opened in 1984 and built upon a 500-book collection purchased in the 1970s by Princess Grace from the estate of Irish diplomat Count Gerald Edward O’Kelly (no relation), a nod to her Irish (via US) roots. Located in Monaco-Ville (9 Rue Princesse Marie-de-Lorraine), it houses personal effects of the late princess, just about every book ever printed about her, and an extraordinary collection of Irish literature, from history to literary criticism, poetry to politics.

A sewing basket belonging to Grace Kelly’s mother is there, complete with the unpicked name tags of Grace and her sisters Peggy and Lizanne; pristine examples of floral bed linen that Grace designed for the US label Springmaid; an elegant, full-length portrait by Mohamed Drisi; family photos; trinkets such as a Connemara marble casket given to the princess on an official visit to Ireland in 1961 (many newspaper clippings on that); and books inscribed by her uncle, the US actor and playwright George Kelly.

What’s cool is its time-warp nerdiness: words, leather bindings, history and heritage, far removed from the spray tans, stilettos and high gloss of modern Monaco. Open Monday to Friday from 9am to 4.30pm.

Mirror gallery Prince's Palace Monaco royal residence

The Mirror Gallery at Monaco’s royal residence, the Prince’s Palace. Photo Corbis

A Palace in waiting
Head up the hill (bus no.1 or 2) to the Prince’s Palace atop the Rock. Built in the 12th century as a Genoese fortress, it’s the nominal home to His Serene Highness Prince Albert II and his wife Charlene (a South African Sydney 2000 Olympic swimmer), and their twin babies Jacques and Gabriella, born on December 10, 2014, with one wing of state apartments open to the public (E8 entry). The Palais is a sumptuous history lesson – Louis XV furniture, 15th-century frescoes, Florentine cabinetry, damask and silk brocade wall finishes, marble, gold leaf, chinoiserie vases, Venetian glass chandeliers and paintings of Grimaldi ancestors and other nobility. Prince Rainier III is in the throne room on canvas with his celebrated princess and children Albert, Caroline and Stephanie Grimaldi, all chocolate-box cherubic. St Nicholas Cathedral next door provides a rich soundtrack of bells.

Related: French river cruise

Lunch like a local
Popular with locals, La Montgolfire 18 (16 Rue Basse) is a pint-sized restaurant – it seats 18 – in the old town near the palace. A blackboard lunch menu lists Monegasque specialties. Henri Geraci’s dishes are as pretty and creative as they are colourful: a Japanese take on foie gras, and sorbets of paprika, tomato and strawberry. If it’s booked out, try the more casual drop-in eateries in the cobblestone laneways.

Hanging gardens
Take the no.2 bus from its terminus near the Princess Grace Irish Library to the other end of the route: the Exotic Garden atop Monaco (62 Boulevard du Jardin Exotique), a confluence of magnificent vista, breeze and botany. This hanging garden of prickly cacti and fleshy succulents – punctuated by purple bougainvillea and yellow marigolds – opened in 1933 after 20 years of cultivation. Allow 10 minutes to soak up the spectacular view – France this way, the Italian Riviera that way – before exploring the terraces. There’s a limestone cave at the base of the cliff that can be explored with guides.

monaco exotic garden view cacti succulents

France this way, the Italian Riviera that way: the splendid view from the Exotic Gardens. Photo Getty Images

Art in the afternoon
Pay a little more for the garden ticket and you have entry to Le Nouveau Musee National de Monaco’s Villa Paloma, a three-level modern art gallery, which is an easy walk down the hill (56 Boulevard du Jardin Exotique). Stroll along to the Anthropology Museum for art more ancient and desiccated.

Objects of desire
For her: Shop like a millionaire. The streets around the Hotel de Paris are luxury label overload – Lanvin, Givenchy, Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, Dior. Less credit-card heartburn is Le Metropole Monte-Carlo, a mall beneath the Metropole hotel, open on Sundays in July and August when nearly everything else is closed. A special destination nearby is Paris 8 Haute Parfumerie (5 Avenue Princesse Alice) for temptations in premium niche perfume.

For him: Walk or take the no.5 or 6 bus to the Fontvieille to see the private collection of Prince Rainier III’s antique cars: there are 100 of them on show including lust-after motors from Maserati, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot and Rolls-Royce.

Raise a glass
Monte-Carlo SBM, which owns the cream of property in Monaco, including the Casino, celebrated its 150th anniversary last year by making 150 grand cru wines – mostly from Bordeaux – available by the glass across 20 of its venues. One of the cosiest places to experience them is the elegant Crystal Bar & Terrace in the Hermitage Hotel (Square Beaumarchais). It’s not every day you get to sample a 2004 Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux (Margaux), a 1998 Château Pavie Decesse (Saint-Émilion) or a 2000 Les Forts de Latour (Pauillac). The initiative was anticipated to be ongoing, exploring other wine regions.

Buddha and the Belle Epoque
Outstanding dining includes the cosy, buzzy Buddha-Bar and the more formal, wow-factor Le Vistamar.  Not only is the food at Buddha-Bar (Place du Casino) a Pacific Rim fusion – lobster sushi, salmon and yellowtail sashimi, king shrimp tempura and John Dory green curry – but the decor is a melange of old European Gothic, gilded Belle Epoque and Eastern eclecticism. Despite a size that caters to big tables for families, special-occasion groups, and enclaves of pre-dinner crowds, Buddha-Bar has an ambient intimacy. There are stairs; Jimmy Choo wearers beware!

monaco buddha bar nightlife cosy buzzy ambience

The cosy ambience of the Buddha-Bar with its mix of old European Gothic and Eastern eclecticism.


Le Vistamar, at the Hermitage Hotel, is front-row alfresco Mediterranean. Yes, it’s got the luxury views, but it’s also got chef Laurent André and sommelier Franck Damatte – the perfect gourmet storm. Their truffle and lobster degustation menu with matched wines is pure indulgence.

The Hermitage monaco Le Vistamar fine dining luxury travel food in Monte Carlo Champagne

Fine dining at La Vistamar at the Hermitage, a gilt-edged gourmet storm.

A classic nightcap
Pop your head into the Casino de Monte-Carlo (you can hardly come here without visiting its landmark – for the architecture, of course) and then seek a nightcap at the Bar Americain in the Hotel de Paris or one of the many small hot spots.

Source Qantas The Australian Way January 2014

 Your turn: First impressions of Monaco?


Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab.

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Copyright © Susan Skelly 2020.