Mini but mighty, Monaco measures just over two square kilometres – making it smaller than Central Park. But what it lacks in size it sure makes up for in personality…
Welcome to our monthly travel series, What’s On travels to… Each month we’ll be bringing you a new destination from around the globe that we’re confident you’ll need on your travel bucket list.
This month, we head to Monte Carlo. With its prime position overlooking Monaco’s main harbour, this grandiose area is where you’ll find the casino, the most lavish luxury hotels, top restaurants, and the fabulously fashion-conscious. Before you set off, add these must-dos to your itinerary…
Things to do
People-watch at the Café de Paris
Located smack bang on the Place du Casino, which is pretty much the centre of the entire country, the Café de Paris, built in 1868, is the perfect place to don your sunglasses and stare… at everyone. Come early, nab a front-row seat on the terrace, order a buttery croissant and a coffee, and watch the wonderful world of Monte-Carlo strut on by.
Shop (or window shop) along the Monte Carlo Promenade
No surprises that shopping in Monaco is not ideal for shoe-string budgets. It’s all about high-end shops, in a concentrated cluster next to Hotel de Paris where you’ll find over 40 of the world’s most prestigious luxury brands from Cartier and Channel to Gucci and Dior.
Relax at Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo
The world-class Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo is an enormous temple of wellness with luxe pool facilities, cutting edge spa treatments and an emphasis on seawater and seaweed therapies. Head here for a relaxing aromatherapy massage followed by lunch on the glorious terrace at L’Hirondelle. The restaurant serves three daily-changing menus: one low-cal, one vegetarian, and one ‘full fat’. Go for the full fat. If you’re lucky, it’ll be fresh burrata and tomatoes, seabass, and chocolate molten cake.
Lounge around at Monte Carlo Beach
If you’re looking for a beach club with mega party vibes and loud music, the Monte Carlo Beach club isn’t it. But in our opinion, that’s a good thing. Instead you’ll find a luxe lido atmosphere where you can hobnob with the high-society and Monegasque elite. Sit alongside the enormous swimming pool complete with retro diving boards, or pick a sunlounger on the jetty overlooking the ocean.
Wander up to the Prince’s Palace before noon
A nice way to work up an appetite is to walk up Le Rocher, the only part of Monaco to have retained its original old town. Here you’ll find the Palais Princier de Monaco (palais.mc), originally a fortress built in the 13th century, now the private residence of Monaco’s ruling family, the Grimaldi’s. Be there at bang on 11.55am, to catch the changing of the guard. Then meander through the small, windy medieval lanes to the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco (muse.oceano.org). Built in 1910 it is arguably one of the most impressive aquariums and museums of ocean life in the world.
Where to stay
Widely regarded as one of the world’s most luxurious hotels, the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo – built in 1863 – has a history as rich as the people staying there. A stomping ground for the famous faces including Frank Sinatra, Princess Grace Kelly and Winston Churchill, and more recently Julia Roberts and Lady Gaga, the hotel is a symbol of French Riviera grandeur and prestige located in the very heart of Monaco.
After a $280million four-year makeover, the iconic hotel has been brought into the 21st century while maintaining the soul and signature features that made it world-famous to begin with.
Today, this 150-year-old hotel is one of the key landmarks in Monaco, often used in Hollywood movies, and you’re likely to run into some of Monaco’s wealthiest residents here, who don’t mind dropping the big bucks.
The 5-star hotel has a plethora of room categories available from a superior patio view for Dhs2,000 a night to the outrageous Prince Rainier III suite for an eye-watering Dhs161,400 a night. All are beautifully furnished with plump, gilt-edged beds and marble bathrooms.
While you’re in the lobby, look out for the bronze statue of Louis XIV on horseback. The horse’s right knee is worn to a sheen from superstitious guests, who rub it for luck on their way to the casino, which happens to be right next door.
If you want to linger and immerse yourself in atmosphere of yesteryear, enjoy a nightcap at the hotel’s classy Bar Américain. The resident band, London Soul Section are superb.
It’ll be hard to ever want to check out.
ALSO READ: What’s On Travels to Rome
Where to eat
Trendy, sultry and uber cool – Buddha Bar Monte-Carlo is even more glamourous that’s its Dubai sister. Sit outside in the lively courtyard with a shisha, or dine inside the stunning seven-metre-high restaurant complete with live DJ and enormous Buddha statue. The chicken salad is a must-try.
Sass Café may have closed in Dubai last year, but business is booming in Monte Carlo. The plush velvety red dining room takes on a classy piano bar vibe every night from 11pm to 1am, after which in turns full club with live DJs.
If you love the Peruvian flavours of the What’s On Award-winning restaurant in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, then you’ll love COYA Monte Carlo just the same. It’s main defining difference? Those sweeping views of the Mediterranean.
Located on the eighth floor of the legendary Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo, Le Grill is a Michelin star restaurant that overlooks the glorious Place du Casino. Sit under the stars (thanks to the restaurant’s neat retractable roof), smell the organic, hillside-grown rosemary wafting across the room from the age-old rotisserie, and enjoy fine Mediterranean fare at its best. Don’t forget to order the restaurant’s world-famous, bigger-than-your-head soufflé.
5 fun facts about Monte Carlo
1. Monaco is the second smallest country in the world after the Vatican with a population of 40,000 (approx).
2. The average person can cross the entire country in under an hour on foot!
3. Several Hollywood movies have been filmed in Monte Carlo: Golden Eye (1995) starring Pierce Brosnan, Ocean’s Twelve (2004) and Woody Allen’s Sleeper (1973)
4. It’s illegal for natives of Monaco to gamble or visit the casino
5. There are no airports in Monaco, only heliports. The nearest international airport is Nice (which is only 25 minutes away)
Emirates flies direct to Nice Airport daily from Dhs3,095 return. emirates.com