Easy Escapes: Monaco

Fancy hanging out with the celebrities and high-spenders? Here's how to do it

Fancy hanging out with the celebrities and high-spenders? Here’s how to do it

Why go? Because Monaco’s totally unique – and being just two miles long by half-a-mile wide you can walk across a whole country inside an hour… Officially described as a Principality, it clings to the coast in the south of France, close to the Italian border. Monte-Carlo, if you’re wondering, is just one (and it’s most famous) part. As a long-established tax haven and playground for the rich and famous, this by-word for glamour offers some of the best peoplewatching on the planet – not to mention all those amazing cars and yachts. Where else would you see a prince (Albert, son of Grace Kelly) and his wife, Princess Charlene, casually sipping cocktails and chatting with locals in a neighbourhood nightclub? 

Riding free: it’s not just the prices that are sky-high in Monaco © Monaco Press Centre Photos

When? This year Monaco is in celebratory mood as the exclusive Monte-Carlo SBM (Société des Bains de Mer) marks its 150th anniversary. This legendary hotel resort and casino group owns four top class hotels, five casinos and Les Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo Spa. Its Hôtel Métropole Monte-Carlo has just been redesigned by Karl Lagerfeld, and there’s plenty of special events going on throughout the year, see here.

Peak season kicks off with the Monaco Grand Prix in late May when the streets become a race track for a whole weekend, then continues through July and August. If you go in autumn or early spring the temperatures are still good but this small town gets (a little) less mobbed with tourists. Monaco draws visitors all year with concerts that pull in the big names from Rihanna and Alicia Keys to Elton John and Bryan Ferry. It’s also a fun Christmas shopping destination if you’re in the market for designer finds.

Mona-go: If ever there was a place to ride in a speedboat… © Phillipe Fitte/realis

You really must… Soak up the sun in one of the exclusive beach clubs overlooking the ocean, take in the breathtaking array of glimmering white yachts in the harbour, marvel at the biggest collection of Lamborghinis and Bentleys you’re every likely to see, and amble around the hilly town with its designer boutiques and chi-chi cafes. And thanks to having the world’s highest proportion of police to citizens (it must be all those diamonds that need protecting…) the crime rate is virtually nil.

Start your strolling outside the imposing Hôtel de Paris (hoteldeparismontecarlo.com), in the heart of the town, and then follow the sea, which will take you around the coast with spectacular views of both the harbour and beach with its rugged cliffs and hilltop millionaire homes. You’ll pass all the main boutiques if you fancy some tax-free shopping – Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, they’re all here. Beware: once you go inland the streets get very steep, but thankfully there are a number of lifts to make it less taxing, and several beautifully landscaped parks, including the Princess Grace Rose Garden where you can take a breather. Alternatively, there’s a good, cheap local bus service.

Splashing out: the Olympic-size pool at the Monte-Carlo Beach Club  © JJ I Heritier

Once you’ve got your bearings, head to the Miami-style Monte-Carlo Beach Club (monte-carlo-beach.com), entrance with a sun-bed costs from £38 to £111 according to the time of year, with weekends the priciest. The setting here is Riviera luxe with huge white day-beds overlooking a beautiful art deco pool area and diving boards reminiscent of a Hockney painting. Locals including Shirley Bassey, Roger Moore and various Formula 1 drivers can be seen sipping rosé alongside whichever celebrities du jour are in town. Over a lunch of freshly caught seafood at Le Deck you can peoplewatch till your heart’s content before whiling the afternoon away in the sun. The club also runs a range of watersports and activities from jet-skis to speedboat tours of the coast. 

For spa treatments, the award-winning Les Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo Spa (thermesmarinsmontecarlo.com) offers a staggering array of the latest high tech beauty treatments that Monaco is famous for, from algae baths to new age oxygen facials and micro dermo-abrasion. A day package with three marine treatments costs from £137. As for partying, no visit to Monaco is complete without a dance at legendary celebrity haunt Jimmy’z (fr.jimmyzmontecarlo.com). Set outdoors in a tropical garden with tiny pools and a cool sea breeze, this is where locals mingle with international royalty and any celebrity who happens to be in town. On a regular Friday night, we spotted Boris Becker, Rod Stewart and Rihanna no less.

Monaco nights: where all that glitters could well be gold © Monaco Press Centre Photos

Stay at: The Hôtel de Paris (hoteldeparismontecarlo.com, from £424 in September). Set slap bang in the middle of Monte-Carlo overlooking the main casino, this is Monaco’s grandest hotel with sumptuous furnishings and crystal chandeliers throughout. Round the corner, the more laid-back Hôtel Hermitage (hotelhermitagemontecarlo.com, from £306) has an equally prime location but with the added bonus of overlooking the sea. To save money, look for special offers and packages on the hotel websites.

Dine at: Le Louis XV-Alain Ducasse restaurant at the Hôtel de Paris is among the top restaurants in the world with three Michelin stars and an enticing menu of seasonal and experimental French dishes. It’s best for a very special occasion (a main course of sea bass with olives costs £94), and ask for a table on the terrace which offers a great vantage point for watching the millionaire guests arriving in their finery at the neighbouring casino. If you’re after a less formal vibe, head to Buddha Bar for Asian fusion dishes and great sushi as the resident DJ spins some tracks. Zelo’s (zelosworld.com) is a lounge bar with a similar laid back vibe and a light Mediterranean menu with fine cocktails.

I should be so lucky: strike it rich at the Casino de Monte-Carlo © Monaco Press Centre Photos

Bring home: Anything designer – if you can afford it.

Book now: For the many flight options to Nice see skyscanner.net. Monaco is a 20 mile drive east along the coast. For a taxi transfer expect to pay around £65 (£75 after 7pm), or there are inexpensive bus and rail connections.

Info: Provence and the Côte d’Azur (£13.99; Lonely Planet) includes a Monaco chapter. For more information see montecarlosbm.com and visitmonaco.com.

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