Go to Monaco for the Formula 1 Grand Prix. Stay for the gob-smacking glitz of Monte-Carlo’s Michelin-starred restaurants, chic shops, and palatial hotels.Small but perfectly formed, Monaco measures less than one square mile and is the most densely populated—and arguably the most glamorous—country in the world. In this coastal kingdom, synonymous with the dazzling municipality of Monte-Carlo, Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches prowl the streets, and multi-million dollar yachts jockey for space in a pair of posh ports.
Impeccably-coiffed women in sunglasses and stilettos stalk the shop-lined Cercle d’Or. Bronzed beauties bask at exclusive beach clubs, and high rollers try their luck in the legendary Casino de Monte-Carlo, surrounded by crystal chandeliers and gold-flecked mosaics.
Royal-watchers climb to the hilltop Palace of Monaco to see the changing of the guard. In such a small country, it’s not uncommon to even catch a glimpse of Prince Albert II and his wife, Princess Charlene, whizzing by in a motorcade.
And every May, of course, racing enthusiasts rock up for the high-octane adrenaline rush of the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix. Some fans shell out thousands to watch competitors speed through city streets from a prime position on the harbor’s edge, with pit lane access and an open bar.
WHERE TO EAT
The cars may be fast, but the food is not. One doesn’t make a pilgrimage to Monaco for McDonald’s, now does one? No, indeed. One comes to snarf at a constellation of Michelin-starred culinary institutions.
At Alain Ducasse’s three-star Le Louis XV (Hotel de Paris, Place du Casino), staff present theatrically plated dishes with a flourish, exemplified by the “fish bites” amuse-bouche, steamed atop hot pebbles beneath a glass dome at your table.
Book the chef’s table at two-star Joël Robuchon Monte-Carlo (Hotel Metropole, 4 Avenue de la Madone) for front row views of culinary artists in action.
At one-star Le Vistamar (Hotel Hermitage, Square Beaumarchais), headed by chef Benoit Witz, feast on roast blue lobster while overlooking the sea. Finish with a dish of delicately decadent petits four.
For “Mad Men” elegance, check out Cipriani (1 Avenue Princesse Grace), where waiters in white jacket and bow-tie serve classics from neighboring Italy. Try the homemade baked taglioni or a veal chop alla Milanese.
Nearby, sup on dim sum while nestled in a green velvet banquette at Alan Yau’s Song Qi (7 Avenue Princesse Grace), Monte-Carlo’s first fine dining Chinese restaurant.
If you want to get a bellyful without emptying your wallet, stop by La Condamine Markets (15 Place d’Armes) for a cheap and cheerful lunch alongside locals. Try Fougasse Monegasque, a thin, crispy, nut-filled bread, from A Roca, a little café tucked away in a corner of the indoor market hall.
WHERE TO DRINK
Imbibe the buzzy vibe on Place du Casino, Monte-Carlo’s most famous square. Grab a seat on the sidewalk terrace fronting Café de Paris, where you can peer over your bubbly and caviar blinis at the sophisticated parade of passers-by.
Lose yourself in Lazy Tears (a cocktail of Ardbeg, vermouth and bitters) in the wood-paneled Le Bar Americain, and end your evening at the strobe-lit Buddha-Bar with the sake-to-me-kick of an Asian Spritz, grooving to DJ-spun beats beneath a statue of big Buddha himself.
Bonus points if, like my friend Imelda here, your gems match your drink of choice.
WHERE TO SHOP
At Isabell Kristensen (18 Rue Princesse Marie de Lorraine), buy pret-a-porter evening wear or splurge on your own bespoke frock, with prices starting around 3,000 Euro. Thrifty fashionistas can bag a bargain on previously-owned designer styles at Le Dressing (2 Rue des Orangers and 1 Rue Princesse Florestine).
For racing-themed gear, including hats, jackets, polo shirts, and shoes, visit the Automobile Club de Monaco’s La Boutique Officielle (46 Rue Grimaldi).
Shop for baby clothes, fine linens, china and accessories at The Princess Grace of Monaco Foundation’s La Boutique du Rocher (1 Avenue de la Madone), where proceeds benefit ill children. You’ll find the usual high-end suspects at the Pavillons Monte-Carlo (Jardins des Boulingrins) and Le Metropole Shopping Center (17 Avenue des Spélugues), decked out in Liberacesque opulence.
For a more complete shopping guide, click here.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo, offering views of the Grand Prix’ most dangerous turn, is an elegant haven in the heart of Monte-Carlo. It has a heated seawater pool and gardens designed by Karl Lagerfeld, four restaurants overseen by Joël Robuchon, a book-lined bar, a Givenchy spa, and 126 rooms and suites. Book the 2,500-square-foot La Suite Carre d’Or for 180-degree views of Monte-Carlo from the expansive terrace.
Belle epoque beauty Hotel Hermitage extends across five wings, with a glass conservatory designed by Gustave Eiffel, and five bars and restaurants. Among its 278 rooms and suites, the 2,150-square-foot Diamond Duplex Suite, a contemporary escape designed by Pierre-Yves Rochon, has a solarium and glass staircase.
Hotel de Paris, which shares the Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo spa and wellness center with Hotel Hermitage, has recently emerged from a four-year major renovation. The nineteenth century landmark features a new garden courtyard and more bodaciously spacious accommodations, including a new Princess Grace Suite.
TOURISM INFORMATION: VisitMonaco