While the superyachts demand the spotlight during the Monaco Yacht Show, 25 to 28 September, and a stellar line-up of 125 vessels on water should be enough to sate even the most world-weary palate, there’s plenty more to see and do in this pocket-sized Principality.
If you have time spare from inspecting superyachts, wandering the pleasant – though often steep – paved streets is a treat for all the senses. Window shopping or the real thing is a joy in this haven of luxury – Monaco has more than its share of Carré d’Or boutiques and Allées Lumières, and opposite the Casino there’s a plethora of prestige brands.
If you can’t find what you’re craving at Cartier and Dior, the Fontvieille Shopping Centre (Centre commercial de Fontvieille) has a diverse range of stores, while La Condamine, around the port, offers around 200 shops and a traditional produce and flower market each morning.
Perhaps Europe’s most famous casino, Casino de Monte-Carlo is a lavish Beaux Arts confection from architect Charles Garnier, who was also responsible for the majestic Paris Opera. Anybody can visit the Casino for the €10 entry fee, but note that “casual attire (shorts, flip-flops, singlets) will not be tolerated”, and you will need your passport for ID and security. Moreover, photos are prohibited.
The main salon with its frescoes, turn-of-the-century art, 20-foot ceilings, ornate timber panelling and deep red, floral carpet is exquisite. High rollers and celebrities are ushered in to the Super Privés Salons beyond highly decorated doors, where playing cards are kept in temperature-controlled safes and security guards patrol the gold-embellished rooms.
Just behind the Casino, Victor Vasarely’s colourful Hexa Grace mosaic adorns the roof of the Monaco Convention Centre, near the Fairmont Hotel. From this vantage point, and so many others in Monaco, visitors can enjoy an Insta-worthy view across Port Hercules to Monaco-Ville. Hexa Grace is just one of the many artistic instalments dotted around Monaco, and taking the walking tour of the sculptures and landmarks is well worth the experience.
Next to the Casino on the square is Café de Paris, a great place to people watch over an espresso or long lunch at the brasserie, while the Hotel de Paris – which adjoins the Casino de Monte-Carlo – is Monaco’s most renowned hotel. It has just benefited from major renovations – the first in its 150-year history – and it is also the home of the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Louis XV, a true dining experience for those who want to indulge.
Perched on the cliff at the head of Monaco-Ville, the Monaco Oceanographic Museum is a fascinating aquarium complete with reef and shark lagoon.
Founded by Prince Albert I, great grandfather of HSH Prince Albert II, it was designed as a palace entirely dedicated to art and science. The panoramic terrace affords a sensational sea view and the 90-metre whale skeleton hovering within is awe-inspiring.
The Prince’s Palace is built on the site of a fortress erected by the Genoese in 1215. Visitors can marvel at the 15th century frescoes, Louis XV lounge, the Throne Room, Palatine Chapel, St-Mary’s Tower and the Main Courtyard with its double staircase. If you’re keen, you can pair entry to the Palace with an exhibition of the Prince’s vintage car collection.
Monaco Cathedral houses the tombs of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. For the devout or the music lover, each Sunday at 10am the Little Singers of Monaco and Cathedral Choir lead Mass, making the most of the brilliant neo-Byzantine acoustics.
Jardin Exotique is a botanical garden located on a cliffside at the entrance to Monaco and is a haven of luscious succulents. It boasts a world-class collection of cacti which is only overshadowed by the panoramic views. Access to the garden’s cave, which descends 300 steps below ground, and the Museum of Prehistory are included in the entry price.
Larvotto Beach is the local’s preference for sunning and being seen or, for the thrill seeker, hiring a jet ski, kayak or parasail. On the beachfront, opposite the Monte Carlo Sporting Club, La Rose des Vents restaurant is renowned for its excellent seafood.
Rainier III Nautical Stadium is a public sports complex on the Route de la Piscine adjacent to the harbour. During the Formula 1 Grand Prix the pool chicane is considered the toughest part of the street track, but at other times of the year the complex simply offers brilliant views of the yachts in Port Hercules. With a small entry fee of just €3.30, the complex comprises a heated saltwater Olympic-size swimming pool, with a series of diving platforms up to 10 metres, and a 45-metre slide. From December to March, the pool is converted into an ice rink.
The only rival to dazzling days in Monaco is the seriously sophisticated nightlife, often coming with a hefty price tag. But there’s myriad options, most with jaw-dropping views.
With incredible vistas, two excellent restaurants and bars, plus the fascinating Maserati and Ferretti displays in the Riva Aquarama Lounge, Yacht Club de Monaco is open to members, guests and VIPs, as well as members of reciprocal yacht clubs. In the same premises, the Monaco Rowing Club (Société Nautique de Monaco) restaurant is open to the public for lunch every day except Sunday and always attracts a crowd.
The Fairmont hotel is home to several impressive restaurants, including Horizon which is located on the 7th floor and which offers a 360-degree view over the Principality’s legendary Opera House, Prince’s Palace, and Casino. It’s a special place for breakfast, lunch or dinner with the backdrop of the bewitching, ever-changing Mediterranean. Every Sunday, Horizon hosts a Pink Sunday brunch with unlimited buffet, barbecue, kids club and live music.
Then at Saphir24, you can enjoy sublime views at any hour of the day or night in the “chic bistro that never sleeps”, complete with live music.
Also within the Fairmont, the legendary NOBU Japanese fusion restaurant features a magnificent bar, two exclusive private lounges and a unique terrace overlooking the Mediterranean. Sushi master Wagner Spadacioto is the 2017 France Champion and the 2018 Vice-World Champion – a further feather in the cap of an exquisite hotel.
Over summer, the pool on the 7th floor becomes a pop-up Nikki Beach Club where from noon till late you can lounge poolside with Champagne, specialty cocktails and gourmet food, and at night, dance and enjoy the world-class entertainment that includes guest DJs and special guests.
Le Bar Américain, famous for its signature cocktails, is situated on a fantastic balcony within the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo, boasting incredible views over the superyachts.
A favourite of the yachties in town for MYS, Stars N Bars is a grand-scale burger joint with a twist. As well as the best burgers, steaks and American-style service in the Principality, there’s a diverse menu covering Mexican, Indian and Asian. The restaurant features one of the largest celebrity sports collections in the world, including the actual F1 racing car of two-time world champion Mika Hakkinen.
If your thirst can only be quenched by beer, Brasserie de Monaco is a brewery and beer garden offering a fine selection of local beers and a menu to complement them. Happy Hour and cut-price beer runs from 6pm to 8pm daily.
The chilled beats and Asian flavours of Buddha Bar Monte-Carlo always prove a draw for the show crowd, but for the die-hard party crowd it has to be Jimmy’z. The nightclub been an icon for over 40 years and remains “the clubbing temple” that’s over the top in every way.