Monaco, the small monarchy in the south of France had been on my must-go list for years. Moreover because I’m a huge Grace Kelly fan. Although it was less than I expected it to be, I’m glad I went. The ride from Cannes to Monte Carlo was something I wouldn’t have wanted to miss. And seeing the much talked about state and capital of luxury, just a few days before the famed Grand Prix started, is just something I had to do while vacationing in the French Riviera. A visit of a few hours in the morning or afternoon will suffice however, in my opinion. You can combine it well with a visit to the mountain village Eze for example. So what to do and see in those few hours?
1. A visit to the Prince’s Palace – Palais Princier
The Prince’s Palace is a must-see, even though it is a real tourist trap. Expect crowds of tourists. The palace was built on the site of a fortress erected by the Genoese in 1215. As it is.set on a hill it can only be reached by walking a 10-minutes steep path. Once on top you have an amazing view of the city. It is the official residence of the Grimaldi royal family. Every day at 11.55am precisely, on the square in front of the Palace, the traditional ritual of the Changing of the Guard –the Carabiniers du Prince – attracts and delights thousands of spectators.
2. The Monte Carlo casino
One of the world’s first and most renowned casinos since 1856 should not be missed. Entering requires the right attire, but a glimpse of the entry hall with its splendour will also take you back to yesteryears. Adjacent is the Hotel de Paris, one of the most expensive hotels in the world, since 1863. You can walk around the concert building Salle Garnier and enjoy the surrounding gardens and terraces that overlook the harbour and exclusive luxury nightclubs.
Bring a lot of cash or a high limit creditcard because Monaco is the place for high end and couture fashion and jewelry. There are many shopping areas to go to. Near the Monte Carlo casino, called the Carre d’Or, there are numerous boutiques. The famous cocoons house Chanel, Lanvin, Celine and other luxury fashion brands. The roads leading to and from the casino have all the jewelry brands lined e.g Cartier, Chopard, and Bulgari.
You will have a more budget-friendly shopping experience in La Condamine where over 200 shops are located in an area full of character around the traditional market at Port Hercule. Rue Grimaldi, Rue Millo and Rue Terrazzani hold all kinds of specialists’ shops. In the Princess Caroline pedestrian area, you can shop your heart out.
4. Jardin Exotique – The exotic gardens
Plant lovers will enjoy the exotic gardens boasting over 1,000 different species.including a lot of cacti and lush tropical plants. You will have some amazing panoramic viewpoints as well.
Fontvielle is the modern part of Monaco. Here you’ll find another, smaller harbour, a lot of good waterfront restaurants, and the museum of the Prince’s vintage cars collection. Flower lovers will enjoy the Princess Grace rose gardens with over 180 different kinds of roses. At Fontvieille, you can also embark on the Sculpture Path (Chemin des Sculptures) and discover beautiful monumental works by Arman, Blake, Botero, Calder, César and more. Almost one hundred contemporary works sit alongside creations by sculptors living in Monaco. “Le Poing” or “The Fist” by César can be seen in the UNESCO Garden.