There is a maxim in the travel circles that: “Once in your lifetime you must go on a trip to Monaco” and rightly so as I was to discover for myself in the summer of 2017 when I decided to embark on a trip to this mythical place as part of a delegation to promote the world famous Assam Tea.
Nestled ideally between the Alps and the Mediterranean, Monaco truly offers an amazing picturesque setting. Monaco’s close proximity to the explicitly glamorous Cote d’Azur and the French Riviera easily makes it one of Europe’s most sought after high-end entertainment zone.
Apart from the rigours of marketing Assam Tea to a demanding audience, I must thank Monaco Tourism for an absolutely amazing itinerary that included trips to Nice and outstanding landmarks like the tranquil Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula, the picturesque seaside village of Beaulieu-sur-Mer, and the medieval village of Eze.
I was truly impressed by the other-worldly charms of the French Riviera as also the balmy beaches of Antibes, legendary Cannes and a few lesser-known yet pretty impressive beaches surrounding Cannes.
You only need to gaze on the other direction where the panoramic vistas of the Italian Riviera - the village of Menton and the old-world cluster of fishing villages of Cinque Terre will vie for attention.
Let me tell you, the Principality of Monaco is an extremely cultured place and is replete with elegant museums and some of the nicest hotels of the world, which is well supplemented by extravagant gastronomy.
First time visitors are taken aback by the night time glitter of Monaco and although this bewitching city principality is just two square kilometers in size, in terms of high octane glamour, Monaco can lay claim to be the world’s most glamorous city.
The panorama is magical - azure sea, elegant palm trees and flowers that are so effervescent. Be there at the most spectacular tourist site - Le Rocher or simply referred to as The Rock that protrudes along the rocky promontory into the Mediterranean Sea. This part of the city is referred to as the Monaco-Ville and its streets have history written all over and dates back to the 13th century.
Monaco's harbor is bustling with activity and luxury yachts can be seen docked out here and I was told by my well informed guide that Port de la Condamine was way back in 1901 and here, if you are lucky, you might even sight the Prince's vessel used by the Prince of Monaco. The Yacht Club de Monaco on Quai Louis II organizes a biennial Monaco Classic Week, as well as the water festival Fête de la Mer. The port is the launching pad for most visitors to embark on trips to Cannes, Nice and other resort towns of the French Riviera.
While in Monaco, brushing shoulders the rich and famous is a norm. This is the zone of Ferraris and "beautiful people" indulging in their passions - yachting, casinos, grand prix, ballets and what have you...
Wanna taste spirituality here? No problem. A leisurely walk along the Le Rocher peninsula will bring you to the world’s oldest monastery - Palais du Prince. Constructed by the Genoese noble family of Grimaldi way back in 1297 this magnificent fortress offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city.
Also on the same stretch is the outstanding Musée Oceanographique, which is all of 90 meters above sea level is the world's oldest aquarium, commissioned by Prince Albert I and his predecessors. This unusual Museum exhibits the journeying of Prince Albert I and the discoveries of Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
For flower lovers, all roads lead to 62, Boulevard du Jardin Exotique easily one of the world’s most gloriously landscaped flower gardens. Ideally located on the Fontvieille area of Monaco, this paradise like garden is not just luxuriant but also offers a remarkable variety of species carefully sourced out from USA, Mexico, Africa and Latin America.
As visitors to this city, the Cathedral at 4, Rue Colonel-Bellando-de-Castro, which happens to be the burial place of the principality’s past royalty like - Prince Rainer and Princess Grace is a place to offer one’s RIP tributes. The cathedral is Roman-Byzantine-style and has been constructed using the finest variety of white stones sourced from La Turbie. Time permitting, try to be there on a Sunday at 10 a.m. from September to June, when the mass is sung by the Les Petits Chanteurs de Monaco and the Cathedral Choir.
The world famous Formula One Monaco Grand Prix takes place every year in Monte-Carlo on the last weekend of May and not surprisingly, many visitors try to coincide their visit to Monaco at this time of the year. And why not ? This is the only Grand Prix race in the world that is conducted on the streets of a city. The stretch from Boulevard Albert I all the way to Place du Casino and extending to the rather irksome turn just in front of the Monte-Carlo Fairmont Hotel is the stuff of dreams.
While in Monaco, can Operas be far behind? Take a walk to 8, Opéra de Monte-Carlo (Salle Garnier) where the Monte-Carlo Opera House is located. This must be the most prolific public square in the world. The Opera House was built in the year 1878 and designed to perfection by legendary designer Charles Garnier. Be a part of history here at this one-of-its-kind Opera House where for more than a century, operas and ballets have been performed and it has witnessed many world-class concerts. The speciality of Monte-Carlo Opera House is that it offers classic operas most of the time.
Michelin-Starred Fine Dining is a hallmark of Monaco and the setting too couldn’t be more captivating. Restaurants with imaginative interiors offer global cuisines For the moneyed, the legendary restaurants Le Louis XV restaurant, with three Michelin stars showcasing the very best of Mediterranean cuisine spread out by Alain Ducasse is the most preferred dining arena.
Joël Robuchon Monte-Carlo, (two Michelin stars) ideally located in one of the most affluent neighbourhood of Monaco is also in great demand. So is the elegantly appointed Belle Epoque-style architecture, Hotel Hermitage renowned for its distinctive avant-garde cuisine.
For al fresco dining, Blue Bay restaurant at the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort with its chic setting and sumptuous spread with an understated Caribbean touch is worth falling for. There is also Chef Marcel Ravin’s for exclusive Caribbean fare.
For Asians, Yoshi restaurant is the best in terms of sheer variety. The Japanese section is simply awesome and it isn’t surprising as “Yoshi” is a collaborative venture of Joël Robuchon and Chef Takéo Yamazaki, two of the world’s outstanding culinary brands.
Traveler’s Fact File
From one end of Monaco to the other, the city is just 4 km and suffice it to say that here in this enthralling city, no hotel is inconvenient. If you want to be centrally located, most hotels in Casino Square could be a good option. Here you will have access to and high-end shops as well. The La Colle neighbourhood too is another great hotel zone and pretty close to the Royal Palace and Cathedral. In terms of sheer luxury and opulence, Hotel Hermitage is matchless and with its surreal setting - near the Casino Square and garden is regalia at its best. In close proximity is another outstanding hotel - Metropole Monte Carlo and Oh God! the balconies are superb. As you move further ahead on the city’s principal square the Fairmont Hotel with its rooftop pool and panoramic sea views arrest your attention. Some of the rooms here offer great views of the Grand Prix race route.
Monaco is well served by Nice-Côte d'Azur International Airport and links the principality with more than 86 cities across the world. Monaco is just 30 minutes drive from Nice Airport. Convenient air connections from Nice to major European aviation hubs and key cities across the continent means, travellers are offered with numerous choices in terms of air connectivity.