x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The Riviera riches of Monaco

My kind of place: Elegance, opulence and highly iconic sights dominate the tiny Mediterranean principality, writes Mary Novakovich.

Monte Carlo, where five-star luxury and glittering surrounds are rarely too far away, including landmarks such as the Place du Casino. Photo by Adam Batterbee
Monte Carlo, where five-star luxury and glittering surrounds are rarely too far away, including landmarks such as the Place du Casino. Photo by Adam Batterbee

Why Monaco?

The tiny principality, which is not much bigger than London’s Hyde Park, packs a lot into its 202 hectares. Contrary to what many people think, there is more to this strip of the Côte d’Azur than the high-rises of Monte Carlo.

Monaco-Ville, the original fortified town, sits high on a rocky promontory overlooking glossy yachts in Port Hercule. Narrow lanes of pastel-coloured houses, restaurants and shops fan out from the royal palace, where the Grimaldi family has ruled from since the 13th century. It’s a delightful spot, full of charm despite tourists swarming round the palace at 11.55am to watch the daily changing of the guard.

Even those without interest in gambling are drawn to Monte Carlo’s Place du Casino. Here, Charles Garnier’s opulent creation housing the casino and opera house forms a illustrious trio with the Café de Paris and the Hotel de Paris. It takes people-watching (and their cars) to a whole new level.

A comfortable bed

The five-star Hôtel Hermitage (www.hotelhermitagemontecarlo.com; 00377 98 06 40 00) is old-world European elegance personified. Despite its sprawling size, this Belle Époque confection has an air of cocooning intimacy. Many of the handsomely furnished rooms have views over the port, some with large terraces and hot tubs. Like its sister hotel, the Hôtel de Paris, it has direct access to the Thermes Marins spa. Doubles from €320 (Dh1,621). Its Michelin-starred Vistamar restaurant serves exquisitely cooked fish dishes from €48 (Dh243).

Soak up the glamour and history at the five-star Hotel de Paris (www.hoteldeparismontecarlo.com; 00377 98 06 30 00), one of the world’s legendary hotels. Many of its sumptuous rooms have balconies overlooking the port, and all guests have access to the private Monte Carlo Beach Club (members of its Abu Dhabi outpost can also enter). Doubles from €360 (Dh1,824). Its celebrated restaurants include Alain Ducasse’s three-Michelin-starred Louis XV, where mains start at €88 (Dh446).

Formula One fans will recognise the four-star Fairmont Monte Carlo (www.fairmont.com/monte-carlo; 00377 93 50 65 00) from the hairpin turn in front of this giant landmark. Many of the spacious and comfortable rooms look out over the sea, and all come with balconies with inviting sunloungers. The rooftop swimming pool is a rare and welcome sight. Doubles from €299 (Dh1,515).

Find your feet

Monaco might be small but it is very hilly. Look out for lifts and escalators that will save you a lot of effort climbing up the steep streets of Monte Carlo. You’ll find the tourist office at 2 Boulevard des Moulins (www.visitmonaco.com), near the casino.

At Monaco’s western end is Fontvieille, the newest part of the principality. La Condamine, at the foot of Monaco-Ville, overlooks Port Hercule, before Monte Carlo takes over on the other side of the harbour. Larvotto Beach marks Monaco’s eastern edge.

An efficient bus network connects the districts and a little boat regularly shuttles across Port Hercule.

Meet the locals

Catch the more down-to-earth side of Monaco every morning at the lively food market in Places d’Armes in La Condamine. Browse the local produce in the outdoor and indoor markets before having a coffee or lunch in one of the many cafes.

At the other end of the scale is the impeccably dressed crowd at the Bar Américain in the Hotel de Paris (00377 98 06 36 38). Head to the Buddha Bar (www.buddhabar.com; 00377 98 06 19 19), just off Place du Casino, for late-night drinks and Asian food.

Book a table

Monte Carlo added Nobu (www.noburestaurants.com; 00377 97 70 70 97) to its ranks in January at the Fairmont, where top-class Japanese fare comes with Mediterranean views. Try the king crab leg with shiso salsa for €58 (Dh294) or a shrimp tempura sushi roll for €13 (Dh66).

Beefbar (www.beefbar.com; 00377 97 77 09 29) on Fontvieille’s quayside lives up to its name, with superb steaks from €27 (Dh137).

Red (www.red-monaco.com; 00377 93 30 62 26) is in an enviable location overlooking Port Hercule, where generous plates of scallop risotto are €24 (Dh122). Afterwards, nip into the adjoining Black Legend nightclub for some Motown and R’n’B.

Shopper’s paradise

The Carré d’Or – golden square – by the Hôtel de Paris and Hôtel Hermitage glitters as you might expect thanks to the profusion of luxury boutiques.

For less astronomical prices, browse the 80 shops in the Metropole Shopping Centre near Hôtel Metropole, where it’s more MaxMara than Hermès.

The shops along Rue Grimaldi in La Condamine are as workaday as you’re likely to get in Monaco. It’s also where motor-racing fans can stock up on Formula One merchandise at the Formule 1 shop at No 15 (00377 93 15 92 44).

What to avoid

Cabs from Nice airport – 23 kilometres away – are extortionate, especially if you’re travelling alone. If you want to avoid fares of about €100 (Dh507), take the express bus for €18 (Dh91).

Don’t miss

All ages are entranced by the wondrous sea life in the aquarium of the Musée Océanographique (www.oceano.mc; 00377 93 15 36 00) in Monaco-Ville. It really is an enjoyably bizarre world in the basement’s giant tanks, while the other floors tell the story of underwater exploration over the centuries. Take the lift to the roof where there’s a cafe, children’s play area, mini tortoise park and a wide observation platform.

Go there

A return flight with Emirates (www.emirates.com) from Dubai to Nice takes six and a half hours and costs from Dh3,925, including taxes.

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