Monte-Carlo: The name alone conjures up images of overbearing opulence, inaccessible glamour, glistening beaches and famously wealthy glitterati, says Y Reporter, Alvin Thomas.
It’s hard for us Indians to think of Monaco without smearing a smile on our faces. While it may be the swankiest microstate in the world, it is, to us, a brand of biscuits (Monaco biscuits) that we adored, growing up. Of course, that’s just me being a bit cheeky.
Monaco is one of the tiniest, but most extravagant countries on the face of the earth. It is so opulent that it makes Dubai look like it’s on pensioner’s support; the country practically drips with wealth.
There are numerous luxury boutique hotels and restaurants, hyper car showrooms (including Bugatti and Marussia Motors), designer stores and casinos. It really is an ideal location for one to blow one’s life savings. And don’t be surprised if you manage to eat through all of it in a week or two.
Over the years, the country has also established itself as a Mecca of speed and automotive racing. The Monaco Grand Prix -an annual event -which was first held in 1929, is among the most-sought-after races on the Formula One calendar.
Not everyone is blessed with the opportunity to see a million-dollar Formula One car blast through the tight city roads -which consists of the city streets of Monte Carlo and La Condamine -at 240kph.
All of this means that the country is dotted with tourists from all over the world, some turning up in their luxury yachts or by helicopters. Rumour has it that a sailor must book his or her yacht at least a few weeks before the Grand Prix, or be left without a docking space at the marina.
Monaco has quite a past to its name, and it’s not very illustrious. It all began when the Monaco fort was seized by the Grimaldi family (in 1297) from a rival Italian faction. They have since held on to this tiny piece of land for more than 700 years.
The most notable year in the history of the country’s formation has to be 1861 when Monaco relinquished half of its territory to France in exchange for cash and independence. This meant all their natural resources were in the hands of the French.
But, Monaco’s move to make the country a tax-free haven has since made it the go-to spot for businessmen and women, actors, royals, politicians, and even Formula One racing drivers. Oh, and let’s not forget: Oscar-winning Hollywood star Grace Kelly certainly did add to the glamour of Monaco when she tied the knot with Rainier III, the then Prince of Monaco, in 1956.
My favourite place- I would love to migrate to Monte-Carlo someday, but hotel rooms here are among the most expensive in the world. Renting an apartment is not an easy task either, primarily because the condos – most of which are owned by F1 superstars – don’t come cheap; and secondly, they don’t need to rent out apartments to strangers to make a fast buck. My only option then is to sit by the Monaco streets and stare at the fancy cars. When I’m done with that, I would perhaps head to the Palais Princier de Monaco (Prince’s Palace of Monaco), a compact yet lavish royal pad filled with fabulous furniture and 19th-century art; and then take a spiritual stroll through the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-Immaculée (Saint Nicholas Cathedral). There, you can walk – in silence – past the princess’s and prince’s graves.
Highlights- There’s no wrong time to visit Monaco; there’s always life in the streets. But things get all the more lively a few weeks prior to the Grand Prix when they shut down the roads, add sound and protective barriers near the homes, and open up the boutique shops to the public. Monaco has a humid subtropical climate due to its proximity to the sea –but temperatures hover around the 20-degrees-Celsius mark at all times. This makes it perfect for visiting the beaches –Monte-Carlo beach in particular. Keep in mind that everyone has the same idea, and you will have to vie for a spot on the beach to relax; talk about having to earn a tan. The Jardin Exotique de Monaco (botanical garden) is also an attraction. These extraordinary gardens tumble down the slopes of the Moneghetti district through a maze of paths, stairs and bridges
Lowlights- Apart from the extravagant rents and hotel prices, Monaco is also the most densely populated country in the world. This means it’s hard to find a room for yourself, and if you do, it’s going to be cramped. Planning on taking a drive in your rented hatchback? A litre of petrol costs a whooping 700baisas (!) Oh, and don’t forget: you’ll be surrounded by Ferraris and Lamborghinis. It’s an ego killer.
Souvenirs- Grand Prix T-shirts, shoes, caps and shades are a must-have when you’re on vacation in Monaco. There’s nothing like walking around the streets trying to look like Fernando Alonso or Lewis Hamilton.
Getting there- The most ideal way to get there is to take a bus from the city of Nice in France. But you can fly from Muscat to Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport, by Emirates. A return-trip will set you back roughly RO600.
Where to stay- There are several hotels for tourists to opt for, but they’re expensive. The cheapest hotel we could find was the Hotel Novotel Monte-Carlo, at RO87 for one night on an off-peak day. Hotels rates are known to shoot up to RO250 (or more) during the Grand Prix season.
1. Head for Larvotto beach and stroll through the pebbles
2. Wander into the Prince’s Palace and marvel at fabulous furniture and art
3. Step into the Saint Nicholas Cathedral and admire remnants of ancient architecture
4. Click a selfie with the succulents at the Jardin Exotique
5. Sit by the streets and stare at the fancy cars