This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of So Scottsdale! magazine.
Monaco is a postcard-sized country poised on the Mediterranean coast. As a luxurious retreat surrounded by the French Alps, France, and Italy, it's known for royalty, fast cars, expensive yachts, fine dining, high-end shopping, and breathtaking settings.
Americans usually know Monaco for Princess Grace, the Monte Carlo Casino, and the Grand Prix. All of that and so much more is waiting to discover. The tiny municipality is walkable—it takes about 45 minutes to stroll from one end to the other—or you can hop in a taxi.
Monaco is tiny but diverse; although home to only 32,000 permanent residents, the population represents more than 120 countries. As you wander through the shops and streets, you will hear many different languages spoken. Though French is the official language, English and Italian are prevalent almost everywhere.
The Grand Prix de Monaco
One of the most popular events is the Grand Prix de Monaco, held each May throughout the streets. Visitors watch from bleachers along the streets, hotel terraces, yachts and other vantage points throughout the town.
You can get a great view from Nikki Beach at the Fairmont Monte Carlo, where you can watch the cars go through the curves and in and out of the tunnels.
Monaco is quite a blend of Old World and modern influences. No trip is complete without visiting the casino, built in the late 1800s in the grand Belle Époque style of Paris. Entering the lobby is free, but pay 10€ (about $10.87 US) to enter the Salon Europe, which opens at 2 p.m. daily. Even if you aren't a casino fan, this is a magnificent experience—and doesn't everyone expect James Bond to swagger past?
As you walk through Monte Carlo, past shops holding Bentleys, Maseratis, and Lamborghinis next to Chanel, Christian Louboutin, and Diro, the glitz and glamour surrounds you. Be sure to explore the shops at La Métropole Shopping Center, which consists of three levels under the Métropole Hotel, and then make your way past the casino to the most exclusive shopping area: Monte-Carlo Pavilions. These futuristic-shaped buildings house the world's most luxurious brands.
Plan to spend one day at Monaco-ville (also known as The Rock), which is the old, walled city. Accessible by a cobbled path, the climb up is steep, but it's worth the walk. After absorbing the breathtaking views of the harbor, tour the Prince's Palace. Open April through October, it is the official residence of Prince Albert II, Monaco's royal leader and son of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier. Guided audio tours take place every 30 minutes, detailing the history of Monaco and the Grimaldi family, forever tied to the US after Hollywood star Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier in 1956.
Peruse the winding old town streets, boutiques, sidewalk cafés, and the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. Monaco is also dotted with gardens, so as you explore, be sure to uncover the bounties of flora and fauna.
Food and hotels are plentiful in Monaco, and dining is only a challenge because you can't eat at every restaurant. A can't-miss experience is Joël Robuchon at Hotel Métropole, a Michelin two-star restaurant. Book a seat at the chef's table overlooking the kitchen and order the langoustine in truffled raviolis.
The seafood is always fresh wherever you go, and if it's spring, be sure to order the asparagus. Because there are so many different international visitors, you can find a variety of foods. Stop by Song Qi for lunch or dinner to sample some of the best Asian food outside of Asia. The dim sum lunch (with a glass of wine) is perfection.
For a dinner to remember, head to Cipriani Monte Carlo. It features classic Italian flavors and feels as though you are stepping onto a yacht. This is the place to see and be seen, but it also embodies simple, great food with amazing service. With so much homemade pasta, it's hard not to overeat, but save room for dessert—and a limoncello, of course.
Hotels vary from high-end to small boutique properties. For a luxury stay in the center of the city, you will feel wrapped in opulence and history at the Hotel Métropole Monte-Carlo, which dates back to 1886. Truly, it is a most exquisite stay in the heart of Monaco.
The Fairmont Monte Carlo is a modern beachfront option, where every room offers unparalleled Mediterranean views, and evenings with Champagne on the Horizon Deck are unforgettable.
Grand Prix fans will enjoy Columbus Monte-Carlo, a small boutique property in Fontvieille previously owned by race car driver David Coulthard. Many of the teams still stay at the hotel, and the chic, urban feel of the space is much different from the other two options.
Monaco is a bit of fantasy, but while watching the sunset over the Mediterranean, you may perhaps realize that fairy tales really can come true.