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More like ‘why not go?' Monaco at Grand Prix time epitomises everything that’s great about Formula One racing: speed, glamour, passion, noise and a hint of danger because the cars are never too far away from the barriers.
The Principality has a lot of history in its own right, with the Grimaldi Family having reigned supreme since 1297. In a Formula One context, the track is one of the greatest challenges on the calendar; it staged its first (pre championship) Grand Prix in 1929 and has remained largely unchanged ever since.
Celebrities flock to the race like bees to a honey pot because it’s the world’s most glamorous sporting event. To name a few that have visited in recent years: actors Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley, soccer star Roberto Carlos and Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich.
“There are too many things to do in Monaco to fit them into 24 hours,” says David Coulthard, who has been a resident in the Principality since 1994. “However, I can suggest a good night out.” (see ‘Where to Go?’ below)
Did you know?
Monaco enjoys an average of 300 days' sunshine per year.
The nearest international airport is Nice in France. The most hassle-free way to enter the Principality from there is by train, with the journey taking around 40 minutes. Alternatively, it’s a 40-minute drive via the autoroute, or an hour if you take the more picturesque coastal road. Bear in mind, however, that parking in Monaco over the race weekend is very difficult, to say the least.
If you want to treat yourself, you could always catch a helicopter from Nice. The views are spectacular and 15 minutes after take off you can be dining by the harbour.
The first thing to remember is that the on-track action starts a day early. Unlike every other race on the Formula One calendar, the first day of practice at Monaco is on Thursday. Friday is traditionally a rest day - ideal for some leisurely sightseeing. There is no such thing as general admission in Monaco because it’s not possible to walk from corner-to-corner. You have to book a grandstand seat, with the cost reflecting the vantage point around the lap.
Unlike in neighbouring France, tipping (‘pourboire’) is not the norm because most restaurants and taxis add 10 percent onto their bills as a matter of routine.
Where to go?
You can take a stroll by the harbour, visit the Jardin Exotique (home to more than 7000 varieties of cacti alone) or walk around the Palais du Prince, the Grimaldi’s official residence for 700 years.
For more of a party weekend, try Colombus Hotel owner David Coulthard’ssuggested itinerary: “Arrive into Nice airport in the evening and go straight to the Columbus. Once you’ve checked in, head for dinner at the SAS cafe and, from there, head to the Amber Lounge and dance your ass off. Knackered and hungry? Head for the Tip Top bar for one of their all-night breakfasts.
“In the morning, the Cafe de Paris does the best Bloody Marys around and, your hang-over cured, go to the Casino and lose whatever money you have left!”
Where to stay?
If you have the cash, nothing beats the glamour of staying in Monaco itself. The closer you are to the track, the higher the price and most hotels are booked out months in advance, so plan ahead. Coulthard’s Colombus Hotel is just one of the stylish options available. A more cost-effective choice is to stay along the coast in one of the quaint seaside towns such as Beaulieu Sur Mer. Hotel rooms often cost a fraction of those in Monaco and it is only a short commute by train into the Principality.
Sickly members of the English and French aristocracies used to travel to the south of France ‘to take the air and recuperate’. While the Cote d’Azur may no longer be the exclusive destination of the rich, there is still something magical - even medicinal - about the air and scenery.
Beaches and mountains are both within easy reach of Monaco. The Alpes Maritimes line the coast and are a great challenge for walkers and cyclists alike. Cannes is a stone’s throw to the west and Nice is linked to Paris by the high-speed TGV train, so you can be in the capital in no time.
“If I have a few days to kill,” says Coulthard, “I hire a boat and head for St Tropez. The beaches there are beautiful and there are some fantastic restaurants too.”
If you fancy Monaco in January, don’t miss the Monte-Carlo Rally. If, however, you prefer circuit racing, the former French Grand Prix venue of Paul Ricard is only a couple of hours away.
Or you can stay on the coast and watch some off-shore power boating, which takes place on a regular basis throughout the summer months.
Circuit de Monaco
Automobile Club de Monaco
23 Boulevard Albert 1er
98000 MC Monaco