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Monte-Carlo, unofficial capital of glamorous and lavish Monaco, is the epitome of wealth and glamour. The capital is a blend of towering high rise buildings and narrow windy roads, boasting the legendary Monte-Carlo Casino, luxury hotels, elegant nightclubs and restaurants, views of the sparkling Mediterranean and of course, the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix.
Established in 1866, Monte-Carlo was named in honour of Prince Charles III and is the richest of the country's four quarters. For years, Monte-Carlo has been the playground of the rich and famous, from Hollywood starlets to royalty from all corners of the globe. It is also one of Europe's foremost holiday resorts, but certainly not for the humble backpacker. The city has several attractions, such as the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium, the Monaco Cathedral and the Prince's Palace, several gardens, and other attractions centred on the country's famous Royal Family, such as an exhibition of HSH Prince of Monaco's private collection of classic cars.
There are many interesting diversions for the adventurous, such as catamaran trips, watersports, yachting and the Azur Express tourist train that links up the city's attractions, accompanied by multi-lingual commentary. Worth exploring is the Old Town, with its attractive City Hall, and of course when one is bored of sightseeing, the best diversion (and the cheapest) is merely to settle down with a fancy cocktail and people-watch in this fascinating and glamorous part of the world.
Established in the 13th century, Monaco's royal palace has been the residence of the ruling Grimaldi family ever since. The most famous resident was Grace Kelly, who was married to Prince Rainier III. Every generation has left their mark on the place. As a result, this is not one of Europe's most elegant castles from the outside. It is worth taking a look inside though. 15 rooms, including the Throne Room, are open to the public. In the south wing of the palace is the Musée des Souvenirs Napoléoniens, containing a collection of Napoleon's memorabilia. The changing of the guard takes place in front of the palace every day, lasting just two minutes. So take care to be on time.
Prince Albert I opened Monaco's Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium in 1910. It houses his personal collection of marine life, models of his laboratory's ships, and other crafts made from marine products. The imposing building is perched dramatically on a cliff and faces the sea, providing lovely views. The basement houses an impressive aquarium with over 4,000 fish species and 200 invertebrates, as well as the Shark Lagoon.
The Monaco Cathedral is a beautiful structure, built in 1875 and resting on a site of a 13th-century church dedicated to Saint Nicholas. The Cathedral houses the tomb of the much-loved Princess Grace, as well as the former royalty of Monaco. During religious festivals and religious holidays, the sounds of the cathedral's splendid four-keyboard organ can be enjoyed, as well as the Sunday mass, which is sung by the Cathedral Choir.
Built in 1878 by Charles Garnier, the Monte Carlo Casino is another feather in the cap of the man who designed the Paris Opera House. The Salle Garnier hosts ballet, opera, and concerts, while the Gaming Rooms fill with all the glitz and glamour one would expect from a top-class casino. The rooms sport stained glass windows and sculptures. A jacket and tie are required for men.
Monte-Carlo, like Monaco, has a spectacular Mediterranean climate, boasting roughly 300 days of sunshine a year. July and August are the hottest months, while spring and autumn are the best times to visit, as temperatures are milder.
Going out for dinner in Monte-Carlo is as glamorous as it sounds. With some of the finest restaurants, offering first-class cuisine prepared by some of the world's most renowned chefs, visitors can anticipate only the best. After a day of sightseeing, yachting and sipping on cocktails, a dining experience of only the very best quality is what can be expected.
Monte-Carlo being the expensive city that it is means that most restaurants will cost substantially more than the average meal, but that is not to say you won't find something a little more budget-friendly if you look for it. There are an assortment of cuisines offered in and around the city, each offering an experience. Early booking is essential, as is a jacket and tie, at most restaurants in the city.
For something typically French and sophisticated, Le Louis XV promises a classy and elegant evening with top notch food using only the best local produce. Restaurant Joel Robuchon Monte-Carlo offers similar taste and flare, giving patrons a chance to experience modern French cuisine, influenced by the Mediterranean. For those wanting something a little more fusion in style, the Pacific is the place to go. Here you will likely find the rich and famous occupying tables. For something a little more down to earth, Il Terrazzino is a great restaurant for typical Italian fare; great quality for a little less Euro.
With lots on offer, Monte-Carlo is an exciting place to explore in terms of its cuisine and is unlikely to leave visitors disappointed.
Le Louis XV is classy, elegant, and stylish, steered by Chef Alain Ducasse and a commitment to pure delicacy. Clean lines combine perfectly with the fresh décor, while crystal chandeliers light up the establishment's expertly prepared and executed fine French cuisine. The dishes reflect local tastes, using only the freshest produce. Open Thursday to Sunday for lunch and dinner. Jacket required and tie recommended, and booking is essential.
Located in Monte Carlo's famous Épingle de la Rascasse, Pacific sees many of the city's rich and famous walk through its doors. It's a favourite place for socialites and gourmet enthusiasts alike. Pacific has a distinctive design ethos, with both the bar and restaurant stylishly and elegantly laid out, incorporating clean lines and intricate lighting. The atmosphere is perfect for when the bar converts into a nightclub later on. Specialising in fusion cuisine, diners will not be disappointed. Try the signature Pacific black cod with miso sauce. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended.
The views and cuisine at L'Horizon are simply stunning, leaving diners returning time and time again. There's nothing more clientele could ask for when dining out in Monte Carlo, boasting 360 degree views over the Opera House and the Prince's Palace. Enjoy the tastes of the region, like Mediterranean fish soup, croutons and saffron sauce, and pan-fried sea bass and vegetables. Open March to November daily, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Bookings essential.
Specialising in the culinary delights of Naples and southern Italian fare, Il Terrazzino is a must for anyone who loves Italian food. Reminiscent of a country deli, the home-cooked food and cosy dining room will make you feel right at home. Try the Linguine Marinara with capers, olives, marjoram, tomato sauce, and anchovy, or the veal with mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Bookings recommended.
A friendly and unpretentious restaurant, Mozza consistently serves excellent Italian food consistently rated among the best in Monte Carlo. The separate lunch and dinner menus are short, yet memorable and very reasonably priced. Mozza takes full advantage of its terrace on the Larvotto end of Monte Carlo to enjoy spectacular view of the Thursday and Friday fireworks displays held in June and July.
Restaurant Joël Robuchon Monte Carlo is an elegant restaurant housed in the Hotel Metropole. Serving modern French cuisine influenced by the Mediterranean setting, the menu changes seasonally. For a cheaper option, the restaurant offers a fixed price lunch. Restaurant Joël Robuchon Monte Carlo is small and seats only 60 people at a time, so reservations are essential.
Long considered the crown jewel of the Grand Prix circuit, the Monaco Grand Prix is the oldest and most prestigious of the lot. All the glitz and glamour of Monaco itself adds to the excitement of the demanding race that takes place on a narrow course through the streets of Monte Carlo, with tight corners and elevation changes presenting a serious challenge to drivers.
The Spring Arts Festival is an annual showcasing of artistic talent from around the world. A range of art, dance, music, and theatre is on offer at various venues around the capital. The festival includes performances by the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra and Les Ballets de Monte Carlo.
Each year, nearly 100 of the world's most spectacular yachts put on displays for boat-lovers and professionals alike and there are also various related exhibits to explore. The focus is on luxury and elegance and the who's who of Monaco is usually in attendance.
The Monte Carlo Rally takes place annually along the winding, scenic roads and passes of the French Riviera, culminating at the finish line in Monte Carlo. Since its inception in 1911, the rally has grown to become one of the most famous and prestigious races on the circuit.
Each event attracts the top racers and the finest cars. Hordes of spectators line the road in often alarming proximity to the vehicles racing by at speeds of up to 160 mph (240km). Many of the cars can be viewed prior to the event at a special exhibition in the town hall.
Monaco is home to many international competitions. But one of the most enjoyable for tourists is the annual International Fireworks Competition, held each summer in Port Hercule. Leading pyrotechnic experts from all over the world go head to head to create the most spectacular displays to delight both locals and visitors in Monte Carlo.
A good place to get into the swing of things is Le Bar Américain where the upper-crust mingle and socialise with their Champagne and cocktails in hand, while a jazz trio belts out some upbeat tunes to get you in the mood. But on a perfect warm summer's evening there's no better place to watch the sun go down that at the hip and trendy Sea Lounge where party people meet over a cocktail or two by the water's edge in Monte Carlo Beach. The Living Room and the Black Legend are popular nightclubs where anyone wanting to get their groove on can dance the night away, while lively bars like the Ship and Castle or Black Diamond are more upmarket and many come here to pose and be seen. Jimmy'z on avenue Princesse Grace is place to go where you can don your favourite party outfit, slip into those killer heels and dance the night away with Monte-Carlo's beautiful people.
If live music is what you're after, visit Moods on place du Casino, which has already attracted some big international acts while Sass Café is another hot spot for live music, lots of dancing and a rip roaring good time. Or if jazz is more your thing, head to the Blue Note to get your groove on! For a quieter and more sophisticated night out, the Grand Théâtre de Monte Carlo is the place to go to see international ballets and other productions as well as the Ballets de Monte Carlo. Mention the resident opera company, and the symphony, while the Monte Carlo Opera also draws hundreds of visitors to its world-class performances.
One of the most glamorous cities in the world, it's not surprising the shopping in Monte Carlo is both exclusive and expensive. Be sure to bring your 'flexible friend' along because its sure get have a good workout on a shopping trip in Monte Carlo. With some of the most exclusive designer brands in the world and top notch boutiques selling haute couture, the streets of Monte Carlo are a dream come true for shopaholics and, although many of the shops can be found in most other major cities across the globe, there's something special about shopping here. For big names like Gucci, Armani and Versace, head to Avenue des Beaux-Arts, under the Hotel Metropole. The Cercle d'Or (Golden Square) comprises Avenue Monte-Carlo, Avenue des Beaux Arts and Les Allées Lumières and even though most travellers will only be able to afford to window shop, it's still worth a visit. Head to the Place du Casino for the best selection of jewellery stores, while the pedestrianised Rue Princess Caroline is one of the city's more popular shopping areas and attracts tourists and avid shoppers by the dozen. The Fontvieille Shopping Centre boasts 36 shops, while malls such as Les Allées Lumières, the Metropole and the Principality are also good for a day of shopping, with restaurants and cafés for weary shoppers to rest their legs and refuel. And for those who are on a very tight budget, head to Monte Carlo's Condamine Market in the Place d'Armes where shoppers can stop to view the luxurious yachts in the docks and pick up some cheaper souvenirs such as F1 memorabilia and souvenir number plates.
Monte-Carlo has an efficient public transport system, with five bus lines. An excellent way to save money is to buy the Daily Tourist Pass, which at a flat rate, allows unlimited travel all day. A series of elevators also operate to transport visitors and residents up and down the steep streets of the city. Perhaps the best way to explore the city, however, is on foot.
Monte-Carlo offers a lot more than just striking natural beauty, it also features some historical and modern attractions sure to keep visitors of all persuasions happy. With a Mediterranean climate, Monte-Carlo is pleasant all year round, though winters can sometimes be a little chilly, and summers very crowded. The city is fairly easy to navigate your way around, once you know the short cuts.
There is plenty to see and do here. Head to the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium to see Prince Albert's personal collection of marine life or just visit the 4,000 fish in the aquarium, as well as the Shark Lagoon. Visit the Prince's Palace, which was established in the 13th century and has been the residence of the Grimaldi family ever since, where 15 rooms are open to the public, including the throne room, or check out the magnificent Monaco Cathedral which houses the tombs of the late Princess Grace and former princes of Monaco.
Big spenders should spend some time making or blowing their fortune at the Monte-Carlo casino, or if that's too much for you, enjoy relaxing in the Jardin Exotique where the thousands of plants will amaze green-fingered travellers, or spend an afternoon marvelling at the fabulous yachts in La Condamine, one of Monaco's oldest districts, where you can even spend some time browsing through the Condamine Market.
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