The Concierges' Guide to Monaco

monacoJohn O'Ceallaigh, The Daily Telegraph, April 15, 2014

Minute Monaco crams a lot into its constrained borders. In addition to various Michelin-starred restaurants and a world-famous casino, the principality hosts major events including the Monaco Grand Prix (taking place this year from May 22 t0 25) and the Monaco Yacht Show (being held on September 24 to 27, 2014).

To ensure visitors get the most from their time there, concierges from two of Monaco's best hotels give their definitive guides to the area. Sharing their knowledge are:

Stéphane Bellon, concierge at Fairmont Monte Carlo
and Thierry Revel, concierge at Hotel de Paris

I'm new here. Tell me something people don’t know about Monaco.
Monaco is the second smallest country in the world with an area of 0.7sq miles (2sq km) and, with a population of 32,000, the most densely populated country in the world. They share a country that’s about the size of New York’s Central Park.

Which attraction should I definitely make time to see?
Spend half a day exploring the Rocher district. This “rock” is the historical heart of Monaco and features the Prince’s Palace, the Oceanographic Museum and cathedral. Make time to visit the St Martin Gardens, which contain Mediterranean flora and exotic species, complemented by breathtaking views of the Mediterranean.
Thierry: The legendary Casino de Monte-Carlo . This Belle Epoque jewel is the most prestigious casino in Europe.

Which of the “must-visit” attractions should I avoid?
I would say the Monaco tourist train. You can only get on in front of the Oceanographic museum, so you’re probably better off just enjoying a walk.

Which cultural attraction would you most recommend?
The Formula One Grand Prix; it’s an incredible experience. However, if you are not able to visit Monaco for the Grand Prix, I would advise you to reserve a ticket for a show at the Opera de Monte-Carlo. There’s nothing more refined and intense than watching a masterpiece in this wonderful Belle Epoque Opera, designed by the renowned architect Charles Garnier.
Thierry: Our annual Monte-Carlo Sporting Summer Festival, held in July. It celebrates its 40th anniversary this year so will be particularly impressive. 

Where can I take the best picture of Monaco? Stéphane: From the top of the Rocher, next to the Prince’s Palace. From here you can see all of Monte Carlo, the harbour and half of the Formula One track.

I'd like to try something new here – what should I do?
You could cross the whole of a country by foot in less than two hours. Not many places allow that.
Thierry: Check out the Richard Artschwater retrospective at the Nouveau Musée National Monaco (NMNM) . It’s the most comprehensive retrospective of his work to date and you can also see the artist’s “blps” artworks in other venues throughout Monaco until September 30.

How can I best enjoy the Monaco Grand Prix? Stéphane: Of course I think it’s best enjoyed if viewed from the Fairmont hotel. The view from the Fairmont Hairpin is wonderful.
Thierry: The best place to enjoy the Monaco Grand Prix is on the Salle Empire terrace at our hotel. It’s located on the Place du Casino side and you can watch the entire race from here.

Where are the best Grand Prix parties and how can I visit?
The outdoor Amber Lounge and the Billionaire Club are the places to be during the GP. You’ll find models, singers, actors and, of course, the drivers all celebrating together. Ask your hotel concierge to arrange entry; he has a key for every door.
Thierry: Visit the Paddock Lounge at Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo, from May 22 to 25. Giant screens will show hour-by-hour coverage of the practice sessions and races. The best Grand Prix party is the Sea Lounge party at the Monte-Carlo Beach hotel. Your concierge should be able to assist with access.

What’s the best yachting experience I can have here?
Whatever your interest in yachting, it’s covered at the Monaco Yacht Show.
Thierry: The Monaco Yacht Show displays the newest and most fabulous yachts in the world. If you enjoy sailing it’s a wonderful time to visit.

I’d like to buy an unusual souvenir – what do you recommend?
Going back home with one of our euro coins in your wallet. The Monaco imprint of the currency is quite rare

What’s the best restaurant in the city right now?
Alain Ducasse’s restaurant Louis XV . It has held three Michelin stars for more than 20 years. Nobu – recently opened in our hotel – is the most fashionable restaurant in town.
Thierry: Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV, found in our hotel.

And where’s the most interesting restaurant? Stéphane: La Montgolfière is an unpretentious, family-run restaurant that serves exceptional Mediterranean gastronomy. The chef, Henri Geraci, creates wonders with market-fresh products in the kitchen while his welcoming wife works the floor.
Thierry: Elsa at the Monte-Carlo Beach hotel. Its ingredients are 100 per cent organic and it now has a Michelin star too.

What’s the best bar in Monaco? I don’t want somewhere touristy.
Sass Café, which also serves decent Mediterranean cuisine and hosts live music performances.

I’m going to propose to my partner – where should I do it?
On a yacht, facing the principality, at sunset. Don’t forget to bring some champagne with you.

Can you recommend a day trip I can take from Monaco?
You could start with a visit to the medieval village of Eze, where you can visit Galimard, the oldest perfume factory in France. From there, drive along the coastal road to Villefrance-sur-Mer for bouillabaisse at Mere Germaine restaurant and then make your way to Cannes for drinks by the sea.