After the marathon week and a half of sunbathing and movie-watching that is the Cannes Film Festival, models and celebrities of all sorts descend on Monte Carlo, Monaco, the seductive enclave just a helicopter ride away to recupate by way of sunbathing and race car-watching. The Formula 1 Grand Prix takes place on the last weekend of the festival each year, drawing the likes of Kendall and Kylie Jenner and Gigi and Bella Hadid to observe and cheer on the drivers—especially driver Lewis Hamilton, the three-time Grand Prix champion whose Instagram following, 4.2 million at last count, rivals any Instagram-famous model-influencer.
There’s a reason Monte Carlo has earned a reputation as a city of gambling, yachting, and fast cars. The site of many a James Bond plot and the occasional jewelry heist, Monaco—a principality carved out of the south of France, complete with its own royal family—has all the glamour and thrill of a mid-century action film, albeit with a few updates and renovations. (While the Monte Carlo Casino might remain something out of another era, the city’s luxurious spas are totally contemporary.) Built into a steep hillside, Monte Carlo rises out of the Mediterranean like a fortress, its Baroque architecture most striking from the harbor’s vantage. Monaco clocks in at just under a square mile in area, with a population of just shy of 40,000, largely francophone, residents—in addition to the seasonal travelers flocking in primarily from the Middle East and France. It’s an intensely private slice of real estate—and there’s no income tax—which has made it a favored destination for royals, business moguls, and, of course, the celebrity contingent.
The weekend after Cannes might draw a particular flurry of activity, but throughout the year, Monte Carlo is a hotbed of sunny shores, extravagant parties, and decadent dining where no expense is spared. Here’s how to do it best.
How to Get There
Throughout the Cannes Film Festival, the Nice airport is overrun with actors and models flooding through customs en route to the beach. Nice is an equally convenient access point to Monte Carlo—while Monaco is just an hour drive from Cannes, Nice also boasts a helicopter pad with private charters departing every 15 minutes. A private helicopter might seem an extravagance, but there’s no better way to start embracing your inner 007 before you even disembark. (A car works too, though.)
Where to Stay
The massive, maze-like Hotel Hermitage, the top-rated Monte Carlo complex that overlooks the Mediterranean from its perch nestled in the Monte Carlo hillside, seems designed precisely so guests never even need to leave its premises during their stay. Not that they’d be remiss for staying put—in addition to its plush rooms, many with tiny terraces overlooking the water, the Hotel Hermitage boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant (Le Vistamar, by Benoît Witz), luxurious spa facility with a pool, its own restaurant (L’Hirondelle), and customizable treatments, and a lobby café and bar (Le Limún) with some of the best people-watching in the principality. There’s no more entertaining pastime than watching the expensive and expensively surgery-enhanced tenants of the hotel coming and going throughout a weekend. Plus, the espresso is génial.
Where to Eat
The aforementioned Le Vistamar is Monte Carlo’s Michelin-starred destination spot, promising fresh seafood and excellent wine. The Hermitage’s lobby café Le Limún is of a more relaxed atmosphere, where an early afternoon salad and a couple glasses of rosé are de rigueur. (On a recent stay, my lunch partner ordered the driest option available for the table, assuring us it’s all part of being in the south of France.) Monaco’s open-air market, the Marché de la Condamine, is also ideal for a light repas, a cornucopia of produce and food vendors.
What to Do
It’s not necessary to leave the hotel during a stay in Monte Carlo, but it’s perhaps advisable simply to take in the other sights—including the crystalline waters of the Mediterranean. There’s abundant boating and sunbathing to be done. Plus, the Monte Carlo Casino is a short jaunt from the Hotel Hermitage; it’s worth a visit simply as a visual icon, but for the gamblers, it’s also still functional. On any weekday afternoon, men in suit jackets, collars undone, can be spotted at the craps tables. And, around the corner, the Casino Café de Paris is filled with the flashing lights and ringing bells that mark a hall filled with slot machines.
Down by the harbor, small cafés and shops dot the coastline; the southernmost neighborhood of Monte Carlo, the Prince’s Palace, is also home to an oceanographic museum—a glorified aquarium—established by Prince Albert I and overseen by none other than Jacques Cousteau in his day. With quaint, narrow streets radiating out in all directions from the aquarium’s grand, Baroque revival building, a small cathedral across the plaza, and a seafront park descending the cliff face, the aquarium sits squarely in the center of Monte Carlo’s most visibly historic—and most visibly French—district.
But perhaps the crown jewel of Monte Carlo touristing is the annual Formula 1 Grand Prix, which takes over the city—and its streets—on the last weekend in May each year. Run since 1929, the Monaco Grand Prix is among the most important on the F1 circuit. Guests at the 2015 Grand Prix included Kylie Jenner and then-boyfriend Tyga, the Hadid sisters, Hailey Baldwin, and a whole slew of models and influencers. The drivers themselves are almost as famous.
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