The natural location of Monaco provides the perfect setting; a miniature city set into the hillside, overlooking the glistening Mediterranean Sea, where historic buildings sit side by side with modern Monaco real estate and an impressive collection of mega yachts are moored in the bay between Casino Square and the Prince’s Palace of Monaco.
Best known for being a tax haven and playground of the uber rich, Monaco is the smallest country in the world (excluding Vatican City) yet it packs a whole lot into its 2km². Famous landmarks, luxury resorts, exclusive nightlife and a calendar of major events, such as the Rolex Monte Carlo Master’s Tennis tournament, Formula 1® Grand Prix and the Monte-Carlo Sporting Summer Festival draw visitors from all over the world to experience the unique location and its glamourous atmosphere.
Yet Monaco has much more to offer than simply a luxury lifestyle. Step off the beaten track to explore Monaco and you will find a place that the locals love, with plenty of unique sights and experiences to take you from morning until night, without venturing onto the tourist circuit.
Enjoy a gentle stroll through the colourful, pedestrian streets of Monaco-Ville, Monaco’s old town located high on a headland and home to the Prince’s Palace. Pause for coffee in one of the many welcoming cafes, or take in the impressive and beautifully preserved architecture in Le Rocher, where on Rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette the homes date back to the 16th Century.
In La Condamine, the daily market is open from 6am until 2pm and offers a range of stalls selling regional produce, while at the indoor food court it is possible to sample the renowned barbajuan, a kind of giant ravioli stuffed with Swiss chard, cheese and meat, most often served as an appetizer. You will also find truffle pasta and socca, a traditional flatbread made with chickpea flour, originating from the neighbouring city of Nice.
Terrace with a View
If you’re keen to hang out with the locals, head for Club Bouliste du Rocher, situated above the port at the Fort Antoine gardens. There you can experience a game of pétanque and a cold beer on the terrace at the small restaurant which offers a panoramic view of the city. Looking back across the port, the vista features part of the Grand Prix circuit, from the tunnel under the Fairmont Monte-Carlo and the Nouvelle Chicane towards the piscine, making it a fantastic spot from which to observe the race action, even if you’re not fortunate enough to have a ticket. Just don’t forget your binoculars!
Escape the Crowds
Below the popular Oceanographic Museum is the secluded Fisherman Cove. This hidden gem is reached via narrow steps leading down to a shallow, shingle beach and the cool, clear waters of the Mediterranean. Rarely occupied by more than a handful of Monegasque locals, it offers a peaceful suntrap and respite from the vibrant city.
If the beach doesn’t appeal, there are several gardens in Monaco that can provide a sense of escape and the chance to absorb natural beauty amidst the backdrop of the bustling city; the Princess Grace Rose Garden is probably the most traditional, while the Jardin Exotique de Monaco the most famous, but just a short walk from the centre is the lesser known, but no less beautiful Japanese Gardens. This Japanese-inspired garden strictly adheres to Zen principles, seamlessly harmonising stone, water and vegetation in the most serene and tranquil setting.
Not all evening entertainment in Monaco is about the glitz and glamour. For something a little more low-key, during July and August, those in-the-know head for the Monaco Open Air cinema behind the Oceanographic Museum. Here it is possible to spend a balmy summer evening watching the latest movie blockbuster with a glass of chilled rosé from the comfort of a cushioned lounge chair, as seagulls fly overhead and the sound of the sea rises from the rocks below.
From morning until night Monaco has something to offer for those keen to follow the path less travelled. If you are keen to explore the real Monaco, you’ll quickly come to appreciate the uniqueness of this compact principality as observed through the eyes of the locals.