Photo courtesy of Visit Monaco
When it comes to packing luxury, beauty, and glamour into one small space, it's hard to beat the principality of Monaco. In just two square kilometers, you've got the Monte Carlo casinos, over 1,000 shops bearing the top names in fashion, the timeless class of Princess Grace, beautiful views of the Mediterranean, and there seems to be a Ferrari parked on every corner. To top it off, once a year the curving streets are filled with Formula 1 racecars for one of the most recognized races in the world - the Monaco Grand Prix.
Even if you're not a high roller, Monaco makes for a great travel destination for all of the traditional reasons - accommodations, beaches, weather, food, and activities. It's also a destination that is very friendly to a variety of travelers, with all signs posted in English, French, and Italian.
The nearest international airport is in Nice, France, which is about a 30-minute cab ride through the mountains to the principality. However, you're going to visit Monaco, so why not do what the locals do and take a seven-minute helicopter ride on Heli Air Monaco? Flights leave every 15 minutes and give you stunning views of Monaco as you approach from over the Mediterranean.
Le Meridien Beach Plaza Monte Carlo is the only hotel in Monte Carlo with access to its own private beach. Take a dip, sit on a beach chair, or sit on one of the white couches of Alang Bar which looks out onto the ocean and enjoy your favorite cocktail served in the form of a popsicle - or as they say in Europe - an ice-lolly.
The Fairmont Monte Carlo also offers great views of the Mediterranean from its top floor outdoor pool, or gaze out onto the ocean from your own private deck outside your room. The other side of the hotel is the perfect place to look down on the hairpin turn made famous by the Grand Prix.
For something extraordinary, try a Thai meal that is anything but ordinary. The dining experience at Maya Bay starts when they hand you a 70-page bound book, with each page showing an amazing dish that combines Thai and Japanese recipes with the fresh seafood found along the French Riviera. It's a great read, and an even better dinner.
Located in Port de Monaco, Explorers Pub is where you'll want to grab a spot and enjoy the food and drink at this gastro-pub while watching the extraordinary yachts come and go.
Port de Monaco is also where you'll find Stars N Bars. If you're missing your American hamburgers from back home, you can munch one on their outdoor patio while enjoying a beer. The walls of the restaurant also make up the Celebrity Sports Museum, which contains loads of sports memorabilia, including items from the Grand Prix and even an F1 car donated by world-champion Mika Hakkinen.
No visit to Monaco is complete without a visit to the famed Casino de Monte Carlo. Located in a castle-like building, this casino is more James Bond than casual Vegas. Jackets are required after 8 p.m. and there is an admission fee, but it's worth it even if you only go in to look around.
The Prince's Palace is the private residence of Prince Albert II, but the State Apartments are open for public visits during different times of the year. Stop by just before noon to see the changing of the guard outside, then head inside to soak up the decor and admire the antiques.
Monaco is inextricably linked with automobiles, and HSH, The Prince of Monaco's Vintage Car Collection is the place to see where racing and luxury driving have come together over the years. The collection contains over 100 cars, including six that belonged to Prince Rainier III.
Monaco is the sort of place that has, over the years, built up a mystique for glamour and international flair. Those who visit will find themselves immersed in the stunning reality of this famous place.
What is your favorite geographically small country to visit?
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