It may be touted as the European destination for the uber wealthy holidaymaker to flaunt their enviable lifestyle aboard their multimillion-dollar superyacht, but I discovered the principality of Monaco is also perfect for a quick mother/daughter jaunt as part of a longer European trip.
Breakfast on the hotel terrace overlooking the Med gives me my Grace Kelly moment, and in keeping with the royal theme we plan a morning visit to the palace. The Prince’s Palace began life as a fortress in the 13th century and has been the official home of the ruling Grimaldi family for over 700 years. It was extensively restored by Prince Rainer III (father of the current monarch, Prince Albert II) and is open to visitors between June and October. Every day at 11:55am the changing of the guard ceremony is held in the main courtyard and thousands of people gather to watch the guards, known as the Compagnie des Carabiniers du Prince, go through their paces. During July, a series of outdoor concerts from the Monte Carlo Philharmonic are held in the courtyard.
The Monaco Cathedral is close to the palace and is where the royal family is buried, so it’s worth going inside to see Grace Kelly’s white marble tomb alone. The impressive Oceanographic Museum is also in this area, sitting dramatically on the side of a cliff overlooking the ocean. It was opened in 1910 and is just about as grand as the palace itself. Famous conservationist Jacques Cousteau himself was the director of the museum for 30 years and the 90 tanks hold more than 4,000 fish.
Monaco really is tiny (around the size of New York’s Central Park) so everywhere is easily walkable. We wandered down from the palace past the harbour stuffed with gleaming yachts and out to where the new Yacht Club was under construction (it opened in June). Sitting at the end of the harbour, it’s for members and visiting superyacht passengers only so, unless you fall into one of those categories, you’ll have to satisfy yourself with the façade of the stunning Norman Foster-designed building and the parade of beautiful people coming in and out.
Having taken our daily dose of culture, it was time to shop, so we kept walking around the harbour and into the Carre d’Or. If you’re looking for luxury brands, this is the place. It’s home to all the heavy hitters; Chanel, Hermes, Celine, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Prada and many more. But even Monegasques have to buy something other than €5,000 handbags and the daily market in the Place d’Armes is a charming slice of Provençal life. Wandering among the rows of fresh produce and flowers, munching on a pastry from one of the small bakeries, is a great way to spend a morning.
I’m pleased to discover the timing of the trip coincides with the annual lighting of the Christmas tree in Place du Casino. I can recommend a front row seat at the Café de Paris, a glass of champagne and a trusty camera for the occasion. It was a highlight of my trip. Christmas time also brings the festive markets that pop up all over Europe in December. The markets are a feast for the senses and each has its own atmosphere showcasing local produce, delicacies and handicrafts. I picked out some hand painted Christmas decorations and a beautiful silk scarf. The lights, sounds and festivities are dazzling for both children and adults alike. We wander along the boardwalk stopping to sample charcuterie delights followed by made-to-order chocolate crepes for dessert.
Before I know it, our Monaco mini-break is over. My small taste of the principality’s refined elegance, sophistication and classic chic had this tiny speck on the French Riviera heading straight to the top of my must-return list.
3 Places to eat
A must-visit for anyone who appreciates their meat, Beefbar prides itself on providing a selection of the best cuts of meat sourced from around the world. I’m proud to say we found grain-fed Angus beef from Rangers Valley in northern New South Wales on the menu but I opted for a baby fillet of Argentinian grass-fed Angus with a side of cream truffle mash. Potatoes are also taken seriously here and there is a menu of mashed options from smoky barbecue and lemon and lime, right up to caviar for €29 (about A$43) a bowl. beefbar.com
This Thai restaurant with a twist is a much-loved local haunt, headed by French chef Christophe Dupuy. We feast on grilled smoked prawns in red curry and spit roasted crispy duck. I’m told by the waiter that the marbled Wagyu rib of beef for two is a must have delicacy. But dessert is high on my agenda and I choose the Maya Sphere with banana ice cream, a crowd favourite. I see why when the red chocolate sphere melts away in spectacular glory as it’s engulfed by spicy chocolate sauce poured dramatically over-top. mayabay.mc
This swanky lounge bar perched above the sea specialises in seafood. We dined on crispy calamari and sautéed scallops followed by the finest yellowfin tuna slices I’ve ever tasted, coated in black and white sesame. The décor is nightclub-cool and it’s apparent this trendy hangout is the place to be seen. zelosworld.com