When you have just one day to visit Monaco with a couple of petrol heads, here’s our fast-track around Monaco.
Last month during the fall break, we headed for southern France in hopes of catching some late season sunshine. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be but as we were close to Monaco, we knew that that was on the agenda for when the rain let up.
And it did! It took four days and most of the DVD collection in our rental (movie marathon, here we go!) but then we were off. From Fréjus, where we were staying, it’s 85 km to the city-state. As we took the scenic route along the Mediterranean as much as possible, it took a bit longer than 1.5h but there we were.
We approached the Princedom from the Nice direction facing the top of the massive rockface that Monaco mostly is. Since the state is just 2km2, every meter is used. Driving into the city, therefore, takes you literally down through that rock. The Albert II tunnel that was finalized in 2016, is finished to a T, well lit and sign-posted. Entering from above (210 meters), you make it through this ant’s nest (this is what it must feel like for ants) along a, at times, quite steep gradient out of the rock on the other side (24 meters height).
It almost felt as if we were F1 drivers already, trying to take in what you see along the way and making split-second decisions. Coming to roundabouts and well, since the directions on the signposts meant nothing to us, flying by the seat of our pants. We solved the direction issue by just following whatever tunnel seemed to descend more.
The Monte Carlo part of Monaco’s F1 track
It worked! And from where we emerged, we had entered part of the F1 track apparently. I guess the city is small enough that when you see enough of the races on TV and/or play the game version, you can find your way around it.
Which is just what we did, following the 3.3km long track mainly through the Monte Carlo neighbourhood. Past the Casino, the sharp Fairmont hairpin corners, through the tunnel and along the harbor front we went. A quick way around the city and a lot of the highlights too.
Effective Use of Space in Monaco
With that done, we set about finding somewhere to park. Always fun when you’re somewhere for the first time. Fortunately, parking was well sign-posted and we entered a massive parking building. there are levels for regulars with amazing cars: Porsches, Lamborghinis, high-end Mercedes, and even a Rolls. All squeezed into the tightest spaces imaginable. Amazing! One for the fact that such expensive (though maybe that’s mid-range in this arena) cars are kept in such tiny spaces. On the other hand, though, we just 2 km2 to play with, very smart and practical.
As, as it turns out, so is this parking building. Entering it from the bottom, you drive past the ‘member’ parking spots upward until you find availability to park. This is being made easy by the lights on the ceiling above each space with either red (taken) or green (free) colours. As you drive up the spiraling drive, all you need to look for is a green sheen along its corridors. Park and then take the elevator down towards the beach/harbourfront, or up to the upper streets.
Arriving on top, you step off the elevator into the city garden space with a great view. You don’t even realize that you are in fact on top of a building that has been set as close to the rock face as possible, as you can see from this picture from the stairwell. From the top city garden, you simply set onto the sidewalk and continue your way along the street. Talking about the effective use of space!
After we parked we first took the elevator down and then walked along the way to use one of the many pedestrian ‘tunnels or walkways’ underneath the streets. We thus ended up on the bottom side of the F1 track route. All because the petrol heads needed a good picture of the famous tunnel.
Before we got to take that picture however we descended further towards the Mediterranean, to the Avenue Princesse Grace. Here both the Grimaldi Forum and the Japanese Garden are located. The Forum which is used for a combination of art ranging from opera and dance to exhibitions and congresses. It was built 20 years ago on a piece of land that was created by damming and draining part of the Med. Something that clearly worked so well, that less than a ten meters away they’re doing it again; the only way to expand Monaco’s square footage. Since a sports congress was taking place at the Forum and as we didn’t have a lot of time we didn’t visit.
Instead, we sauntered into the neighbouring Japanese garden. It’s a lovely, in Zen-spirit laid out garden that has everything you’d expect in it a waterfall, the teahouse and bamboo partitions. Fun fact: the trees here are indigenous to the area but have been shaped to look Japanese.
The garden is free and makes for a nice and tranquil (well, as far as that’s possible with the land winning right on the other side of the iron partition) activity. Strolling around to view the Koi carp and read the plaques with information on the design helps too when you’re waiting while others view the expensive cars in the windows across the street.
Monaco and the knight of NI
Following the shoreline we reach the Ni-Box building that straddles the street and as such forms the desired F1 picture. Here the cars re-emerge from their lap through the mountain on race day. Next to the road and the entrance to the building sits this life-sized statue.
If you ever wanted to go bowling, there’s an alley right inside the Ni* Box building (* am I the only one who keeps thinking about Monty Python’s knight of Ni, here?). What is even better, is the fact that it also boasts a Starbucks coffee store at the very top. Its rooftop terrace immediately overlooks the entrance to the tunnel, part of the city, and the Mediterranean. From here you also have a great view of the construction of the artificial island. It will contain housing, parking, and parks to alleviate the growing demand for all those who want to live in Monaco.
We simply have to sit and watch, basking in the sun with a latte in hand. I may not have cared that much for Starbucks when we lived in Toronto but funnily enough, I do miss it now that I can’t just go that easily anymore. Fickle mind!
The top of the building, like the aforementioned parking garage, has been amalgamated with the street level. From there you look straight up at Hotel Fairmont. For fans, yep, the Fairmont Hairpin, apparently the slowest F1 corner of all of the circuits (the things you learn!).
We keep climbing until we reach the Monte Carlo Casino and the gardens in front and around it. They are stunning! If or when we return sometime, we’ll start here! Partly because the Tourist information office is located on the other end of the gardens that end at Blv de Moulins, mostly because of how much there is to see. Luscious greens, separated by palm trees and well-maintained gravel paths interspersed by flowerbeds and fountains.
The richly decorated historic building itself oozes class and not just due to the myriad of expensive vehicles that surround it. I love how the buildings around it seem to fit the area, especially seeing as they haven’t been made to fit the historical style but instead are modern with lots of gleaming windows. A very well thought out design. x
We take it all in. We wander and absorb the last rays of sun before it sinks behind the mountain range that embraces the small city.
Whether you are a history buff, are looking for a combination of sun and water, like to spot expensive cars or the F1 draws you here, Monaco has it all. As we make it back to the car, we promise to come back here. Je reviendrais, I will return.
Would the race draw you here? The casino? Or just the beautiful surroundings basking in the sun?