So you want to visit a principality about the size of Central Park, packed with (depending who you ask) more Michelin stars per capita than any country in the world, and you want to do it right. Well, it's hard to go wrong, but here are a few tips for a high-rolling weekend in Monaco.
It's all about the arrival.
If there's a more dramatic way to make an entrance than this, I'd like to know. Upon landing at the airport in Nice, head to your helicopter. Yes, helicopter. You could take a car on a quick drive, but why would you? Instead, climb aboard your “heli,” strap yourself in, grin at your travel partner, and before you can say, “When do we take off?,” you're airborne. Better than a roller coaster, the euphoria-inducing lift-off is a rapid, rocking, cacophonous few seconds before you're soaring over the Côte d'Azur. For seven minutes, the smile won't leave your face as you try to decide whether to soak in the birds’ eye view of sea and coastline or snap a million photos. Then, voilá, you've landed on the heli-pad near the center of town, and it's time for the rest of your adventure.
Sleep in style.
You've booked a room in one of the legendary hotels – maybe the Hôtel Métropole, maybe the Hermitage, or perhaps the Hotel de Paris. It's tempting to swash about your opulent room or lounge around the lobby, soaking up the luxe atmosphere, but Monte Carlo awaits.
Shop ‘til you drop.
Even if you're only here to lèche-vitrine – window shop – this is pretty much the ultimate activity. Spangled with the crème de la crème of design houses, not to mention showrooms boasting the gleaming cars of your dreams, Monte Carlo is fantasy come true for shoppers. Lose yourself in the perfumed (it even smells like money in here) Métropole Shopping Center with its dozens of marble-ensconced luxury shops under a massive chandelier, and maybe pick up a bauble or two. Or head to the famed Cercle d’Or by the (also famed) casino to peruse the latest from Hermès, Prada, Dior, and the rest of the gang.
Dine like a billionaire.
If you're willing to splurge, you can live like the local jetsetter – for a couple of hours at mealtime, anyway. Fancy dining at the table of the most Michelin-starred chef in the world? Book dinner at the Mediterranean-influenced Joël Robuchon at the Hôtel Metropole. Longing to check a Ducasse dining experience off your list? Make a reservation at Alain Ducasse à l’Hôtel de Paris when it reopens in late winter. The restaurant where Ducasse earned his inaugural three-star review recently underwent what the New York Times called a dazzling – even by Monaco standards – makeover, and now the hotel is getting its own lavish redo.
Eat like the rest of us.
If the constellation of Michelin stars is overwhelming, fear not. Judging by the number of restaurants and cafés with happy patrons spilling out onto sidewalks, nobody around here cooks (honestly, who can blame them?), so options abound for your next meal. Immerse yourself in a play on a quintessential Parisian bistro at Le Bouchon, where classics like escargot, beef tartare, steak frites, and crème brûlée served up in a setting inspired by the classic bistros of the City of Light will win you over. If it's time for a break from French and Mediterranean fare, get to Maya Bay for flavors of Thailand and Asia in a sleek setting.
It’s tourist time.
You know you want to do it. Take a little jaunt up to the palace once home to Princess Grace, where you can traipse through with admirers from the world over, ooh-ing at the royal apartments. While you're up on the grounds originally home to a fortress, check out the spectacular views over the harbor and city. The other can't-miss in Monaco is the museum of marine science and aquarium, the Musée Océanographique. You'll want to allot a good chunk of a morning or afternoon here; the aquariums and their marvelous creatures alone are spellbinding.
Give in and people watch.
It's impossible to resist. Grab a seat at the Café de Paris and let the show commence. Monaco is the playground of the unimaginably wealthy, and they bring all their toys to town. See how many Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and so-exotic-they’re-unrecognizable cars you can count before you lose track. Check out the parade of haute couture and the sun glinting off diamonds as you sip a glass of bubbly, then take a stroll down to the harbor to wonder just who travels aboard the those yachts.
Pick your lucky number.
Monte Carlo is a different city after night falls, when the cruise day-trippers have retreated and the high rollers are out in force. Slip into your slinkiest dress or most dapper jacket, channel your inner James Bond star of choice, and join them at the Casino de Monte Carlo, which is every bit as glamorous as you've imagined. Even if you're not gambling, your heart will race as you watch fistfuls of 500 euro chips tumble onto the tables. If it's tempting to join them, maybe stash your cash instead. You'll need it to come back to Monaco next time.