I vividly remember the stories my Mum told me of her trip to Monaco in the eighties: the lavish accommodations and restaurants, the beautiful people and her evening in the Monte Carlo Casino where she rubbed shoulders with the world’s rich and famous. Since then, I’d always wanted to visit this little principality in the south of France, one of the world’s smallest countries and till today, a favourite haunt of celebrities and billionaires. The opportunity to visit Monaco (map) landed in my lap when I was invited to speak at the Amadeus Travel Leaders Connect conference. I said ‘YES’ immediately and when I received the travel arrangements a while later, I couldn’t contain my excitement! They’d arranged a helicopter transfer from Nice Airport to Monaco and accommodation at one of the grand dames in Monaco: the Hotel Hermitage! I was impressed!
Arriving in Monaco by helicopter
I arrived at Nice Airport (the closest international airport to Monaco) and was met by a representative of Monacair, who guided me to their counter where I received a boarding pass. Taking the helicopter transfer from Nice Airport to Monaco is a great way to enjoy the views of the French Riviera coastline and avoid the notorious traffic jams. After a short wait, I was ushered into a van which brought me to the helipad. It was a swift seven-minute flight but the views were stunning and while I sat in the helicopter, I chuckled at the thought of arriving in Monaco like a rock star!
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Upon our arrival at the heliport in Monaco and a quick passport check, I was driven to the Hotel Hermitage in the heart of Monte Carlo. Monaco is indeed tiny – the limo driver laughed when I asked him where the city centre was! – and we passed some famous sights along the way such as the Royal Palace and the marinas packed with impressive yachts.
My stay at the Hotel Hermitage Monte Carlo
We soon arrived at the Hotel Hermitage Monte Carlo, a palace-like hotel with a bevy of gleaming cars at its doorstep. I felt like a true jet-setter when I stepped inside the elegant lobby.
After a swift check-in, I continued to my room on the first floor. I loved the beautiful Belle Epoque paintings that adorned the walls of the hallway and the gorgeous chandelier in the atrium.
My room turned out to be rather spacious with a sizeable bathroom. I quickly chucked my things and explored the rest of the hotel.
There were two highlights for me: a large terrace with panoramic views of Monaco and the Winter Garden with its spectacular dome designed by Gustav Eiffel (who also designed the Eiffel Tower).
A stroll around Monaco
I had five hours to kill before the first conference event so I embarked on a stroll around Monaco. The first thing I noticed was how spotless everything looked. The second thing: the expensive cars! I spotted many Bentley’s, Ferrari’s, Maserati’s and Lamborghini’s during the first ten minutes alone! The third thing: the proliferation of luxury boutiques, art galleries and banks. I also noticed how packed the city is with buildings, winding roads, countless tunnels and pockets of greenery. With a land area of just 2.02 square kilometers (or 0.78 square miles), a fair bit of it reclaimed from the Mediterranean Sea, and a population of almost 40,000, Monaco is the world’s second-smallest and most densely-populated country in the world. Add the hilly landscape with steep slopes and you’ll start to appreciate this city-state as an engineering marvel!
My first stop was arguably Monaco’s most iconic building: the Casino de Monte-Carlo. Since its opening in the 19th century, the Casino has become a symbol of Monaco’s glamorous lifestyle, and has been featured in various James Bond movies. Visitors are allowed to enter the main foyer for free but there’s a strict door policy for the casino.
From here, I walked down the Avenue D’Ostende to the marina at Quai Albert 1st, passing the Princess Grace Theatre and the Monaco Yacht Club. The marina was packed with luxurious yachts, some so huge, they were practically ships! I walked along the promenade to the other end and continued up the hill towards the Palace and the adjacent old town, also collectively known as Monaco-Ville, situated on a rocky promontory (the Rock of Monaco). It was an easy uphill walk and the views of Monaco from the path were stunning!
I reached the top to find a little maze of charming streets lined by colourful houses (typical of this part of the Mediterranean). The atmosphere was distinctly different: a more grounded feel compared to the glitz of Monte Carlo.
I stopped for a delicious and reasonably-priced lunch at Pasta Roca, an Italian restaurant in one of the narrow streets (Rue Comte Felix Gastaldi), before continuing to the Palace. As I navigated the streets, I had a bit of fun stopping at the windows of real estate offices to gawk at the prices! Monaco is one of the richest countries in the world (in terms of GDP per capita) with the lowest poverty rate and the highest number of millionaires and billionaires per capita. The real estate prices were a good indication of the amount of wealth in this city-state.
From the Palace, I walked down the hill to the La Condamine neighbourhood (directly behind the port/marina). Monaco seems so ‘otherworldly’ that when I stumbled upon a children’s playground, my first (somewhat bizarre) thought was, “Wow, they have those here too!”. The La Condamine neighbourhood, with its elegant Belle Epoque-style buildings, was gorgeous. I especially loved the colours of the buildings and their iron-lace balconies.
From here, I made my way back up the hill to Monte Carlo in time for the conference’s opening reception. As I approached the Hotel Hermitage, I stopped and gaped, one more time, at the collection of expensive cars at its doorstep.
I then walked through the hotel lobby, past smartly-dressed people, my chin up and with an air of a rock star. For just a few moments, that’s indeed what I felt like! 😉
My Monaco visit lasted only 24 hours but it was fun to get a feel of its jet-set glamour! There are other places I would have liked to visit such as the Japanese Gardens, the Oceanographic Museum and its beaches but perhaps another time.
Notes: the Euro is the currency used in Monaco. It’s a pricey place so be prepared! 😉 You can visit Monaco on a full-day tour from Nice. Want to feel like a rock star? Tour Monaco in a Lamborghini or opt for a helicopter tour in Monaco. Check out other tours in Monaco.