SHARE Credit: Christian Teillas

Ah, Monaco. Where to begin? What to discuss? Monaco is the dream topic for a lifestyle section, yet partly because of this it has been giving me a bit of a headache. Perhaps it would be easier if I had actually visited… anyone have a spare few thousand Euros they could lend me?

It’s not just the challenging track or the history of the event that makes this Grand Prix a special one. It’s something about the glitz and glamour of the principality itself. Credit: Christian Teillas
Credit: Christian Teillas


Firstly, a bit of history. How did Monaco come to be? It all starts on the Rock of Monaco. The name is possibly derived from the phrase ‘Herakles Monoïkos’ (Hercules alone). Apparently the Greek hero passed through the area, and the port is still called Port Hercules today.

Monaco fell under Roman rule before the fall of the empire, and there followed much fighting and recapturing and changing hands until June 10, 1215. Now a colony of Genoa, construction began on a fortress on the Rock of Monaco.

There was tension in Genoa between the Ghibellines, loyal to the Emperor, and the Guelphs, faithful to the Pope. Monaco was fought over by the two sides, until Francesco Grimaldi of the Guelph party captured the Rock of Monaco in 1297 dressed as a monk. Today the coat of arms depicts two armed Franciscan monks.

In 1861, Monaco exchanged part of its territory for cash and independence from France. Prince Charles III, ruler at the time, decided that tourism and gambling were the ways to kick-start the economy. He created the Société des Bains de Mer, and the company’s establishments developed into modern-day Monte Carlo. Monte Carlo actually means ‘Mount Charles’, after Charles III. Nowadays, the Société des Bains de Mer is Monaco’s largest employer. Credit: apbialek
Credit: apbialek

Random Facts

Monaco is the second-smallest country in the world, roughly the size of New York’s Central Park.

As well as one of the first major casinos in the world, the main square of Monte Carlo, Place du Casino, is home to Loews Casino, Café de Paris, Hotel Metropole and Hôtel de Paris. The Hôtel de Paris has two Michelin-starred restaurants: Le Grill, and Louis XV, which has three Michelin stars.

Honoré II, Lord of Monaco, was the first to be called Prince.

Until 2002, if the reigning prince produced no heirs, he could either adopt – and break the Grimaldi line – or Monaco would revert to French control. Now the crown can pass to women – sisters of the Prince or their descendants.

The official language is French, but the national Monégasque language has many similarities with Italian.

Native Monégasques are actually in the minority living in the principality (19%). Many of the residents move to Monaco, at least temporarily, because of… Credit: Stefano Bertolotti
Credit: Stefano Bertolotti

Money, Money, Money

Given that there is no income tax in Monaco, it is popular with wealthy Europeans. Back in 2002, it was estimated that the money leaving Britain for Monaco each year was a loss to the Treasury of £1 billion.

Monaco has an unemployment rate of 0% and the highest number of billionaires per capita in the world. The most expensive street in the world is Avenue Princesse Grace, named after film star Grace Kelly, who became part of the royal family when she married Prince Rainier III in 1956.

So how does it generate an income? Monaco was sustained by its casinos for years. (Although, interestingly, Monaco citizens cannot gamble in the casinos.) Tourism is still one of the main sources of income. However, if you’re planning a visit, make sure you take enough spending money – a glass of champagne can cost up to €40. Credit: CarSpotter
Credit: CarSpotter

Formula One and Monaco

If you’re going for the Grand Prix (lucky you), you can check out the car collection of Prince Rainier III at the Prince’s Palace, which boasts several F1 cars.

You can also spot celebrities: Will Smith, George Lucas, David Hasselhoff, Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio have all previously been in Monte Carlo for this most prestigious of Grands Prix.

And of course, you’re bound to spot an F1 driver, past or present. A popular place for them to stay is the Columbus Hotel, formerly owned by David Coulthard, where Vettel, Webber and Alonso have all stayed. Outside of the GP week, you might even run into Hamilton, Button, Coulthard, Rosberg, or one of the many F1 drivers that call the principality home.



Lauren Robertson - Lifestyle Editor
  • Berkley Myers

    Ah Monaco, I still have found memories of my day visit, unfortunately, Thursday before the 2000 GP. Just being there makes you kinda feel like part of the “in crowd”, even if you are on a Euro trip in college. Prices didn’t seem outrageous if you found the right places. You can actually go into, at least part of, the casino. Although there are no penny slots… For F1, at that time, EVERYTHING, was open to the public (or I just didn’t get caught?). I touched the McLaren car as it was in line for tech. inspection and sat on the seats of Ferrari pit wall center (before the new pit config.). As F1 fans, you wont get lost, since we already know every turn of the track and nearby landmark to see. It is truly an amazing place and I highly recommend a visit if you ever get the chance.

    • Where did you sit for the race?

      • Berkley Myers

        I was only able to stay for the day that Thursday :( train to catch. I sat in a number of grand stands just to see what the views were. Best viewing is probably from the hill/cliff Rocher. I like the seats at turn one, which if you are high enough you could see part of the swimming pool. At that time anyway. My first choice would be the stands coming out of the tunnel. Good view of an action spot, yachts and a nice harbor breeze. …no expense spot would be the rooftop hotel pool since you can see both the hairpin and alot of the back stretch.

        • It sounds incredible. It is definitely the one GP I desperately want to attend!

  • NeilM

    I’ve been there a number of times, and even driven round some portions of the track after they’d started setting it up the week before the race. You can’t drive it all because of the one way streets, which is probably just as well. The Monagasques aren’t looking for a rental car grand prix.

    Monte Carlo is actually a rather quiet and boring place other than while the F1 circus is in town. Of course if the megayacht you sailed in on is moored in the harbor, then I guess you brought your own entertainment.

    • I think that’s what’s so interesting about the street circuits – being able to drive parts of them ourselves! We can dream!

  • So my buddy went to Monaco a few years ago (not for the Grand Prix), and he text me from the hotel because he couldn’t figure out how to use the toilet in his hotel room. Apparently it was so small, it was impossible to sit on it. He ended up going to the lobby every time he need to drop the kids off at the pool.

    Of the city states on the calendar, I think I prefer Singapore as a destination a little more. It has the highest concentration of millionaires per capita in the world.

    • That’s a brilliant, bizarre story!

      Singapore would also be amazing, although I probably say that about most of the Grands Prix on the calendar…

  • Lauren, thank you for the tip re: Museum of Antique Automobiles; I didn’t know and would have lamented missing it.

    We’re literally on the tarmac waiting on the for departure; so excited. If only he gave a hoot about F1, we could have left in time for FP’s 1 and 2.

    Current generation hyper cars are blah, but it’ll be exciting seeing some vintage beauties on the road, no doubt helmed by distinguished, grey-templed yet somehow-still-boyish playboys flaunting this season’s arm candy; perhaps a 250 Lusso/Cal Spyder, or a 328 Roadster, 550 Spyder? Going to take the rental Opel Astra and challenge one to a street race :D

  • Greetings from a mostly pleasant Monaco! I realize this blog isn’t an audience travelog, but thought since Lauren’s done such a nice job introducing grands prix venues, some personal observations might be interesting to those contemplating a future trip. I personally feared Monaco’s damage to the bank account, and wanted to share my experience:

    In a phrase: Don’t Worry! Spending the day out, it’s clear Monaco caters to a broad demographic; upwardly-mobile, true, but a far cry from solely a tax haven for the absurdly wealthy. I’ve seen numerous cafe’s/pizzerieas where one can snag a meal for less than $10 Euros, been to 2 evening venues where base cocktails were around 10 Euros, have been recommended art gallery/museum/music locales that were either free or on par w/ US pricing. If one’s been to New York/San Francisco, the consumption costs are similar.

    Some specific observations:

    *Architecturally/geographically, it’s eerily-reminiscent of San Francisco’s Marina and Cow Hollow/Pac Heights neighborhoods, just concentrated. Veering into the truly vague, it’s a similar energy/vibe emanating off the community, save for the ridiculously extravagant yachts and a higher density of rare vehicles.

    *If traveling solely for the Grand Prix, forgo the rental car. Although cheap (70 Euros for an Astra), it’s completely unnecessary; like San Francisco but even more so, Monaco is a dense little sprawl, everything within walking distance or (trolley). If anything, walking is the best method of finding an interesting cafe/people watching (think 14th Arondissement, Paris).

    *Bring simple but finished clothing. No need for a tuxedo or suit proper, but nice slacks and a good sport coat will help a traveler blend. There’s a surprising number of 20’s hipster locals about, so jeans and t-shirts seem fine, depending on plans. Typically European, clothing fits properly, as opposed to us lazy Americans :D.

    *Marriott Riveria: Great location, exorbitant-but-expected due to the GP (lodging is ridiculous in-town). Our harbor view is excellent, but the mountain-scapes of opposing rooms might be even better. Unlike several other options, few surcharges (included parking, appealing-looking comp. breakfast, an impressive array of free minibar liquors). The suite itself is minimalist but well-furnished, smaller than a true suite, but absolutely finee.

    Note: A very attractive resident couple recommended staying in Nice and driving in next time; beautiful, a great drive/easy transit, less expensive. I would have taken this route if my decision.

    *Museum of Antique Automobiles-Absolute can’t-miss during GP weekend. 6 Euros for access to some fantastic machinery, from an Audi R18 LMP1 to an Alfa Coda tronca SZ, A Ferrari 640 F1, and personal star of the show, a stunning Bugatti Type 35B, winner of the 1st Monaco GP. I don’t know if the French blue was original, but it was so amazingly patina’d, just an evocative old race car.

    *Larvotto Beach-Even with average weather today, beautiful women littered this evocative beachfront. Single guys, you’ve found Mecca.

    *Elsa-contemporary French “casual fine dining.” Sparse, modern yet relaxed. Food fine, expected quality for 30-Euro entrees/100 Euro prix fixe. Lacks personality; I’m sure there’s better for less.

    *Cote-Jardin-Spectacular brunch, Provencal style cuisine, great views. Worth the 60 Euro prix fixe.

    *La Brasserie de Monaco-A fantastic little gastro-brewpub/lounge mashup, for lack of better descriptors. We popped in post-Auto museum today, finding tasty bar snacks and a great happy hour. Artisanal local brews for 6 Euros (4 during Happy hour), a beautiful vista view, a seemingly local crowd.

    Overall, I’d heartily encourage visiting, even excluding the GP.

    Apologies if scattershot, typing before dinner

    • This is absolutely fabulous – thanks for leaving your own experiences. Perhaps you should submit a Monaco piece next year!

      I’m really glad you managed to catch the automobile museum and found it worth your time. And the comparison with the costs of New York, for example, is very useful. It sounds like you’ve had a wonderful time.

      Thanks again for for providing even more information about this destination!

  • Being allowed to walk a 2-lane road where hours before F1 cars were Qualifying, and in several hours time F1 cars will be racing, is a unique experience. As is seeing a drunk dude puking on the tarmac near a Hotel de Paris fountain in Casino Square. Poor traction indeed!

  • Rik

    I was in Monaco this past January. It’s a 20 minute drive from the Nice airport provided there’s no road construction.

    I was smart/stupid and stay’d in Monaco at the Fairmont Hotel. Nice place with a casino in the lobby. Rooms were nice sized and clean. For the prices they’d better be.

    In the non GP weekend’s you can drive the entire course as I took the rental car around and around and around. After about 10pm the one’s with excess monies seem to want to stage their own mini Ferrari/ Lamborghini GP on the same course. Guess the police know who not to bother or are paid a hefty allowance during these hours.

    I ate on the start straight at a restaurant that was actually in the street called “Ristorante Italiano” and it was not expensive by any means. Very comparable to what San Francisco meals cost only in Euro’s rather than dollars.

    Monaco is a town of immigrants as the local’s do not perform the labor task and as thus there is a big swing in the population during the day and after 5 pm it get’s quiet after the Italian workers leave on their little scooters… What a crazy bunch of people they are on those kamikaze bikes. Everyone speaks of how may have died that week on those and honestly driving amongst them it’s easy to see why as they have absolutely no common sense while sitting on those things. Be prepared if you are driving in Monaco during working hours to be swarmed by rabid scooters driven by the young as well as the old, female and male. They will dive bomb in front of you with head on traffic coming and in the rain to make it worst while you are stuck behind a fellow car they will squeeze between you both in the braking area for the tight twisty roads that Monaco is famous for. It is a pure pain the butt!! Not a place for the timid to drive to say the least.

    Only people with the MC plates can drive to the palace.. Others have to drive to a parking area and take the lift to the castle area and walk in. There are guards to ensure that this stay’s this way too.

    Once you are in the town, being its small size, it’s hard to get lost. Easy to get frustrated but not lost.

    The town seems to have been carved out of a rocky hillside so there are no beaches as the coast line is purely rock. The ocean is blue a beautiful. The views are absolutely beautiful as well.

    One thing I can say though is that people avoid eye contact and no one smiles… Strange…

    Going back in July so maybe it will be different in the summer months,

    Smarter to stay in Nice if budgets are a problem as they are so close to one another. Italy is also very close but Ventimiligia is not a pretty town by any measure.

    • I really appreciate people adding their own experiences of the cities, because it’s brilliant to have proper insider information! From things like not being able to drive to the palace to the social side of things, it’s excellent to get more information. Thanks for getting involved, Rik!

  • Frank Rapisardi

    I was at Monaco this year as a member of the press .You can visit the museum which holds Rainier’s collection . My friend , Serge Dermanian of Nice was the curator of the Rainier Collection for years . Monaco was GREAT this year , 2014 .

  • Nice article Lauren. Monaco is also my ultimate favorite destination. Can’t go wrong during the Film Festival or summer.