They say the South of France is a short season, with the really good weather only happening May – September. To a degree that is true, but sitting outside on this windy October evening we felt a world away from the rainy UK. It also felt much calmer than you would expect. Grand Prix weekend I’m amazed you can move in Monaco, given how small the place is, but things are different as the summer disappears. As the evening drew to a close we headed back to our friends apartment which is just off Boulevard d’Italie. I suppose a bit like being in London, the nice thing about being with locals is that you get a real appreciation for a place, rather than just assuming its what you se on the telly.
Saturday morning started with a track-walk. OBVIOUSLY that’s what it started with. My hosts for the weekend couldn’t quite fathom why I was excited about a tunnel, or an awkward hairpin turn next to a hotel, but there we are. The first hotel suggestion was the Hermitage. It is an achingly beautiful place, but there are “Grand Tours” and there are GRAND Tours. We do a lot with our budget, but we cannot turn water into wine. There’s also an NH Hotel, which would do the job nicely if I was on a coach-driven sightseeing tour with my mum. But most obvious, and the one I think I’d decided on well in advance, was The Fairmont. There are many reasons for this, but mostly because it’s so iconic, and it’s at one of the corners of the Grand Prix circuit. The quality of the hotel is high end, but it’s not boutiquey. You wouldn’t go there on your honeymoon, but you’d be very happy parking up for a few nights here when the carnival is in town. The other upside is that the nicer cars get parked out front. So if you don’t mind having your Ferrari/McLaren/Trabant appearing in Instagram posts of random Japanese tourists, then it’s quite a fun thing to do.
Having taken in a few hotels, we now turn our attention to the drinking spots. If you’re looking for fun you cannot beat The Rascasse. Apart from being a corner in its own right, it’s also a great big bar with live music at the weekends, and more Rose flowing than you can shake a stick at. It also seems to be frequented almost exclusively by British expats (if you like that sort of thing). Stars and Bars also gets a mention here. This place has a tonne of history, and the walls are adorned with overalls of drivers from yesterday, and frequented (allegedly) by all the current test drivers when they’re off duty. The only downside is that being at the far-end of the port means it’s a bit of stroll from the main drag. There is also Cafe Miramar (now closed) perched on the hill on the run up to Casino Square. The views overlooking the harbour are just lovely, but I could never understand why it was always so quiet. perhaps it’s one of those tourist places that the local never bother with. Finally we rolled in to The Tip Top Bar. This really is one of Monaco’s hidden gems. It’s cheap and cheerful, a great vibe of locals and the occasional tourist, and also bang-on the circuit! Oh, and my 72 year old uncle remembers going there in his youth?!?!?!