travel monaco

monaco more than just motor racing

You don't need to be Michael Schumacher to drive at Monaco. Jonathan Crouch On The Perils and Pleasures Of Dropping Into The Principality During Your Next Trip To France

Down the curving pits straight, then flick right through St Devote, up the hill to the casino, down to Tabac, then change down to second for the Loews hairpin. Then flick right into the tunnel before shooting out into the brilliant sunlight and down to the Chicane. Then down the tree-lined quayside to the left hander, Portiers, before the left-right-right-left flicks that take you round the swimming pool. Now we're on the last part of the lap, running down to the last, tight right at La Rascasse, past the Grand Prix Bar. Now you're only a short spurt uphill to take you back onto the main straight. Congratulations. You've just completed a lap of Monaco in...32 minutes and 55 seconds.

Outside of that famous weekend in early June, any lap of the public roads that make up Monte Carlo's famous Grand Prix circuit is going to take about this long, give or take ten minutes. Which in itself tells you much of what you need to know about the world's richest principality.

Over-crowded, over-populated and over-stuffed with cash, Monaco has it all - not all of it good. But still the lure of the place is as strong as ever.

So, given that you're just got to go there, even if it's only once (and it probably will be) on your next trip through France, what about some top travelling tips? Well, I'm afraid I can't offer any. It would be great to be able to recommend you to a cheap but quality off-the-beaten-track hotel that serves fine French cuisine but asks Bed and Breakfast prices. It would be ideal if I could suggest a restaurant full of local colour and free from tourists and rip-off menus. The problem is, I don't know any - and nor do any of the guide books I consulted.

The only thing I can do is to offer advice which my wife and I completely ignored driving our couple of days in Monaco. Namely, don't stay there - you'll get far better value just a mile or so away over the border in France - or even better, half an hour away across the border in Italy. Secondly, don't eat there, unless you're able to confine yourself to a slice of pizza or a packet of frites from the kiosk on the harbour front. The restaurants will slaughter your Visa card. Thirdly, if you can't face the idea of driving round the hopelessly overcrowded streets, don't get a taxi. Per square mile, the arbitrary tariffs must be the highest in the world.

In other words, make Monaco a quick diversion from your Mediterranean meander through the South of France. Drop off the auto route, drive round the Grand Prix track, ogle at the opulence of the Casino, take each other's picture against the millionaire yachts in the harbour, then get out before the place seriously attacks your wallet. The alternative of course, is to be completely irresponsible - and it's one I heartily recommend. If you're up for that, here's a quick resume of what you'll need to do.

First and foremost, it's simply not done to arrive in Monaco by road. Even if it wasn't socially unacceptable in anything less than a Ferrari, a Bentley or a Porsche, there are the purely practical issues to consider. Like the fact that there's hardly any parking and that what there is costs, on a daily basis, the price of a small bungalow in Rotherham. Best all told then, to dump the car at Nice airport and grab a helicopter shuttle. Alright, so you could hire a Corsa for two weeks for the same money - but if hiring and driving a Corsa for two weeks is your idea of fun, what are you doing going to Monaco anyway?

Now on to accommodation. Here, there's some good news. The most expensive is not necessarily the best. The nouveau riche will book suites in the Hermitage or the Hotel de Paris up near the casino - and be dismissed as nouveau riche. This, after all, was where Del Boy and Rodney stayed as short-term millionaires in the most recent episode of 'Only Fools and Horses'. Enough said.

So where will you find the people in the know? The answer is at places like the Hotel Columbus out near the heliport. It isn't just that this is the hotel owned by F1 racing driver David Coulthard - although that helps, given that you're likely to bump into the odd celebrity on your way down to breakfast. It's more that this understatedly classy little place is just so.well, just so convenient. Just a few steps away from your helicopter transfer, it means that you can go from Nice airport to a hot bubble bath in the space of less than half an hour. It's also far enough away from the main harbour to be mercifully free of tourists, yet near enough to make the main attractions of the principality a ten minute cycle ride away. Yes, free bicycles are provided so that you can side-step the preying taxi people. The rooms are simple, yet stylish and the bar is the place to be in Monaco of an evening. So much so that Prince Albert often drops by for a quick nightcap before bed.

Once comfortably settled here, you can fell quite smug about your choice of pied a terre, wish the Flying Scotsman luck in his Mclaren on your way out to dinner and flash your Visa card with the best of them over at Hugo Boss down in the town. Frugality? Value for money? Careful budgeting? Who needs it? There's no place for any of that here. Which means that if you really want to get away from the hassles and restrictions of everyday life, it's probably just what you need.