Take Five: Monaco for Real People

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The principality of Monaco is small—just less than one square mile spread thin on the Mediterranean coast hugging France. However, Monaco has managed to pack more glamour into one tiny country than most countries have in their capital city.

Somehow, there is still room for budget travelers. The rich and famous flock to Monte-Carlo during the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix, but we’ve found five other spots to visit once the race wraps up and summer kicks into high gear. Sure, you could ooh and aah over the grand Casino de Monte-Carlo and the string of Lamborghinis and Bentleys parked out front, but dig a bit deeper and you’ll find a side of Monaco that will charm more than break the bank.

If you’re headed there this summer, don’t miss the Monte-Carlo Sporting Summer Festival. This is when the principality really pops—literally—with an international fireworks competition throughout July and August, and a star-studded lineup of performances, which kicked off with Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett on the Fourth of July.

And once you’re done with Monte-Carlo, there are three other less tourist-filled districts to explore—Monaco-Ville with the old town and prince’s palace, the new waterfront district of Fontvieille, and the Condamine port area—and we’ve found five budget-friendly spots spread throughout. We’d like to say these are some of Monaco’s best hidden gems, favored among the locals but less likely to appear in guidebooks flaunting something deemed more “fabulous,” but even Monaco’s best-kept secrets draw a regal following, including the prince himself.

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Port of Fontvieille

1. Slammers

Slammers in the Condamine is nothing special in appearance and lacks the glitz you’d find in many Monte-Carlo lounges, but the welcoming atmosphere is what makes this place a favorite for first-timers and locals alike. Thirty-something’s in suits swing by for post-work cocktails brushing elbows with everyone from CEOs to the prince himself, known to frequent the watering hole to watch sports matches on the big screens.

2. L’Escale

You’re so close to Italy, you can taste it, especially at L’Escale. This authentic favorite is one of the oldest restaurants in Monaco. Located across from Port Hercule, diners can eye the luxury yachts docked on the quay from a seat on the bustling outdoor terrace. Inside, the nautical theme reigns throughout from the dark wood accents to the walls lined with portholes and captain wheels. The Italian staff will likely recommend trying one of the signature fish dishes, but be sure to also snag a portion of spicy octopus and a glass of Vermentino to start.

3. Les Perles de Monte-Carlo

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In 2011, two biologists set up their very own oyster nursery on the harbor in Fontvieille, dubbing it Les Perles de Monte-Carlo. In just a few years they’ve made a name for themselves cultivating some of the best oysters in the region. You can find the oysters at spots around Monaco (they also happen to be in demand by the royal family), but it’s more fun to start at the source sampling the shellfish served casually on outdoor wooden tables overlooking the water.

4. Marché de la Condamine

Visitors think the Monegasques only dine at ritzy restaurants, but this indoor market off the Place d’Armes in the Condamine area is a popular meeting place for locals. Stroll through the stands of regional specialties from Monaco, Corsica, France and Italy, and don’t miss the flavorful Truffle Gourmet stand. After you’ve decided on lunch, post up at one of the picnic tables between a mix of Monegasques, Italians and French in the cozy wooden hall. Just outside in the square you’ll find a more traditional Provençal-style market with local produce and goods.

5. K11 Concept Store

Walking through Monte-Carlo, you can find all the best—and most exclusive—designer boutiques. Céline, Cartier, Chanel … you name it, it’s probably here in one of the futuristic new bubble-shaped pop-up pavilions perfectly placed outside of the casino. If you can’t afford to drop two grand on a handbag, or are looking for something more off-the-beaten-path, K11 Concept Store is your place. The two-floor bohemian-chic boutique sells international designer labels as well as housewares and funky knick-knacks that you’ll surely find a home for.

Lane Nieset is a freelance writer covering all things travel from her home base in Nice, France.

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