May marks the beginning of high season Monaco, the second smallest country in the world, thanks to the Formula One Grand Prix race that winds its way through the principality in a two-mile loop. Every May since 1929, the petite principality set on a 2.5-mile stretch of coastline transforms into one of the chicest racetracks in the world, frequented by everyone from Brad Pitt to Liz Hurley.
The circuit passes through most of the country (it may be small, but its windy roads are mighty), and much of the excitement happens in Monaco’s most popular and glamorous municipality, Monte Carlo. Drivers whizz past the glitzy establishments as the route wraps around Monte Carlo’s most famous square, the Place du Casino. The track then goes past Hôtel de Paris, curving right by the Mirabeau and taking the slowest turn of the circuit past the Fairmont Monte Carlo.
If you are visiting Monaco for the 73rd Grand Prix (May 21-24, 2015) and want to experience Monte Carlo in its full glory, follow our map to the best pit stops along the racetrack.
Le Bar Américain
Nestled into the corner of the Place du Casino, Le Bar Américain is a chic spot to grab a pre-dinner cocktail or nightcap within prime views of the famously ornate Casino de Monte-Carlo. Located off the grand lobby in the Hôtel de Paris, a spot you may recognize from its appearance in James Bond films, the bar’s cigar lounge feel makes it seem like a spot you would’ve found Hemingway and his crew hanging out in. Sit back in a leather armchair listening to a live jazz ensemble in the corner while sipping one of the spot’s classic cocktails. This year marks the hotel’s 150th anniversary, so toast to the celebration with a cocktail created just for the occasion—the gin and limoncello Divine Celebration.
La Salle Empire at Hôtel de Paris
Photo courtesy of Monaco Government Tourist and Convention Authority
If your goal is to dine as the Monégasques do, look no further than Hôtel de Paris’La Salle Empire for haute French cuisine. While the hotel is being renovated, its eateries will stay open so you can still scope out the over-the-top hotel and its gilded dining rooms. The quintessential French fare at Salle Empire is served in a space that does its name justice—it could easily be mistaken for Versailles. Diners can gaze out at the lit-up casino while indulging in a six-course meal featuring elaborately displayed desserts like the petit-fours served on a plate steaming with liquid nitrogen smoke.
Casino de Monte-Carlo
The first item on everyone’s checklist when coming to Monte-Carlo is the casino, which is also one of the highlights along the Grand Prix racetrack. If you’ve been to Vegas, forget everything you think about slot machines and casinos. Rooms are themed and get more exclusive the further back you go. For one of the best views in the house, make your way past the Salon Europe to the even more exclusive gaming rooms (entry starts at 10€) with terraces overlooking the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately) thanks to the level of clientele gambling, discretion is key, so cameras (and selfies) are not allowed.
Monte-Carlo Pavilion Shops
While the Hôtel de Paris undergoes its four-year renovation, its shops are moving to a temporary pop-up location in the Boulingrins Gardens across the Place du Casino, right by the track where you’ll spot Formula 1 racers. Browse through the five futuristic-looking pavilions housing boutiques from top brands in Monaco, including Balenciaga and Chanel. Even if theses stores aren’t in your budget (if they are, can we be your friend?), these futuristic bubbles are worth a visit, especially when contrasted against the Belle Epoque architecture of the casino just beyond.
Crystal Bar at Hôtel Hermitage
Just around the corner from the casino lies another Monte-Carlo classic, the Hôtel Hermitage, with its Gustave Eiffel-designed dome in the winter garden and elegant architecture dating back to the early 1900s. While the hotel is a great spot to spend the night if you want to be in the heart of everything, it’s also perfectly situated above the Port Hercule and all of the racing action below. Swing by the Crystal Bar for a pre-dinner drink on the open-air terrace and choose a cocktail inspired by the glamorous surroundings, like the Champagne and rose syrup-infused Grace (named after the late princess herself). Even better, you can order macaroons from French favorite Ladurée to go along with your libation. If you stay on for dinner or want to snag lunch without missing the race, the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Vistamar, has a terrace overlooking the track putting fans in prime view of the drivers.
Thermes Marins Spa
Following a total revamp, the luxurious Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo spa is back in action, and it’s the perfect place to post up above the race track. The terrace and hot tub look right over the track leading up the hill to Monte-Carlo, so you can relax under the sun while catching the racers in action. Inside, there’s enough to keep entertained all afternoon long, from the hammam and sauna to the heated seawater pool, gym and spa. Travelers just arriving in town can cure their jet lag with a quick visit to the cryotherapy complex’s cold chambers, said to help with sleep disorders and reduce stress. Those looking for something less extreme can go for a signature treatment reminiscent of the Riviera incorporating scents from around the region into mud wraps and massages.
It’s hard to get any closer to the Grand Prix than La Rascasse,, a bar with live music set on a famous bend of the racetrack. The outside area boasts a trendy vibe, with electronic and dance music blaring, and a chic crowd of partiers gathering on the patio and couches on the covered terrace. Inside, however, is a different story. You’ll find local 20-somethings, preppies and the after-work crowd mingling over cocktails in a pub-like setting. As the night goes on, a band playing rock and pop covers takes the stage and dancing ensues until the early morning, when everyone moves on to the next party.
Brasserie de Monaco
On the opposite end of the port is another favorite for locals, especially during the Grand Prix—the Brasserie de Monaco, a classy version of a sports bar serving Monegasque beer brewed right on-site. Take a seat at the terrace out front and try a pint of one of the varieties of Bière de Monaco, like the blonde or amber, made from organic malt. On the weekends, a DJ takes over transforming the sports bar into a club.
Lane Nieset is a freelance writer covering all things travel from her home base in Nice, France.