Perched on a prime stretch of the French Riviera, Monaco is the world's smallest country, next to Vatican City. The principality enjoys year-round sun and mild weather, which makes it a favorite hangout for Russian billionaires and their yachts—or anyone seeking sunshine and a few days of indulgence. Over a long weekend, there's plenty to see and do, from palace visits to spa treatments to Michelin–starred dining.
Start by getting the lay of the luxurious land, which isn't hard in this tiny country. The most famous building in the principality is of course the Prince's Palace, part of which is open for public tours with a free audio guide partially narrated by Prince Albert. Arrive in the morning to beat the crowds, then grab a spot in time to see the changing of the guard, which happens daily at 11:55 a.m.
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Take a taxi down the hill to the opulent Hôtel Hermitage to enjoy lunch with harbor views on the expansive terrace at Michelin–starred Le Vistamar. Try the Monacan specialty barbajuan, essentially a fried, spinach-filled ravioli served as an amuse-bouche—not the healthiest, but quite delicious. Your best bet is the three-course seasonal tasting, which might include a vegetable starter like zucchini three ways, followed by fish and a fruit-based dessert. Wash it down with a glass of rosé—you're on vacation!
After lunch, walk ten minutes or so to lively Casino Square. The grand old Hotel de Paris is undergoing an extensive renovation, and in its place (temporarily) are the Monte-Carlo Pavilions, five futuristic-looking white buildings meant to resemble giant pebbles. Inside you'll find designer brands like Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and Miu Miu, which make for great window-shopping.
For an afternoon treat, hoof it to Gelatorino, which boasts the creamiest scoops in town. The ice cream shop borders France, in case you feel like taking a five-minute jaunt into the country.
After resting up, head to dinner at Blue Bay (reservations recommended) for another a lfresco, Michelin–starred meal. Chef Marcel Ravin hails from the Caribbean island of Martinique, and its influence is evident in the eclectic Continental fare, served as a many-course tasting menu. Dishes change regularly but are sure to include lots of fresh produce and seafood, prepared in surprising and delicious ways, like spaghetti mixed with shredded papaya noodles in a Parmesan cream sauce.
Grab a nightcap at Le Bar Américain, one of the establishments still running inside Hotel de Paris despite the construction. If you're lucky, there will be live music to accompany your cocktails.
Take a morning stroll along the harbor to admire the sun glinting off the enormous yachts parked in this billionaire's playground. For a charming glimpse of local life, make your way up lively Rue Princesse Caroline to the Marché de la Condamine, an indoor market offering many delicious eats. Directly outside is a farmers' market with several bordering cafes convenient for people watching.
If you have the energy, go back up the hill to poke around the old city that surrounds the palace and check out other nearby attractions, such as the Oceanographic Museum, founded in 1906 by Prince Albert I and housed in a beautiful baroque building overlooking the sea. Just up the road you'll find the tranquil, hillside St.-Martins Gardens and the stunning palm tree-framed Saint Nicolas Cathedral, which is the site of the tombs of Princess Grace and many other royals.
Grab your bathing suit before leaving for lunch at Elsa, the Monte-Carlo Beach's best restaurant, which happens to be the world's only fully organic, Michelin–starred eatery. Italian chef Paolo Sari grows some of the restaurant's produce in gardens on the property. His Riviera cuisine is both indulgent and healthy, like his beautiful carpaccio of raw shrimp that resembles a work of art on the plate.
After lunch, hit the Monte-Carlo Beach Club (reservations recommended), which is open seasonally from spring until early fall. Settle in on your lounge chair by the pool or next to the sea to take in the glorious scene and work up the courage to jump into the icy, refreshing blue waters. When you get thirsty, waiters are on hand to bring whatever libation you're craving.
Dress up for dinner at Buddha Bar. (It's better to schedule a late reservation here because things get livelier as the evening progresses.) You can feast on sushi in the Asian Rococo-style lounge downstairs or dig into contemporary Asian dishes in the upstairs dining room. After dinner, grab a table on the patio to join the evening scene. As long as you're dressed up, make a stop at the grand Casino de Monte-Carlo of James Bond movie fame. It's a must-see simply for the sumptuous decor and high-rolling international clientele.
If you have time before your flight or next stop, schedule a spa treatment at the world-class Thermes Marins spa, which offers pampering body-treatment packages, state-of-the-art facials, and unusual services like cryotherapy, which immerses you in a sub-zero room for three minutes to improve circulation and mood.
Allow ample time before or after your treatment to enjoy the facilities, including an indoor saltwater pool, an outdoor hot tub with harbor views, and a sauna and steam room. Finish your healthy morning with lunch in the spa restaurant, L'Hirondelle. The salmon sashimi appetizer is a signature dish that's big enough for a main course.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Monaco's closest commercial airport is located in Nice, France, a twelve-mile, 30-minute drive from the principality. Héli Air Monaco also offers stunning, seven-minute helicopter rides between Nice and the tiny nation. Weather is pleasant and mild year-round, but keep in mind restaurants and some attractions and hotels close during winter.
Where to Stay
While the Hotel de Paris undergoes remodeling, the 100-year-old, recently renovated Hôtel Hermitage is your most elegant accommodation option. The 278-room property resembles a French chateau and offers service to match, along with four restaurants and bars and access to the Thermes Marins Monte Carlo pool and fitness area.
The seasonal Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel is open from spring until early fall. The intimate 40-room property has a tranquil waterside location and stylish 1930s style, reflecting the era when it first opened. Four restaurants and the Monte-Carlo Beach Club are on site.