Pure Indulgence: Monaco
Quaint with azure seas, luxurious neighbourhoods and an array of cultural delights – Monaco serves opulence with some added sprinkles of quiet composure
There is a maxim in travel circles that "once in your lifetime you must visit Monaco" – and rightly so, as I was to discover for myself in the summer of 2017, when I embarked on a trip to this mythical place as part of a delegation to promote the world famous Assam Tea.
Nestled ideally between the Alps and the Mediterranean, Monaco truly offers a vivid, picturesque setting. Monaco's close proximity to the explicitly glamorous Cote d'Azur and French Riviera, easily makes it one of Europe's most sought after high-end entertainment zones.
Apart from the rigours of marketing Assam Tea to a demanding audience, I must thank Monaco Tourism for an absolutely amazing itinerary that included trips to Nice and outstanding landmarks like the tranquil Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula, the picturesque seaside village of Beaulieu-sur-Mer, and the medieval village of Eze.
I was truly impressed by the otherworldly charms of the French Riviera as also the balmy beaches of Antibes, legendary Cannes and a few lesser-known yet pretty impressive beaches surrounding the latter.
You only need to gaze in the other direction, where panoramic vistas of the Italian Riviera – the village of Menton and the old-world cluster of fishing villages of Cinque Terre – vie for attention.
Let me tell you, the Principality of Monaco is an extremely cultured place replete with elegant museums and some of the nicest hotels of the world, which is well supplemented by extravagant gastronomy.
First time visitors are taken aback by the night time glitter of Monaco and although this bewitching city principality is just two square kilometers in size, in terms of high octane glamour, Monaco can lay claim to be the world's most glamorous city.
The panorama is magical – azure sea, elegant palm trees and flowers that are so effervescent. Be there at the most spectacular tourist site, Le Rocher or simply referred to as The Rock that protrudes along the rocky promontory into the Mediterranean Sea. This part of the city is referred to as the Monaco-Ville and its streets have history written all over and dates back to the 13th century.
Monaco's harbour is bustling with activity and luxury yachts can be seen docked out here. I was told by my well-informed guide that Port de la Condamine was built way back in 1901 and here, if you are lucky, you might even sight the Prince's vessel used by the King of Monaco. The Yacht Club de Monaco on Quai Louis II organises a biennial Monaco Classic Week, as well as the water festival Fête de la Mer. The port is the launching pad for most visitors to embark on trips to Cannes, Nice and other resort towns of the French Riviera.
While in Monaco, brushing shoulders with the rich and famous is a norm. This is the zone of Ferraris and "beautiful people" indulging in their passions - yachting, casinos, grand prix, ballets and what not!
Want to taste spirituality here? No problem. A leisurely walk along the Le Rocher peninsula will bring you to the world's oldest monastery – Palais du Prince.
Constructed by the Genoese noble family of Grimaldi way back in 1297, this magnificent fortress offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city.
Also on the same stretch is the outstanding Musée Oceanographique – at all of 90 m above sea level, it is the world's oldest aquarium, commissioned by Prince Albert I and his predecessors. This unusual museum exhibits the journeying of Prince Albert I and the discoveries of Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
For flower lovers, all roads lead to 62 Boulevard du Jardin Exotique, easily one of the world's most gloriously landscaped flower gardens.
Ideally located on the Fontvieille area of Monaco, this paradise like garden is not just luxuriant but also offers a remarkable variety of species carefully sourced out from USA, Mexico, Africa and Latin America.
As visitors to this city, the Cathedral at 4 Rue Colonel-Bellando-de-Castro, which happens to be the burial place of the principality's past royalty, like Prince Rainer and Princess Grace, is a place to offer one's tributes. The cathedral in Roman-Byzantine-style has been constructed using the finest variety of white stones sourced from La Turbie. Time permitting, try to be there on a Sunday at 10 am from September to June, when the mass is sung by the 'Les Petits Chanteurs de Monaco' and the 'Cathedral Choir'.
The Formula One Monaco Grand Prix takes place every year in Monte-Carlo in the last weekend of May and not surprisingly, many visitors try to coincide their visit to Monaco with this time of the year. And, why not ? This is the only Grand Prix race in the world that is conducted on the streets of a city. The stretch from Boulevard Albert 1 all the way to Place du Casino and extending to the rather irksome turn just in front of the Monte-Carlo Fairmont Hotel is the stuff of dreams.
While in Monaco, can Operas be far behind? Take a walk to 8 Opéra de Monte-Carlo (Salle Garnier), where the Monte-Carlo Opera House is located. This must be the most prolific public square in the world. The Opera House was built in 1878 and designed to perfection by legendary designer Charles Garnier.
Be a part of history here at this one-of-its-kind Opera House where, for more than a century, operas and ballets have been performed while being witness to innumerous world-class concerts. The speciality of Monte-Carlo Opera House is that it offers classic operas most of the time.
Michelin-starred fine dining is a hallmark of Monaco and the setting too couldn't be more captivating. Restaurants with imaginative interiors offer global cuisines. For the moneyed, the legendary restaurants Le Louis XV restaurant, with three Michelin stars showcasing the very best of Mediterranean cuisine spread out by Alain Ducasse, is the most preferred dining arena.
Joël Robuchon Monte-Carlo (Michelin star-2), ideally located in one of the most affluent neighbourhoods of Monaco is also in great demand. So is the elegantly appointed Belle Epoque-style architecture – Hotel Hermitage renowned for its distinctive avant-garde cuisine.
For al fresco dining, Blue Bay restaurant at the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort with its chic setting, sumptuous spread and an understated Caribbean touch is worth falling for.
For Asians, Yoshi restaurant is the best in terms of sheer variety. The Japanese section is simply awesome and it isn't surprising as Yoshi is a collaborative venture of Joël Robuchon and Chef Takéo Yamazaki, two of the world's most outstanding culinary brands.