P and I stayed at the Fairmont in Monte Carlo, and it was absolutely perfect. In addition to having an extremely helpful, friendly staff and a beautiful facility, the Fairmont is located on waterfront property right next to Monte Carlo’s famous casino.
In the morning, we headed out on foot and walked to the Café de Paris, a beautiful old restaurant and café. We sat in the picturesque outdoor dining area, which is quintessentially French, with small tables and woven chairs. It was perfect for grabbing a light breakfast and enjoying the weather and people watching. We ate a heavenly apricot tart and drank some lattes with a beautiful view of the casino. Just in the short time we were sitting there, we saw numerous Bentleys, Lamborghinis, and even some Rolls Royces pass by. We also saw a wedding party, and everyone was celebrating by ringing handbells out the car windows!
After breakfast, we snapped a few photos in front of the casino and made our way down to the harbor. We had read that the harbor would be completely full of megayachts, but our research did not prepare us for just how huge and luxurious these privately-owned vessels would be. Many of the yachts had helicopter landing pads, jacuzzis, several dining areas, and of course, smaller boats for tooling around.
We continued walking around the harbor and nearly tripped over a harborside horse jumping competition. The horses were beautiful, and it was a very special sight to take in with the majestic animals, the crowds, the harbor, and the beautiful weather.
From the harbor, we took a seaside path past some gorgeous beaches nestled up against the cliffs. We followed the path to the old town, which is home to the royal palace, a beautiful cathedral, and the Oceanographic Museum.
We walked the narrow, picturesque streets of the old town to the palace, where we took a surprisingly interesting and fun audio tour. Between the two of us, we’ve seen plenty of old, fancy residences, so we were prepared for something a little dry and déjà-vu-evoking. Instead, we found it to be quite charming and unique. Like most things about Monaco, it was very bite-sized. We spent a little less than an hour there and we were the slowest visitors by far. Although it was small, each room was filled with beautiful little treasures that provided a glimpse into Monaco’s history.
After the palace, we took in some beautiful views of the harbor and then headed over to the cathedral. Like the palace, we only spent a small amount of time there, but felt fulfilled by the experience. The cathedral was beautiful and it was nice to take a moment to pray and reflect.
From the cathedral, we headed across the street to the Oceanographic Museum. The museum’s main attraction is its small but comprehensive aquarium. It has two huge tanks, at least two stories tall, that are home to colorful corals, tropical fish, a variety of sharks, and a tortoise or two. It also has many smaller tanks with various fish, eels, and other creatures.
From the Oceanographic Museum, we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up. Then, we headed downstairs for dinner. Earlier in the day when we were thinking about dinner reservations, we were hoping for a restaurant that was true to local tastes. We were envisioning something nice (but not too too fancy) that had regional food. The hotel concierge recommended a number of restaurants that all served food that was inspired by the cuisine of other countries (e.g., the Buddha Bar). We felt like something was getting lost in translation until it sunk in that Monte Carlo is a bit of a playground, where people come to see and be seen, and to dine on extravagant and exotic foods. We let go of what we had imagined Monegasque cuisine to be like, embraced the restaurant scene for what it was, and made a reservation at the Fairmont’s Panamanian-Japanese restaurant, Nobu.
We could not have been more thrilled with our experience! The dining room had a panoramic view of the sea, and it was styled with simple, modern luxury. We shared a bottle of sake and ordered the chef’s menu, which basically consists of whatever the chef thinks you will enjoy. I am not much of a seafood person, but I savored every bit of the six different types of seafood the chef prepared. Our meal at Nobu ranks among the best meals we’ve ever had.
After dinner, we headed over to Monte Carlo’s casino. Like everything else in Monte Carlo, it is small but beautiful and interesting. I just wish we were allowed to take pictures! The casino had one main game room that held four roulette tables and about six cards tables (no craps!), two smaller side rooms that had various slots and electronic games, two restaurants, and two private game rooms into which we did not venture. Each room was dripping with enormous chandeliers, adorned with frescoes, mirrors, and gold leaf everywhere. It was surprisingly quiet – they did not pipe in strange and annoying music like American casinos do – and it seemed that many people came to the casino just to watch other people gamble. After playing roulette for a while, P and I parked ourselves on a velvet loveseat and found a surprising amount of enjoyment in people-watching for the rest of the evening.