Glitz, glam­our and gaso­line

It’s a fast life in Monaco

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - JANE KNIGHT

We’re gun­ning it round the Fair­mont hair­pin on the Monaco Grand Prix cir­cuit, weav­ing our way through cars in our quest to reach the fin­ish line and the royal box. OK, per­haps gun­ning it isn’t quite right.

The day af­ter last year’s For­mula One race in Monaco, my petrol­head nephew and I are cruis­ing (well, crawl­ing) most of the course in a Re­nault Twizy, a tiny elec­tric car for two that reaches a top speed of 45km/h — and we’re nowhere close to that.

“Why are you driv­ing so slowly?” com­plains our in­struc­tor, who we lose as he guides us around a par­tic­u­larly tricky part of the city state. Er, there’s the mi­nor mat­ter of hideous traf­fic in this tiny prin­ci­pal­ity as well as a night­mar­ish one-way sys­tem that catches us out, mean­ing we have to turn around at the Sainte Devote Church, the scene of a pileup the day be­fore. And just you try do­ing a hill start (you’ll be do­ing plenty here) with no clutch — the Twizy doesn’t have one. It’s also silent.

It’s a marked con­trast to the roar of the race even if the qui­eter F1 en­gines end the need for earplugs. Sound­ing like a swarm of an­gry bees, the cars can be heard long be­fore they ma­te­ri­alise, Lewis Hamil­ton’s white hel­met flash­ing by at the front.

See­ing Monaco at Grand Prix time — the 2018 race will be on May 27 — is see­ing it as it’s meant to be seen, all glam­our and fast cars. There are plenty of the last ev­ery­where, with Fer­raris, Porsches and Lam­borgh­i­nis lined up out­side the el­e­gant Her­mitage Ho­tel and the Casino (al­though when we go for a gam­ble we find it’s more faded glory than daz­zling el­e­gance).

We ogle yet more at the Prince of Monaco’s car mu­seum’s col­lec­tion on the Ter­rasses de Fontvieille. Here is the ma­chine that car­ried Hamil­ton to vic­tory in 2008, all sil­ver and or­ange sleek­ness. Over there are gleam­ing Jaguars from the 1930s, a Rolls-Royce Sil­ver Ghost and a 1928 Lin­coln.

The Prince’s Palace on the site of a me­dieval Ge­noese fort is the place to see the chang­ing of the guard be­fore bur­row­ing into the nar­row al­ley­ways of old Monaco. Here, in charm­ing pas­tel houses, shops that sell tourist tat rub shoul­ders with quaint restau­rants. It’s a stark con­trast to the high-rise city sur­round­ing it.

Down at Port Fontvieille we drool over the megay­achts, feel nos­tal­gic in Princess Grace’s rose gar­den and walk past the foot­ball sta­dium sev­eral times as we try to find the bus stop to re­turn to our ho­tel.

It’s not far to any­where in Monaco, which at 4.8km by 2.4km is the sec­ond small­est coun­try in the world (af­ter Vat­i­can City), but it is hilly, which means that some­times the bus is bet­ter (not a car, and def­i­nitely not a Twizy). We even­tu­ally find the stop and the bus, and trun­dle back across the F1 start­ing grid to the Fair­mont ho­tel.

It’s as glitzy as you’d ex­pect, with more than 8km of cor­ri­dors, plenty of open spa­ces and 602 rooms. There’s a panoramic vista of three coun­tries: Monaco, France and Italy. And don’t for­get that world-fa­mous view of the Fair­mont hair­pin, al­though you’ll need very deep pock­ets to view it from one of the ho­tel’s suites dur­ing the race (head in­stead to the spa, which over­looks the bend and where you can en­joy a re­lax­ing pedi­cure as the world’s fastest race past).

There’s more to Monaco than the F1, how­ever; a cul­tural scene is build­ing with opera, bal­let and jazz. If gas­tron­omy is your thing, Monaco has eight Miche­lin stars, three of them at the Metropole, where Joel Robu­chon has a trio of restau­rants. More of a spa an­i­mal? Visit the swanky, gleam­ing white Les Ther­mes Marins spe­cial­is­ing in cryother­apy: a buzz in a cold cham­ber set at mi­nus 60C, or a pos­i­tively ridicu­lous mi­nus 110C.

If you are here for the F1, though, you’ll be amazed at how quickly 78 laps can pass in this coun­try the size of New York’s Cen­tral Park. I am clue­less on the race in­tri­ca­cies but the at­mos­phere is amaz­ing. There’s even a ca­coph­ony of blar­ing vic­tory salutes from the boats in the ma­rina at the end.

Yes, we get drenched in the rain, but it makes the race even more ex­cit­ing, with skids and crashes, Hamil­ton con­tro­ver­sially stay­ing on wet tyres even as the ground dries (see, I did learn some­thing) and some slower-thanusual driv­ing round the Fair­mont hair­pin.

Just not quite as slow as us in our Twizy.

Jane Knight was a guest of the Monaco Tourist Board. THE TIMES

Monaco coast, top; F1 cars on the Fair­mont hair­pin dur­ing the Grand Prix in May, above; ex­hibit at the Prince of Monaco’s car mu­seum, above left; Prince’s Palace, left

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