Let’s face it: Although Monaco portrays itself as the money-bags hangout of the F1 World, there are actually very few of us that can afford to enjoy what it has to offer.
Yes, there are some Midas-rich people floating on their marble encrusted gin-palaces during the Grand Prix weekend, but there are many thousand more ‘normal’ people who take the train in from Nice or scrabble for the cheaper guest houses in Beausolei.
Even the super-yachts are not what they seem. The majority are rented, with the actual owners keeping a safe distance from the mere-millionaires, preferring to use their floating homes in the privacy of the Mediterranean or Caribbean outside of the F1 season.
I’ve never really understood how rich people use their money. Yes, I love the Monaco Grand Prix, and yes the boats and the hyper-cars add to the spectacle, but if I was a Mittal or a Slim there is no way I would choose to spend my time in the Principality during Grand Prix week. Why on earth would you want to pay over the odds to sit in a cramped harbour, with a terrible view of ugly 1960’s apartment blocks, surrounded by noise, inconvenience and drunks. No thank you. I would point my bow in the direction of Croatia and enjoy some proper R&R.
However, as I don’t own a steel mine, a dot com business or an airline, I have to put up with the real Monaco. The Monaco for the normal people. The people who think 13 Euros for a beer is not only a rip off but a complete and utter piss take.
So here is my guide to Monaco on the cheap. I know it’s not cool to be a pauper but believe me, the most minted clientele would have much more fun if they read this:
Don’t stay in a hotel! Book an apartment or a flat. Maybe it’s not so glam, but unless you can afford the Hotel De Paris or the Hermitage you will be subjected to a pokey, dated hotel anyhow and I guarantee you the surly French receptionist will have all the charm of a sledgehammer.
Don’t go to Jimmy’z nightclub. Firstly, because it has a ghastly name. Using a ‘z’ instead of an ‘s’ does not equal sophistication, it equals nonce. Secondly because it’s underground so you have no view just a stench of BO and bullshit, and thirdly because it is full of utter dickheads. No matter what stories you have heard about James Hunt and co partying into the wee-hours here, it still doesn’t make it cool. Entry fees of 100Euros+ and drinks at a similar price does not provide the basis for a fun night out. It’s the basis of bankruptcy.
Whatever you do, don’t go to Stars ‘N’ Bars. Again, the name is shit, but not quite as bad as the food, the service or the location. If you like faux American Diner food served in a dirty alleyway, whilst being bashed about by delivery trolleys, scooters and tyre mechanics then go for your life, but it’s not for me!
Don’t go to the Casino. Why, when you have a beach, a harbour and wonderful French cuisine would you want to lock yourself up in a smoky, pompous casino? The local Monegasque residents aren’t even allowed to in the casino – which is surely a human rights issue that should be reviewed by The Hague, but on the other hand it’s for their own good.
Do not try and blag your way onto a boat. Contrary to popular opinion, boats are dull. They offer a confined space, with lurking in dangers to trip you up. They are made of material that you can’t walk on, sit on, or place drinks on. And they are frequented by some of the most boring, navel-gazing people on the planet.
Yes they have Jacuzzis, jet skis and (rented) supermodels, but believe me, unless you can put up with a pissing contest you will have more fun on dry land.
So where should you be going?
A good place to start is Rue de Portier, just next to the Portier corner and the entrance to the tunnel. There is a good selection of bars and restaurants including Italian, Mexican and Irish.
All are open late and it’s too far for the yachty lot to walk so you are far more likely to bump into to an F1 mechanic than a telecoms magnate.
Or do you fancy a drink overlooking the sea, with boats bobbing in the harbour? Then head to Fontvieille, Monaco’s better looking younger sister? Just head through the hillside under the palace and you’ll pop out in a much nicer harbour with much nicer bars and a much nicer environment. It’s no surprise that this is where all the F1 drivers live.
Need a late night snack? The Monaco equivalent of the doner-kebab on the way home? Head to the imaginatively named ‘Monte Carlo Bar’ It is a few paces up the hill from the final corner of the circuit. It serves the best pizzas in the world (well, at 5am anyhow) provides fascinating people watching and is open 24 hours.
However, Beausoleil is the mecca for savvy Monaco visitors and anyone that returns to Monaco year-after-year on a budget. It’s not glamorous, but it has a certain village charm. You will find yet more Irish bars, pizza restaurants, cafes and markets.
It is the home-from-home for the travelling F1 circus, a place for those who don’t care ‘to-be-seen’, who choose to dine in flip flops rather than fox fur and prefer curry to caviar.