Alternative Monaco: 5 unusual things to do

As the second smallest principality in the world at just 2 sq km, you’d be forgiven for thinking Monaco has only a limited number of things to do. But after you’ve visited the main attractions of Monte Carlo Casino, the Prince’s Palace, the Cathedral of Monaco and the sites we all know too well, there’s a chance to dive into a more authentic, natural and cultural side to the sovereign-city state, away from its extravagant façade and rich and famous hub. From little-known libraries and local markets to heritage walks and museums, here we pick the five best alternative things to do in Monaco.

1. Walk the Heritage Tree Trails

Did you that Monaco’s gardens and parks take up more than 20% of its total land? It’s easy to be swept away by all the glitz and the glam of the principality, but Monaco wants to stay in touch with its natural side too. Its Heritage Tree Trail, created in 2013, is still relatively unknown, but it should be shouted about more as it’s part of Monaco’s initiative to tackle deforestation and protect its green spaces. These walking routes offers visitors a chance to stroll through Monaco’s fabulous floral spaces including St Martins Garden, Japanese Garden, Princess Grace Garden, and discover the microstate’s most beautiful heritage trees, all marked with their names. Expect to see an extension to the trail very soon.

2. Explore the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco

The National Museum of Monaco is situated across two sites; Villa Paloma and Villa Sauber. These two beautiful buildings are both worth visiting and have a little history of their own; Paloma being one of the principality’s most stunning aristocratic homes, and Sauber, once belonging to the Blanc family who played a key part in creating the Monte Carlo Casino, is the last remaining Belle Époque property in Monaco. Both venues showcase the microstate’s heritage and display annual exhibitions of contemporary art throughout the year, featuring paintings and photography. Plus, the gardens at both villas are also open to visitors who want to take a peek.

3. Get page turning at the Princess Grace Irish Library

The name may confuse you. An Irish library in Monaco? And yes, that is exactly what it is. But it is one of the best, yet little-known, Irish libraries in the world. The hidden cultural gem opened in Monaco’s old town near the Prince’s Palace in 1984, two years after the famed actress, wife of Prince Rainier III and mother of the current King Albert, Grace Kelly died. If you know Grace Kelly, you will know she was deeply connected to her Irish roots, and her collection of Irish literature makes up the basis of this library today. Expect shelves of leather-bound books and even some first editions from iconic Irish authors and poets; Johnathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett to name a few. The Princess Grace Irish Library is the ideal escape, when needed, from the lavish and fast-paced life of Monaco.

4. Meet the locals at La Condamine market

Head to La Condamine to experience a truly authentic piece of Monaco. The little market square of Place d’Armes is where the still-French speaking population gather, as the market here is an important part to Monaco’s heritage and the local’s way of life. La Condamine market first opened back in 1880, and still runs everyday, all year round. Walk among the stalls to pick up some local produce of fruit and vegetables, and you can even tuck into some Monegasque street food specialities such as socca (a chickpea pancake), barbagiuans (fritter stuffed with Swiss chard and ricotta) and fougasse (pastry with nuts). Another perk? The prices here are much kinder than much of Monaco.

5. Visit the secret beach of Crique des Pêcheurs

Most people will know Larvotto as Monaco’s main and only beach, and this large man-made stretch of sand provides the microstate with a safe, activity-filled site perfect for all ages. After all, it’s miniature 3.8km coastline can’t offer too much. But there is a secret spot known by the locals where you can trade in the hustle and bustle for some peace and quiet. Crique des Pêcheurs can only be accessed by steps, but once you reach the bottom you will met by a tiny tropical-esque cove. Completely natural and covered in shingle, it’s best to view this beach from above and watch the waves crash against the gravel. Please do be aware that access can be prohibited depending on the bad weather which can make it a dangerous spot to visit.

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Unexpected Monaco: 3 reasons to visit the principality and why it will surprise you

At less than two square kilometres, Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, yet it is packed with a tapestry of travel experiences. As a destination that is constantly reinventing itself, and with a rich history and culture as well as plenty of green spaces, visitors will find there’s more to Monaco than first meets the eye. Here’s three ways Monaco will surprise you…

The Oceanographic Museum was founded by Prince Albert I (©BVergely)

1. History and Culture

Opéra de Monte-Carlo (Shutterstock)

As a harbour city, Monaco has a colourful past and its long culture and history are evident in all corners of the country. There are many museums to choose from but the world-renowned Oceanographic Museum – housed in a Neoclassical palace perched on the edge of the cliffs that looks out over the Mediterranean Sea – is a must. Inside, find more than 6,000 specimens, an immersive exhibition on the Great Barrier Reef, and a rescue centre which cares for and rehabilitates turtles.

Constructed in 1878 and designed by architect Charles Garnier, the Opéra de Monte-Carlo is also worth seeing from the outside and in. The lavish building hosts some of the top names in the world of opera.

The Condamine Market

Don’t miss a visit to the Roman-Byzantine Cathédrale de Monaco, built in 1875 from white stone sourced from a French commune called La Turbie. The cathedral houses the tombs of Monaco’s former princes and princesses, a looming altar and the white Carrara marble Episcopal throne.

The Prince’s Palace of Monaco also has a long history, dating back to the early 13th century. The palace lies on the Monaco Rock and is the official residence of the Grimaldi family. The palace is set to reopen many of its richly decorated rooms to visitors in 2022, offering a glimpse into royal life through the centuries.

Finish your historic tour with a wider exploration of the Old Town, strolling the narrow alleys dating back to the Middle Ages that link together little squares, to feel like you have gone back in time.

2. Food for thought

Barbagiuans originated in Monaco

Monaco has a diverse range of food options from Michelin starred restaurants to traditional brasseries and bistros. The country is home to a medley of cultures, and this is reflected in the cuisine; enjoy everything from French, Italian, Mediterranean, and fusion dishes.

Situated in the Place d’Armes, La Condamine Market originally opened in 1880 and is a favourite among locals and visitors alike. Packed with open-air fruit and vegetable stalls, the space offers locally sourced and sustainable produce. Dishes of all types of cuisine are served up here, including Monégasque specialities such as barbagiuans. This tasty appetizer is a fritter stuffed with Swiss chard and ricotta, among other ingredients. Eat one under the shade of an arcade while watching local life pass by.

The Jardin Exotique de Monaco covers an area of around 15,000m2 (Shutterstock)

For something more special, book a table at Mada One restaurant to try chef Marcel Ravin’s impressive menu that features French classics for breakfast such as buttery, flaky pain au chocolats and eggs benedicte, as well as lunch specials including toast caprese or avocat.  Don’t miss the chef’s signature dish, the Monegu, a ‘travel cake’ inspired by brioche and panettone that is in the colours of the Monaco flag. Another must-visit is Michelin star restaurant Yoshi where chef Takeo Yamazaki pays tribute to Japanese cuisine through his delicately flavoured soups, sushi and maki, all made with yoshi (kindness). For a more authentic dining experience, try the family-owned Montgolfière Restaurant, renowned for serving up traditional dishes using locally-sourced products.

Sweet tooth? Make a beeline for the Chocolaterie de Monaco. First established in 1920, the confectioner is the official supplier of the Prince’s Palace and sells an array of gourmet chocolates as well as premium loose-leaf tea. It’s almost impossible not to leave armed with several boxes of the locally produced treats.

3. A walk in the park

The Princess Grace Rose Garden (Shutterstock)

With 20% of Monaco covered in green spaces, there’s plenty of room to escape into the great outdoors. With the country planning to be carbon-neutral by 2050, and the availability of green transportation such as e-bikes, it is easy to explore the natural landscapes without harming them.

There are plenty of gardens to relax in, but don’t miss the Jardin Exotique de Monaco. Located on a cliffside overlooking Monaco’s coastline, its home to exotic plants and flowers, including hundreds of different-sized cacti and other succulents. The garden is currently undergoing a makeover and will re-open in 2022.

Also making for a scenic stroll is the Princess Grace Rose Garden. As its name suggests, the space is adorned with some 4,000 rosebushes alongside contemporary sculptures. The garden is part of the Fontvieille Park which features Mediterranean plants such as olive, pine and cypress trees, as well as more exotic species such as strelitzias, stenocarpus and araucarias, and also works of art.

Those after a longer walk should head to Cap d’Ail to climb to the top of the 550m Tête de Chien, or ‘The Dog’s Head’. From this rocky vantage point, you can enjoy views over the entire Principality. The perfect finale.

Passport to Monte Carlo

Book by 28 September 2021 to arrive in style with BA. You will get complimentary return helicopter transfers when you stay three nights or more in Monaco. Book now from £210pp.

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Feeling inspired? 

For more inspiration and information about Monaco, head over to the official website or give them a call on 0207 318 10 90.

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It’s a small world after all: Europe’s 7 tiniest countries

1: Vatican City

The Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican (Dreamstime)

Size: 0.44km2
Capital City: Vatican City
Pop: 825

An independent state within the city of Rome, the Vatican City is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church and the smallest state in the world in both size and population. The main attractions include St Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. Its income is derived mainly from the sale of postage stamps and tourist mementos, and its ATMs are the only ones in the world to offer you the option of conducting your transaction in Latin.

2: Monaco

Monte Carlo harbour (Dreamstime)

Size: 1.95km2
Capital City: Monaco
Pop: 38,682

With its elegant belle-époque casino. Luxurious boutiques and restaurants and yacht-lined harbour, the tiny city-state of Monaco has become an upscale playground for the rich and famous. The Mediterranean weather helps. So does the generous tax breaks. And the annual grand prix on its narrow streets brings a bit of old school excitement and glamour. Little wonder then, that Monaco has the world’s lowest poverty rate, highest number of millionaires and billionaires per capital and the most expensive real estate.

3: San Marino

San Marino castle (Dreamstime)

Size: 61 km2
Capital City: Città di San Marino
Pop: 33,785

Also known as the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, this mountainous microstate in north-central Italy is the world’s oldest sovereign state and its oldest republic. The capital, Città di San Marino, clings to the slopes of Monte Titanos, its medieval walled old town and cobbled streets an UNESCO listed site. Like the Vatican, postage stamps and coins – keenly sought by collectors – are important sources of revenue.

4: Liechtenstein

Castle on top of the mountain in Vaduz, Liechtenstein (Dreamstime)

Size: 160 km2
Capital City: Vaduz
Pop: 38,378

Liechtenstein is a doubly landlocked country, between Switzerland and Austria, in the heart of the Alps. It is the fourth smallest state in Europe, the smallest to border two countries and a popular winter sport destination. Although an important financial centre today, the country was destitute after the Second World war and had to sell a Leonardi Di Vinci portrait, ‘Ginerva de’ Bencini’ to pay the bills. These days it has more registered companies than citizens.

5: Malta

Traditional boats in fishing village of Marsaxlokk, Malta (Dreamstime)

Size: 316 km2

Capital City: Valletta

Pop: 493,559

A small archipelago in the Mediterranean, between Sicily and North Africa, Malta packs a lot into its tiny 316 km2. Here you’ll find megalithic temples, Roman ruins and Norman cathedrals, each marking a stage in the islands’ staggering 7,000 year old history. In 2018, the capital Valletta is a European Capital of Culture.

6: Andorra

Modern glass pyramid in Escaldes-Engordany (Dreamstime)

Size: 468 km2
Capital City: Andorra la Vella
Pop: 76,177

Another tiny independent principality famous for its ski resorts, duty-free shopping and generous tax breaks, Andorra is nestled in the Pyrenees between Spain and France. When the snow melts, the country is criss-crossed with hiking trails, ranging from leisurely walks to more demanding treks. The capital, Andorra la Vella, is the highest capital in Europe.

7: Luxembourg

Luxembourg city snow covered at winter (Dreamstime)

Size: 2,586 km2
Capital City: Luxembourg
Pop: 613,894

Small, compact and bordered by Germany, Belgium and France, the Duchy of Luxembourg is also one of the three richest countries in the world. Away from the medieval, fortified old town of the capital, the country ismostly rural, with dense Ardennes forest and nature parks in the north, rocky gorges of the Mullerthal region in the east, and the Moselle river valley in the southeast. There are numerous hiking and biking trails across the country, and with a surprising number of vineyards and breweries, as well as producers of meats and cheeses, Luxembourg is increasingly popular with foodies.

Population figures taken from the latest estimates from the UN’s World Population Prospects