The best of Monaco

The pint-sized principality is
en fête at the moment thanks to its football team's progress to the Champions' League final later this month.

The pint-sized principality is en fête at the moment thanks to its football team's progress to the Champions' League final later this month.

Fans of Chelsea - the team that Monaco knocked out in last week's semi-final - may not be so inclined to visit, but for the rest of us the charms of this diamond-encrusted haven are hard to resist. And if motor racing's your sport, there's the unrivalled glamour of the Monaco Grand Prix on 23 May.

Slightly removed from the bustle and bling is the old city of Monaco Ville, whose attractive winding streets - packed with museums and reasonably priced Italian restaurants - sit on top of the Rock of Monaco, above the harbour. Monaco is tiny but, through a triumph of technology over nature (31 hectares of the principality is landfill), it's getting bigger. The smart new district of Fontvielle has been built on reclaimed land.

Best hotel

While the lavish Hotel de Paris is where the rich and famous traditionally stay, it is its younger and slightly less showy sister, Hotel Hermitage on Square Beaumarchais (00 377 98 06 40 00; www.montecarloresort.com) which is attracting those who want luxury with a little more discretion. The rooms are large, comfortable and, in stark contrast with their period décor, equipped with flat-screen TVs, and DVD players. The baths are deep but, for those who want to go deeper, the Hermitage has underground access to the Thermes Marins de Monte Carlo (00 377 92 16 49 46; www.montecarlospa.com) with its health, beauty and spa treatments. Doubles from €440 (£300) per night, room only.

Best restaurant

While Alain Ducasse's Louise XIV restaurant (00 377 92 16 29 76) with its three Michelin stars, just off the lobby of the Hotel de Paris, cannot be ignored, neither can its prices.Le Grill (00 377 92 16 29 66), a large restaurant on the top floor with one Michelin star, has stunning views, but expect to pay around €80 (£55) per head without wine.In the old town, seek out Le Pinnochio, a traditional Italian restaurant on the narrow rue Comte Félix Gastaldi (00 377 93 30 96 20) serving dishes such as risotto del chef and scalopina al limone for €14 (£9.50) and €17 (£11.50) respectively.

Best cultural attraction

Built into the Rock of Monaco, the Oceanographic Museum includes a giant aquarium with a recon-struction of a coral reef. Visitors look up at sharks circling the water's surface while, below, all manner of exotic fish swim by. (00 377 93 15 36 00; www.oceano.mc) Open daily 9.30am - 7pm, €11 adults, €6 6-18s).

Monte Carlo boasts its own philharmonic orchestra and ballet company, both of which stage regular performances throughout the year at the ultra-modern Grimaldi Forum (00 377 99 99 30 00; www.grimaldiforum.com) and the Charles Garnier-designed Monte Carlo Opera House.

Best shopping

Yves Saint Laurent, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton and Cartier are all on or near the Avenue des Beaux Arts. Better value can be found at the Metropole Shopping Centre, facing the Casino Gardens, which offers designer names in a less rarefied environment. For really good deals on a range of goods from laptops to Levis, shop with the locals at Centre Commercial de Fontvielle.

Best nightspot

Not to be missed is the Bar Américain at the Hotel de Paris (00 377 98 06 30 00; www.montecarloresort.com). Ernest Hemingway was once a regular. Now you're more likely to see Britney Spears.

Under The Grimaldi Forum on Princess Grace Avenue, is Zebra Square (00 377 99 99 2550), a restaurant which doubles as a late bar .

Best way to get there

Airlines flying to Nice include British Airways (0870-850 9850; www.ba.com), BMI British Midland (0870-60 70 555; www.flybmi.com), easyJet (0871-750 0100; www.easyjet.com) and Jet2 (0870-737 8282; www.jet2.com). For Monaco, take a 30-minute bus ride round the coast or fly in by helicopter (00 377 92 050 050; www.heliairmonaco.com). British Airways offers return flights to Nice from Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester from £76.

For more information, contact the Monaco Government Tourist and Convention Office (020 7352 9962; www.visitmonaco.com).

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