Travel: Give full rein to those 007 fantasies

As Anna Melville-James discovers, you don't have to be a millionaire to enjoy yourself in Monaco - but it would help
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The Independent Travel
Smaller than Hyde Park, the French principality of Monaco rises in tiers from the turquoise coast of the Cote d'Azur. The most famous place in Monaco is the jet-set town of Monte Carlo, but with 700 years of history and culture behind it, Monaco is also a living community of 30,000, including 5,000 native Monegasques.

From the belle epoque buildings set in manicured squares, to palm-lined coast roads, the harbour and the imperious rock of Monaco, the principality is by day a vibrant and beautiful sun-haven, and by night a sensual, luxurious playground for the good life that never sleeps.

When to go

Monaco's generous weather in April, May and June offers the best of the Mediterranean sun leading up to the crowded peak season of July and August. September dissipates tourist crowds, leaving behind golden days and spectacular sunsets. Major events in Monaco include the famous Grand Prix (4 June) and the Classic Week yachting regatta (9-19 September).

Getting there

British Airways (tel: 0345 222 111) has a new service from Gatwick to Nice which takes two hours, five minutes, from pounds 163 return, including tax. They are running a special winter offer where you can get two return economy tickets for pounds 199 (plus pounds 14 tax) from 1 November to 15 December and 5 January to 31 March. For details, tel: 0207 587 1400.

British Midland (tel: 0870 6070555) flies to Nice from pounds 220 return, including tax, and return flights with easyJet (tel: 0870 600 0000) start at pounds 90.

For a swish seven-minute flight over spectacular coastline, transfer from Nice by helicopter with Heli Air (tel: 00 377 92 05 00 50) to Monaco for FFr725 (pounds 74) return, plus tax.

Road transfer takes 45 minutes by bus (FFr90 one-way from Nice airport) or car (hire one from FFr395 to FFr500 per day with Avis (tel: 00 377 93 30 17 53) or Europcar (tel: 00 377 93 50 74 95).

Getting about

Monaco is a place to promenade, even if it's a little steep. Use public street lifts built into the rock to change levels quickly. Taxis are plentiful, but expensive. Efficient, comprehensive bus routes operate (FFr20 for a carnet of four tickets) and for true Monte Carlo style, hire a limousine (tel: 93 50 82 65).

Where to stay

The grandest hotels in Monaco are operated by the Societe des Bains de Mer, a company primarily owned by the Monaco government.The 19th-century splendour of the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo (tel: 00 377 92 16 30 00) draws the world's rich and famous to enjoy four-star luxury from FFr1,800 per night. Before breaking the bank at Monte Carlo, touch the knee of the statue of Louis XIV in the hotel lobby for luck. The beautiful Hotel Hermitage (tel: 00 377 92 16 60 60) offers more intimate accommodation, with a "Winter Garden" built by Gustave Eiffel. Throw open your balcony doors to view the Port d'Hercule, from FFr1,400 per night.

Quality accommodation extends beyond the jet-set end of the market. Hotel du Louvre (tel: 00 377 93 50 65 25) offers stylish double rooms from FFr780, and Hotel Cosmopolite (tel: 00 377 93 30 16 95) from FFr314 for a double.

What to see and do

The Old Town of Monaco-Ville offers the best views all the way through France to Italy. From the 18th-century Oceanographic Museum (tel: 93 15 36 00), cliffside gardens lead to the Prince's Palace (tel: 93 25 18 31), built on the site of a 13th-century Genoese fortress where the state apartments include a Palatine chapel.

Visit the Avenue des Beaux Arts, where the chic shop, and write your wish-lists for Cartier, then go to Les Thermes Marins (tel: 92 16 40 40) for a dip in the saltwater pool and a pina colada on the terrace. The spa specialises in sea treatments, facials and algae wraps.

Food and drink

Eating out in Monaco is an event, whether in the balmy night air, under chandeliers or against panoramic views. For regal dining, the Louis IX (tel: 92 16 30 01) is definitive belle epoque grandiosity. Expect to pay around FFr400 for a main course. Eat beside the twinkling Casino Square, at the art nouveau style Cafe de Paris (tel: 92 16 20 20) from FFr80 for a main course. The Bar & Boeuf (tel: 92 16 60 60) serves inventive beef and sea bass at around FFr250 and an amazing tomato sorbet starter. On a more limited budget, eat well at any of the restaurants in the narrow streets of the Old Town, where main courses average FFr70.

Nightlife

The famous Casino at Monte Carlo (tel: 92 16 23 00), built in 1878 by Charles Garnier, is a must. Glide past Ionic, onyx columns to the gaming rooms, and live out James Bond fantasies for as little as FFr20 for a minimum stake in the public rooms (entrance FFr50).

Dance with the in-crowd at Jimmy'z (tel: 92 16 22 77), with its cigar bar and light shows. Drinks are prohibitively expensive, but entrance is free to anyone who looks smart.

Or enjoy the pleasure of people-watching in the numerous piano-bars dotted around the town. The American Bar in the Hotel de Paris provides the best viewing from tables that spill out into the lobby.

Out of town

In tiny Monaco, out-of-town means out of the country. Over the "virtual French border" are the glass workshops of Biot and the 17th-century village of Eze. The Friday market at Vintimille on the Italian Riviera is recommended. All are an easy drive from Monaco, as are several French and Italian ski resorts.

Deals and packages

Cresta Holidays (tel: 0161-926 9999) offers a "Monte-Carlo Passport", including flight, two nights' accommodation on a b&b basis, helicopter transfer and free entrance to tourist attractions, from pounds 318 per person based on two sharing.

Further information

Contact the Monaco Tourist Office (tel: 0171-352 9962).

Anna Melville-James flew with British Airways.

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