Monaco, that glamorous little country surrounded by France on the Mediterranean, is fabulous to visit any time of the year. But if — like Los Angeles—residents Niki Jensen and her boyfriend Martin Gaiss — you're lucky enough to go during the Monaco Grand Prix, the legendary annual Formula One race that goes through the hilly streets of the principality, you are in for the experience of a lifetime. Here, Niki shares the highlights from their five fabulous days in May.
Dreamy Days: The days leading up to the Grand Prix (which took place on Sunday, May 24th) were filled with exploring the lively race paddock area that sprawled alongside the yacht-filled marina and housed the race teams' hospitality and operations buildings. The mornings were spent running through the back streets and hills of Monaco and then enjoying lavish breakfasts of chocolate crepes, followed by afternoon drinks with snacks at the packed rooftop restaurant of our hotel, The Fairmont Monte Carlo. Also, we loved watching the Formula One practice rounds from our hotel balcony, which overlooked a sharp curve in the race circuit (pictured right).
Naughty Nights: Monaco really comes alive at night. From dancing into the morning with free-flowing champagne at a yacht party hosted by the owner of Force India racing (we even spotted Sir Richard Branson hanging out on the next yacht over) to eating top-notch cuisine at fancy restaurants, the constant flow of glamor was surreal. Everyone was dressed to the nines. The people-watching was always entertaining, but as one may expect, it wasn't always PG — on our last night, we sat in the lounge of the world-famous Hotel de Paris, only to be amused by what we figured were some high-priced hookers either looking for, or already sitting with, clients.
My favorite spot to enjoy a cocktail, lounge about or dance was the Red Bull Energy Station, a three-story hospitality barge that resembled an industrial hangar — with sleek white furniture and umbrellas, big-screen TVs and bars on several decks and even a small pool on the upper deck. With a Red Bull pass, you could come and go as you pleased, taking advantage of the free-flowing drinks and tasty bites.
My most joie de vivre memory was drinking champagne there while dancing to the upbeat grooves of a talented DJ from Miami. A pulsating remix of Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl" came on, and I bolted to the dance floor with my hands over my head. Everyone was living it up, dancing and smiling amidst the twinkling lights in the marina as if we all knew we were somewhere special.
Favorite Restaurants: More than any other spot we visited, Rampoldi (pictured left) encapsulated Monaco — it's where old-world, hushed glamor meets delicious Italian cuisine. It's right on Monaco's main drag, Avenue des Spelugues, and its elegant scene is what Paris must have been like in the day of the Impressionists. For graceful service by tuxedo-ed waiters and celeb sightings (Roger Moore of James Bond fame was sitting a few tables away!), Rampoldi is your haven.
For a low-key and authentic dining experience located in a bustling part of town near the marina, Martin and I loved Pizzeria Monegasque. We enjoyed the signature thin and crispy pizza and a piping hot lasagna in the eatery's back room, where a sole window looks out upon pastel buildings with colorful shutters and residential balconies.
Quick Trips to France: Just minutes west of Monaco is the charming French medieval village of Eze, whose cobblestone paths framed by boutiques, cafes and the most lovely hotels twist and turn through the hills far above the sea. Martin and I stumbled upon the serene Chateau Eza and enjoyed relaxing on the hotel's stone balcony, which offered my favorite view of the French Riviera (pictured right).
The bustling city of Nice is about 25 minutes west of Monaco, with Antibes and Cannes just a tad west of that. One night, we drove from Monaco to Cannes in about 40 minutes to attend a premiere party at the Cannes International Film Festival. Since the Monaco Grand Prix always overlaps this renowned film festival, Cannes is a fun nighttime excursion.