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How to Go Off the Beaten Path in Monaco

Look beyond the glittering façade of casinos and sports cars to uncover the country’s true essence.

Visit Monaco

Exotic Garden

Courtesy of Visit Monaco/©BVergely

Monaco, often associated with decadence, has many charms that often go unnoticed amid the rush toward the casinos and luxury yachts of Monte-Carlo, the destination’s most famous district. A closer look at this coastal enclave on the Mediterranean reveals more than its contemporary image would suggest. Neither distinctly French nor entirely Italian, this country encompassing less than one square mile is a place of intriguing complexity, urging visitors to stay and explore rather than merely pass through.

Visiting the country’s lesser-known areas—bustling markets, tranquil gardens, and architectural treasures—reveals the principality’s diverse cultural mosaic, exposing a deeper, more multicultural identity. Monaco is home to 139 nationalities and has its own unique language, Múnegu, a blend of Ligurian, French, Provençal, and Spanish. This intriguing mix adds layers to Monaco’s culture and venturing off the beaten path yields a richer, more authentic experience.

Eat and drink in the La Condamine District

Visit Monaco

La Condamine

Courtesy of Visit Monaco

To experience the traditional Monaco, explore the vibrant spirit of La Condamine. Its architectural style, characterized by arcades and colorful building façades, mirrors the typical style of the French Riviera. Stop at the market on the Place d’Armes, which also features café terraces and newspaper stands. Discover around 20 stalls in the market halls, offering regional produce and other specialties from Monaco, Italy, and beyond. Open daily, it also hosts traders, market gardeners, and florists. Don’t leave without trying some Monegasque specialties like socca, a kind of crepe made with chickpea flour.

Leave time to stop at La Distillerie de Monaco, the principality’s first and only distillery. It specializes in artisanal liqueurs like L’Orangerie, made using locally grown oranges. Enjoy it chilled, over ice, or mixed with prosecco for a refreshing Monaco spritz.

Walk through the Old Town

Visit Monaco

Monaco’s Old Town

Courtesy of Visit Monaco

Discover the Old Town, the historic district perched atop the famous Rock of Monaco, surrounded by views of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s the location of the Grimaldi family’s residence, the 13th-century Prince’s Palace, now open after recent renovations. Begin at the Place du Palais to watch the Changing of the Palace Guard—this synchronized military spectacle of precision and solemnity occurs daily at 11:55 a.m.

Stroll the narrow medieval lanes, making your way to the Club Bouliste Monégasque. Tucked away near the Oceanographic Museum, this unassuming restaurant offers genuine local dishes. You can sample traditional delights including barbajuans, a ravioli-like fritter filled with Swiss chard. It’s open to the public daily, even if you don’t play pétanque, and it’s the perfect way to savor some local culinary specialties.

The Saint-Martin Gardens, Monaco’s inaugural public garden since 1816, showcases Mediterranean flora and exotic species along steep, winding paths close to the palace. This green oasis offers several serene resting spots to take in the panoramic sea views.

Next door, find the Cathedral of Monaco, the eternal resting place of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace. Constructed in 1875 using limestone from La Turbie in southeastern France, this Roman-Byzantine masterpiece houses the tombs of former Princes, elegant artworks, and a retable by French painter Louis Bréa from 1500.

Experience the green spaces of Fontvieille

Fontvieille, Monaco’s westernmost district, is a comparatively recent addition to the principality compared to others. It was predominantly built on reclaimed land based on the design by Italian engineer Gianfranco Gilardini, making it one of the newer neighborhoods in Monaco. With its picturesque port adorned with boats and waterfront restaurants, Fontvieille invites strolls against the backdrop of The Old Town’s majestic cliffs.

A visit to Fontvielle is not complete without a stop at the Princess Grace Rose Garden. Conceived by Prince Rainier III in honor of his wife, this English-style garden also features olive trees and more than 315 varieties of roses. Then, discover the outdoor art gallery of the Fontvieille Sculpture Trail; the pedestrian path encourages exploration of works by renowned artists like Rodin, Bourdelle, Léger, and more.

Hit the beach in the Larvotto District

Larvotto Beach ©BVergely_Lot13_Juil2021_05_addcrop.jpg

Larvotto Beach

Courtesy of Visit Monaco

Beach lovers should make it a priority to visit Larvotto, part of Monte Carlo and located in the easternmost part of the principality. But first, explore the area around the Grimaldi Forum, the principality’s main convention and cultural center. Next, wander the tranquil Japanese Garden, designed by Yasuo Beppu, admiring the bamboo hedges, imported stones, meticulously pruned plants, and Zen features like ponds, waterfalls, and a tea house. Watch koi gracefully swim amid water lilies.

Visit Monaco

Japanese Garden

Courtesy of Visit Monaco

Larvotto is also where you’ll find Villa Sauber, an architectural gem from the Belle Époque. It was acquired by painter Robert Sauber in 1904, but its exact construction date remains a mystery. Under the ownership of the Monegasque State, it now hosts contemporary art exhibitions as part of the New National Museum.

Finally, enjoy the enchanting Larvotto Beach on Avenue Princesse Grace. This lovely seaside spot, which was recently renovated, features a shaded promenade and revamped beaches. Bask in the sun and dip your toes in the refreshing Mediterranean at one of the four private beaches: La Rose des Vents, Le Neptune, La Note Bleue, or Le Miami. Or enjoy ice cream from the Mullot parlor and savor it in the cool shade beneath swaying palm trees.

Admire architecture in the Exotic Garden District

Where the Alps meet the Mediterranean, find the Exotic Garden of Monaco, a more than 49,000-square-foot botanical garden clinging to a rocky cliffside. It’s known for its terraced gardens, Mediterranean views, and various succulents, including around a thousand cacti.

Next, head to Villa Paloma, a modern cultural center with lively art exhibitions that are now part of the New National Museum of Monaco. The exhibits inside the 19th-century villa blend contemporary creativity with fascinating history and beautiful gardens, offering an engaging experience for art enthusiasts.

Conclude your architectural exploration with a stroll westward along Boulevard du Jardin Exotique. The Simona Building, constructed in 2012 by architect Jean-Pierre Lott, has several distinctive features like green walls and a blend of vertical lines and curves using glass and metal. Nearby, Villa Troglodyte, also designed by Lott, ingeniously integrates a luxury home into a rocky promontory with minimal disturbance to the surroundings. Continue west to Villa Ispahan, distinguished by its Persian-style facade adorned with colored stained-glass windows and marble mosaics, and then ponder how these structures offer a glimpse into the principality’s hidden heritage.

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