By Susan Farewell
What's next on the royal calendar? Another wedding! This one in the most glamorous place on earth.
Come July 2nd, Monaco’s Sovereign, His Serene Highness Prince Albert II will marry South African Olympic swimmer, Charlène Wittstock right in Palace Square
(the couple is pictured below).
Right at the heart of all the glamour is the Hôtel Hermitage (pictured above and guestroom below), which is steps away from Monaco’s chief attraction: the Casino de Monte-Carlo and adjoining Opera House (designed by Charles Garnier, the architect of the Opera House in Paris). This hotel recently was awarded Best Romantic Hotel in the World Luxury Hotel Awards.
It's within easy reach of several highly regarded restaurants (including its own Vistamar under the direction of Chef Joël Garault, which recently unveiled a new Mediterranean menu) and its shops where all the major French and Italian designers are represented. On top of that, it is connected (by underground passageways) to the spa Les Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo which is on top of a cliff with views of the yacht-filled harbor and Mediterranean from many of the treatment rooms.
While it's easy to fill a week here, here's what you might do in two days.
For starts, devote at least half a day to visiting the Old Town, which is known as Monaco-Ville. Propped up on a 200-foot-high promontory (the Rock), this area is where many of the old Monégasque families have lived for generations. It’s about as charming as a European city gets with narrow cobblestone streets, centuries-old stone buildings, vaulted passageways, and fragrant blossoms filling every nook and cranny. The centerpiece is the palace, an Italian-style home of Monaco’s royal family. You can tour the State Apartments (every day from June to October—but double check, there are exceptions) and see the royal family’s extensive art collection. Time your visit so that you’ll be outside at 11:55 a.m. for the changing of the guard. While in Old Town, be sure to try some Monégasque specialties including barbagiuans (vegetable and herb-stuffed fritters), fougasse (an aromatic bread bread topped with nuts and anise seed), socca (chickpea flour crepe) and stocafi (cod fish prepared with a rich tomato sauce and black olives).
Nearby, you’ll find the Cathedral of Monaco, which is celebrating its centennial in 2011. Be sure to have a look around inside. American film star Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier were married here in 1956. Sadly, the resting place of Princess Grace--who tragically died in an automobile accident--is also here, as well as the Sovereign Princes of Monaco.
A short distance away is the Oceanographic Museum, which was founded in 1910 by Prince Albert I. A must-see, it has one of the world’s finest collections of marine life with nearly 5,000 fish in 90 tanks and pools.
Also worth visiting: the Exotic Gardens and Observatory Grottos, which include more than 7,000 species of plants from desert regions around the world and grottoes that were homes of the early cavemen and the National Museum, east of the center. In a villa also designed by Charles Garnier, it houses one of the world’s great collections of mechanical toys and dolls as well as contemporary art.
Nearby is the promenade at La Plage du Larvotto, a stroll along which is the perfect way to spend the late afternoon before getting ready for the evening, when the Principality really comes alive.
Start with a late dinner at one of the Michelin-starred restaurants (five have garnered eight stars to date) and then move on. Plan to spend at least one evening (the later, the better) wandering around the Casino de Monte-Carlo. If you’re lucky, you may walk out with more money than you came with.
Top off one evening dancing at Jimmy’z, at the Monte Carlo Sporting Center. It’s one of the Cote d’Azur’s hottest nightclubs and a fitting way to end a dazzling day.
Photo credits: Top 2 photographs courtesy of Hôtel Hermitage. Engagement photo of His Serene Highness Prince Albert II and Charlène Wittstock by Amedeo Turello, night photo provided by Monaco Press Centre.