Monte Carlo, the tiny city within the tiny Principality of Monaco, is truly the epicenter of luxury and I made my very first journey to this fascinating place last month. Even though the city is dripping with relentless, unabashedly outrageous displays of wealth, I found the people warm and friendly and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was in the South of France for the Cannes Film Festival and Monaco is only an hour-long train ride from Cannes and is a great getaway from the madness of the festival.Monte Carlo

A three-country view from the Fairmont Monte Carlo

In Monaco, I stayed a few days at the beautiful Fairmont Monte Carlo (12, Avenue des Spelugues). The hotel has a long history with the city, first opening in 1975 as the Loews, at what was once called “Tir au Pigeons”, the site of royal pigeon shoots over the sea. In 1998 it became the Monte Carlo Grande Hotel and finally a Fairmont property in 2004. I have a long, happy history with Fairmont, going back long before I became a travel blogger. The Fairmont San Francisco, sitting atop Nob Hill, has been a favorite father-son destination for my dad and I for the past 30 years.

The hotel
The Fairmont Monte Carlo is located on right on the sea, seven stories tall, built onto the cliffs, with 602 rooms and suites. The facade of the hotel faces the buildings and mountains of Monaco, offering a view almost as beautiful as the seaview on the other side. The building is designed like a modern ship, which is appropriate given its dockside location. The rooms are like luxurious cabins, with nautical touches like round, porthole windows on the doors.

Fairmont Monte Carlo
On the roof, overlooking the F1 track

The Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Monte Carlo features all the treatments and amenities one would expect from a hotel that caters to most of the world’s billionaires and the associated Willow Stream Fitness and Pool makes use of the perfect views. I enjoyed the pool and deck, which features DJs and sometimes becomes the city’s hottest dayclub.

My room
My Deluxe Sea View room lived up to its name with an endless view of the Mediterranean, including a huge yacht moored outside. The room had a terrace, complete with table and chairs and a chaise lounge. The chaise came pre-wrapped in a fluffy towel, just calling out to be used. The overall room size was not huge, but the furniture and amenities were luxurious and also very comfortable.

Monte Carlo
Action Cam view of Monte Carlo

The hotel’s main foodie attraction is the incredible NOBU, the legendary Japanese restaurant’s first European location. Hugely popular with the locals as well as hotel guests, the restaurant is open every evening from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. I loved the Fairmont’s Horizon Deck, Restaurant & Champagne Bar (open April through October), with its stunning views. I looked forward to the hotel’s delicious buffet breakfast each morning and eating it while sitting on the deck, with an amazing view encompassing three countries: Monaco, France and Italy. The service was up to the usual Fairmont standards and the food itself was wonderful as well.

Monte Carlo
Delicious breakfast at Horizon

The Fairmont Hairpin Turn
Not many hotels have their own F1 hairpin turn, but the Fairmont Monte Carlo does. Located within the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix race zone, you need a credential just to access the hotel during the iconic race. The course goes right by the front of the hotel, making it an ideal vantage point for race fans. The view is made better by the severity of the turn, forcing the cars to slow down almost to a stop.

Helping the chef

I watched the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix from the terrace of a private suite overlooking the course and was just blown away by the energy and excitement of the experience. Bleachers are installed on the roof of the hotel, above the swimming pool, granting guests some of the best views of the track in the city and the area becomes a big party after the race. Since about half the hotel’s rooms and suites face the track, it’s one of the most popular destinations for race fans and can be a luxurious way to watch the race.

Monaco Grand Prix
Track view during the Monaco Grand Prix

Getting to Monte Carlo
Nice (NCE) is the closest airport, about an hour away. Travelers should note Heli Air Monaco helicopter service from Nice airport (100 Euro) costs only slightly more than a taxi (about 90 Euro). Monaco is also easily reached by train, it’s about 30 minutes by rail from Nice. The hotel is within walking distance from the train station, I even did it with rolling luggage as it’s downhill. A key tip, gather a lot of Euro coins to buy the train ticket (about 20 Euro round trip) in the automated machines at the station. Euro bills are not accepted and the ticket machines require a chipped credit card, which most Americans (including me) do not have. The alternative is waiting in the ticket line, which can be long.