The last few weeks of May every year are quite chaotic on the French Riviera – you have two major events that cross over (The Cannes Film Festival, and Monaco Grand Prix) as well as numerous other local events such as Le Pain en Fête in Golfe Juan, Printemps Musical in Mouans-Sartoux and Fête ses Cultures in Vence.
Accommodation prices spike to coincide with the influx of visitors, and public transport is pushed to capacity.
However, while some residents despair about the month of May (and the craziness it brings to the region), I love it ! Both the Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix are unrivalled for atmosphere, experience and thrills – and you don’t need a hefty credit card limit to enjoy them.
The Monaco Grand Prix runs from 21 May – 24 May in 2015, with the main race of 78 laps starting on Sunday at 2pm local time.
Whether you’re a first time visitor or a regular race fan, Access Riviera presents ‘Monaco Grand Prix 2015 – The Ultimate Guide’ with free advice and local tips to help you get the most out of your visit.
Note: This guide features supplementary ‘Access Notes’ after many sections specifically giving information for persons with reduced mobility to enable them to enjoy Grand Prix. I hope you find this information useful and share it on social media.
Why visit the Monaco Grand Prix?
The Monaco Grand Prix is iconic and one of the most famous motor races in the world. Situated on a race circuit hugging Port Hercules and Monaco’s city streets, the race brings excitement, glamour and a huge dose of atmosphere to one of the world’s smallest principalities and it can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of your budget.
Traditional race fans of Grand Prix may find the Monaco circuit lacking – it is the slowest circuit of the Formula One championships. However, it is beyond exciting, and whilst there is rarely over-taking as the circuit width is narrow, the course has elevation shifts and tight bends and all of the driver’s skill is in negotiating the narrow and twisting roads. The longest period at full throttle is through the Fairmont tunnel, about 7.5 seconds.
There are 3 practice sessions at every Monaco Grand Prix to allow drivers to familiarize themselves with the circuit and for teams to set-up the cars for qualifying and the race. For Monaco 2015, the Formula 1 practice sessions are held on 21 May and 23 May – perfect for those spectators who want to experience some of the event, but not the full race day price tag.
The cheapest race day tickets – which invariably sell out – are the General Admission tickets for Le Rocher (Secteur Rocher) which is the grassy steep hillside leading up to the Palais. There are big screens to cover the action if you can’t see properly. The best spots are in the centre and on the face of the hillside because once you get near the top your view is obscured by trees. Secteur Rocher tickets are by no means luxurious – you’ll be camped out on the hillside for hours on end so wear comfy shoes, be prepared for all weather conditions, take a padded seat and snacks.
The proximity to the circuit for Grandstand spectators is excellent. My favourite spot is Grandstand T which is excellent for seeing the cars come down the short straight (by the swimming pool) then slow right down to take the corner before roaring past Grandstand T towards the Rascasse corner. Grandstand T is directly across from the pits so it is great for photo opportunities. Grandstand K is also highly recommended to see the cars come out of the Fairmont tunnel and hit the piscine chicane and you get a wide view of the port.
At the end of each day, the race officials open the circuit to the public so you can walk on the actual tarmac (photo opportunities abound!).
Useful links for visitors to Monaco Grand Prix
- Race programme for Monaco Grand Prix 2015 http://acm.mc/en/grand-prix-de-monaco-f1/edition-2015-gpf1/program-gpf1/
- Monaco tourist information www.visitmonaco.com
- Train timetables (Note: ‘Gare’ is station; when entering a search the Monaco train station is Monaco-Monte-Carlo) http://www.ter.sncf.com/paca
For race tickets, check last minute availability at:
Automobile Club of Monaco for tickets www.acm.mc
There are ticket booths that are open on race days but you must get there early.
** Special note for spectators with reduced mobility ** There is a Monaco association that assists wheelchair-bound spectators specifically for Monaco-based events. They have a designated viewing platform on Le Rocher (rue Philibert Florence) for Grand Prix as the Grandstands close to the circuit are inaccessible for persons who are wheelchair-bound. Contact them at least 48 hours in advance of your arrival at the Grand Prix, there is an email link on their website home page, you must give evidence of your mobility to obtain free tickets. If arriving by car, the security personnel at avenue de la Porte Neuve will give you access up the road only if you have a disabled sticker on your car. There is disabled carparking near to the platform on rue Philibert Florence. Photos of the platform and more information is found on their website here: http://amhm.chez-alice.fr/Page/Nosevenements.htm
My recommendation is to take the train as many roads are blocked for Grand Prix, and many vehicles have special permits to transport passengers to private events or the yachts.
Monaco is relatively compact but it is hilly. Don’t be put off though as it’s walkable, and the distance from the train station to the port and Grandstands is no more than 15-20 minutes walking from Monaco Monte Carlo train station.
There are also many escalators and elevators scattered throughout Monaco and any regional Tourist Office on the French Riviera can give you a map which details where they are.
Monaco Monte Carlo train station
The Monaco Monte Carlo train station (Gare de Monaco) is a modern station but it has multiple exit points so it’s quite possible to get confused if you aren’t familiar with the layout.
If arriving by train, buy a return ticket in advance at the station you leave from (e.g. Nice) as the trains post-race are always busy and ticket queues horrendous.
Monaco Monte Carlo train station has a newsagent selling newspapers, phone credit, cigarettes, snacks. There are toilet facilities, an information centre, caféterias and vending machines onsite.
Use the toilet facilities at the train station, at restaurants in La Condamine or before you enter your Grandstand because toilet facilities within the Grandstand areas are sparse and can have queues.
Here is a layout of the Monaco Monte Carlo train station which is handy for the location of elevators, travelators and toilets http://www.garedemonaco.com/plan-dacces
Access notes: Access Plus offer free assistance to passengers at Monaco Monte Carlo train station with reduced mobility. You must give 48 hours notice, email them firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0890 640 650 (local call when in France).
Heliair Monaco offer helicopter transfers between Nice Airport and Monaco. The trip duration is around 7 minutes, cost €165 oneway (€280 return) per passenger which includes a shuttle at Monaco from the heliport to your accommodation. Note: The shuttle does not run on Sunday for the main race due to road restrictions. Book via www.heliairmonaco.com
Heli Securite offer 8 daily helicopter transfers between Nice and Monaco, including direct landings at Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort and Vista Palace Hotel and Beach at Roquebrune Cap Martin, cost €130 oneway (€250 return) per passenger. Book via www.helicopter-saint-tropez.com
For VIP Grand Prix hospitality options including private balconies overlooking the circuit, and race-side berths on superyachts get in touch with Bespoke Yacht Charter and Experience the French Riviera.
Where to find Wifi hotspots
Finding free Wifi in Monaco is harder than you realise. Most hotels offer basic, slow service (slowness is on a par with watching the race and returning and its still downloading one email) or you have to fork out for an expensive room to get an internet package with some oomph. If you’re searching for Wifi hotspots, here are some places to go:
- Auditorium Rainier III, boulevard Louis II
- Bilig Café, rue Princesse Caroline in La Condamine (last time their Wifi password was espresso, then it changed to Nutella1 so give it a try)
- Café de Paris, place du Casino – pricey for food and drinks (around €10 for a glass of house wine and €16 for a beer) but a great spot for people-watching
- Columbus Monte-Carlo, 23 avenue des Papalins – smile and make friends with reception and its possible they’ll give you a one-month login with no password needed. As a bonus, David Coulthard used to own this hotel so it’s still a favourite jaunt for F1 types especially the GP winners.
- Grimaldi Forum, 10 avenue Princesse Grace
- McDonald’s, 29 avenue Albert II – one thing you can always count on when you visit the Golden Arches – Wifi with your greasy burger
Where to wine and dine
Contrary to it’s reputation, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find well-priced food and drinks in Monaco during Grand Prix. Here are some of Access Riviera’s favourite places for budget-friendly food and drinks, atmosphere or a good Grand Prix experience:
Café Llorca, 10 avenue Princesse Grace
Located at the Grimaldi Forum and close to the Japanese Garden, Michelin-starred chef Alain Llorca’s bistro eatery has superb views over Larvotto and you can dine for less than €25 if you choose the set menu (entrée, main and dessert or glass of wine).
Access notes: Wheelchair accessible.
Slammers, 6 rue Suffren Reymond
Very popular during Grand Prix, happy hour between 5pm-8pm and live music / street parties every day during Grand Prix. If you want to party after Grand Prix, head here.
Access notes: Inside is flat with ground-floor toilets however there are 2 steps from street level to the bar entrance.
La Bionda, 7 rue Suffren Reymond
Carnivores would be well recommended to head here for steak and grilled meats; there are also salads and vegetables on the menu for those not partial to meat.
Marché de la Condamine, Place d’Armes
For a quick bite to eat, head to the indoor covered market at Place d’Armes where you can grab some socca, fougasse or truffle pasta.
Access notes: Fully accessible.
Monte Carlo Bar, 1 avenue Prince Pierre
Situated right across from Place d’Armes, Monte Carlo Bar is not pretentious at all and a great bistro for people-watching. A good bet for pizza or pasta.
La Rascasse, 1 quai Antoine 1er
A top spot for a drink post-race. Happy hour starts from 5pm. They have live bands and DJ’s every day during Grand Prix and post-race entertainment that varies from fire shows to stilt walkers ; be warned it gets busy.
Stars ‘n’ Bars, 6 quai Antoine 1er
The portside stretch where Stars n Bars is located is a hive of activity during the Grand Prix. This year, race teams Mercedes-Benz, Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Ferrari are parked adjacent, so there’s a high chance you’ll get a photo of one of the drivers wandering past (though access to the trailers is fenced off).
Stars ‘n’ Bars is extremely popular during Grand Prix and it’s no wonder – they have lots of sports memorabilia, a kids play area, games arcade, outdoor terrace and upstairs lounge bar with views of the port. Try their cocktails too! The menu is expansive and includes buffalo wings, sushi, and salads and they have recently partnered with Superfood advocates The Clever Kitchen to bring vegetarian and vegan-friendly options to the digital menu.
Access notes: Wheelchair accessible.
Can you watch Monaco Grand Prix for free?
This is the number one internet search query my blog links to related to Grand Prix! Well, the answer is no and yes.
NO – If you want to sneak a peek up close to the race circuit you are out of luck – grandstand security is tight, fencing around the circuit is colossal and views are very restricted unless you have a ticket.
YES – If you’re fortunate enough to have friends with an apartment or yacht berth overlooking the race circuit, grovel as much as possible for a place on their balcony terrace or aft deck. For everyone else without a purchased ticket, it is sometimes possible to watch a snippet of the race from Rampe Major (the Le Rocher ramp up to the Palais), or there are free public screens at Place d’Armes relaying live race action.
If you’re not adverse to walking, I have previously watched the race for free from a small restaurant situated above the port at the Fort Antoine gardens – to find it, walk from the Palace square along rue Basse, then rue Psse-Marie de Lorraine and you will see the restaurant on the corner of avenue des Pins and avenue de la Porte Neuve. There is a small garden terrace and they sell beer for around €6 a pint. Take binoculars as you won’t be able to see much of the circuit but you’ll get a view of the cars coming out of the Fairmont tunnel and heading to the chicanes before the piscine (swimming pool). Accessible toilets are 1 minute away on avenue St Martin. Below are some photos taken from this location:
Things to see and do in Monaco
Whether you have a ticket for the races or not, you can still enjoy Monaco and the atmosphere at the Grand Prix for free (or a low budget). It’s important to note that many attractions in Monaco are closed during the F1 races including the Monaco Oceanarium so don’t base your entire visit around attractions and places of interest being open – the Grand Prix is the main attraction! Access Riviera has many tips and snippets of advice:
La Condamine is the heart and soul of the Grand Prix action. This is where you will find bars and restaurants with tables spilling onto the pavement, and much of the atmosphere is centred here.
Rue Suffren Raymond has many tents selling race souvenirs (you can pick up a cap for around €10 and t-shirt for about €15 unless you head for the official merchandise tents where the prices quadruple). You’ll also find beer in ample supply and food trucks selling everything from baguette sandwiches and hotdogs to crepes.
Rue Princess Caroline also has restaurants, bars and souvenir stands. Place d’Armes is a great place to check out during Grand Prix – there are big screen TV’s relaying the circuit, car simulators, entertainment, lots of bars and cafeterias around the square, the indoor Marché de la Condamine with food vendors and accessible toilets across the road.
Access notes: La Condamine is paved and mostly flat – other than crowds, you shouldn’t have any issues getting around. Avoid stairs at the port end of rue de Milo.
Japanese Garden (Jardin Japonais de Monaco), avenue Princesse Grace
Situated in the Larvotto area, the Japanese Garden is a relaxed place to visit with a man-made lake, bridges and rock gardens. Free entry and open from 9am until 5pm drop by here if you need a break from racing action.
Monaco Port, Fontvieille Port, Fontvieille Park and Princess Grace Rose Garden
Unless you have a pass to get onto the yachts, walking the length of Monaco Port during race days is off-limits for the general public excluding quai Antoine 1er. You can also head over to the other side of the Rock, to see Fontvieille Port and there are lots of restaurants along the quay. Follow the sculpture path with over 100 sculptures from Fontvieille Park to the Princess Grace Rose Gardens which is a nice place to sit on benches beside the rose gardens.
Access notes: Accessible on paved surfaces.
Monaco-Ville is Monaco’s old town and sits on the rocky headland known as Le Rocher (the Rock).
The Prince’s Palace (Palais Princier de Monaco) is the private residence of the ruling Prince and the main attraction of Monaco-Ville. You can visit the State Apartments (entrance fee applies) year round, tickets can be purchased from the Palace website www.palais.mc There is also a free Changing of the Guards ceremony in front of the Palace at 11.55am daily.
The Cathedral is a free attraction in Monaco-Ville. It is located on rue Colonel-Bellando-de-Castro, and is the burial place of the Princes of Monaco as well as holding the tombs of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace.
One of Monaco’s most popular tourist attractions, the Monaco Oceanarium is closed during Grand Prix weekend.
Access notes: Families with baby strollers can head up to the Palace square via the Rampe Major (it’s a gradual uphill climb but the stairs are a large width so its manageable).
Wheelchair bound or tourists with reduced mobility can still visit Monaco-Ville by using the elevator from the carpark underneath the Monaco Oceanarium, the streets are paved and the Palace square is paved and flat. Bear in mind that the actual State Apartments are not accessible by wheelchair.
If you fancy shopping while in Monaco, the big shopping complex is Centre Commercial de Fontvieille where you’ll find major brands and boutiques, McDonalds and a Carrefour supermarket. Le Metropole, near the Casino has restaurants, boutiques and a money exchanger. For luxury shopping, head to the streets closest to the Casino, avenue de la Costa and on avenue Princesse Grace by Larvotto beach.
Things to avoid
Not being prepared for all weather conditions – Monaco has it’s own micro-climate and the weather can change quickly. The Grandstands are not covered, so you must prepare for hot sunshine and/or rain.
Driving – avoid driving if at all possible, especially anywhere near La Condamine. During Grand Prix, there are many road blockages and unannounced road diversions. Park at Cap d’Ail, find a car park on the outer rim of Monaco or catch a train.
Partying till late if you’re not staying in Monaco – The atmosphere during Grand Prix is fantastic and many spectators hit the bars and restaurants after the races for a drink or two. However be aware that if you decide to stay for a drink to double check the train timetables – even though Grand Prix is one of the largest events in the region, the trains don’t run all night. Taxis are expensive on the French Riviera and a cab from Monaco to western destinations such as Nice or Antibes will set you back between €60-€150 depending on distance plus night time surcharges.
FEATURED COMPANY BIO
In the lead-up to Monaco Grand Prix I have the privilege to chat to many forward-thinking companies based along the French Riviera. One of these is The Clever Kitchen who will be collaborating with Stars ‘n’ Bars, one of Access Riviera’s recommended Grand Prix restaurants.
The Clever Kitchen offers an inspirational and realistic approach to healthy living in the real world. We know it’s not always easy to make the right eating choices thanks to our busy lives and constant exposure to the temptations of convenience foods – not to mention the confusion surrounding what we should eat and what we shouldn’t! Our aim is to make it easier to be healthy by offering nutritional enlightenment and healthy recipes based on fresh, seasonal produce and nutrient dense Superfoods.
Professional Nutritionist Susan Tomassini is the ‘brains’ of the kitchen, bringing scientific knowledge and experience as a certified Nutritionist to The Clever Kitchen and explaining how different foods benefit and nourish our body and mind. Melanie Gulliver is a finance expert who is also passionate about healthy eating and recipe creator for The Clever Kitchen.
The Clever Kitchen is delighted to be collaborating with Stars ’n’ Bars to introduce nutrient-rich vegetarian and vegan options on their brand new digital menu. In the words of Kate and Didier – co-founders of Stars ’n’ Bars – “It has always been about giving our customers choices. We cook great steaks but a vegetarian will never go hungry in our restaurant. Now with TCK’s involvement as professional nutritionists, SNBs can also introduce and spotlight a recognized brand of ‘healthy’ dishes independent of our own efforts. Our partnership with the Clever Kitchen is a natural next step.”
To find out more about The Clever Kitchen, connect with them via:
Website: http://theclever.kitchen (Subscribe to their newsletter or purchase some healthy goodies via their shop)
Thank you to Melanie and Susan from The Clever Kitchen for their time and insights for this article.
If you found this Monaco Grand Prix 2015 guide useful please share it on Facebook or Twitter. Thank you!
Image credits: Amber Lounge, Artdevivreparmacha, Biletto, Visit Monaco, Stars n Bars, Grimaldi Forum, Palais Princier website, James Bond locations, Panoramio, Cornucopia Events, ExecFlyer
Logo: The Clever Kitchen logo used courtesy of TCK