At Larvotto Beach in Monaco, your bare feet pad along pebbles rather than smooth sand. And during the packed summer months of July and August it can be a real challenge to carve a spot among the masses to unfurl your beach towel. And the backdrop? The luxury apartment buildings of Monte Carlo stacked like decks of cards on the promenade just beyond the beach. It might not sound like a typical piece of beachy paradise, but what you've come to the uber-moneyed municipality of Monaco for is the ooh-la-la factor. And you'll find it at Larvotto, thanks to the prime international jet-set.
Don your designer sunglasses and settle atop your towel - or better yet, a lounge chair - then sit back and soak in the scene of diamonds and minimalist duds.
A prime place to soak up the scene while sipping champagne is at La Note Bleue, a lounge-style bar open from mid-April to mid-October. Located on Larvotto Beach, the bar boasts its own cordoned-off private area, where you can rent a lounge chair with a plush mattress and a parasol to fully settle in. Enjoy a light lunch (after all, it's about keeping your waistline sleek to look its loveliest in that designer swimwear) of fresh fish carpaccio with truffle oil or a Salade Niçoise between dips in the calm, cool, perpetually emerald-green water.
The wealthy people are at the (beach clubs) with the lounge chairs and umbrellas and waiters, drinking champagne and having fun,” says John DiScala of JohnnyJet.com, “They're all dressed in expensive clothes. The women have their handbags and all their designer things; they're on their phones. You'll want to bring your designer clothes and goods to fit in.”
Miami Plage, while conjuring precious little of its South Florida namesake (save for an abundance of bronzed Latin beauties and an all-white landscape of lounge chairs), is another prime place to settle in for a meal-with-a-view (the wood-fired pizzas are very good) or to rent a chaise or cabana for the day. There's a take-away snack shop here, too, with inexpensive paninis, salads and burgers.
For traditional Monegasque (Monaco) gastronomy, La Rose des Vents on Larvotto Beach specializes in seasonal local seafood including grilled sardines, mussels, calamari and shrimp. There's a private beach club here, too, on a stretch of sand that's particularly sheltered from waves and thus appealing to families.
For Monaco eats on more of a budget, there's a surprisingly decent selection along the streets surrounding the harbor and Rue Grimaldi, which runs parallel to the port and has a good range of casual boulangeries and tea salons. Le Crock'in is a casual family-run restaurant near the port with inexpensive sandwiches and salads. And the Crêperie du Rocher in Monaco-ville has delicious salty and sweet crepes starting from just 3 euros.
During the summer months, when Larvotto Beach is at its most packed and the water is at its warmest, it's worth escaping the sand for some splash time in the refreshing Mediterranean waters.
Ski Vol water-sports center has active beachgoers covered with everything from jet-ski and sea-kayak rentals to rides behind a motor boat atop tubes, waterskis and wakeboards. You can arrange parasailing here, too, and there's also beach volleyball and a trampoline play area for kids.
Monte Carlo Casino - Nicolas Fleury, flickr
Perched 200 feet above the harbor, Monaco's old town, known as Monaco-ville or the Rock (le rocher, in French), is the municipality's quaintest quarter to explore, with narrow lanes and pastel-colored buildings. It's well worth a sunset ascent to take in views that sweep from Provence to Italy and showcase the harbors on either side of the monolith. As darkness falls, the illuminated Saint Nicholas Cathedral takes on a particularly ethereal glow. One of Europe's best aquariums is located here, too. The Musée océanographique de Monaco has impressive coral-reef displays and a shark lagoon in addition to an interesting aquarium exhibit displaying more than 100 of the 650 species of fish dwelling in Mediterranean waters and more than 200 invertebrates.
For more contemporary views of the city, nothing will make you want to win Powerball more than a stroll along the harborfront to ogle the mega yachts that sparkle like a cityscape unto themselves (jot down their names and attempt Googling them later to discover the elite, likely owners). And whether you're a gambler or not, it's worth a stroll to Monte-Carlo's Place du Casino. Here, couture shops abound and high-rollers and perpetual optimists pour in for a chance to win big at Monaco's legendary casino, built in 1878 by the same architect as the Paris opera house. You'll be denied entrance if you're not dressed to impress (jacket and tie for the gents), and there's a 10 euro fee to get in.
Hotel de Paris- Courtesy of Hotel de Paris
No surprise, Monaco brims with luxury hotels. And one of the most legendary addresses is the 5-star Monte Carlo Beach Hotel, a 1930s-era icon that was reborn in 2009 after a design overhaul by savvy Parisian designer India Mahdavi. The sparkling Mediterranean views steal the show from even the fabulous interiors, and swanky beach tents host families who've been checking into the same suites decade after decade.
And the Belle Époque-style Hotel de Paris on the casino square is another iconic and awe-inspiring Monaco hotel, says DiScala. “It makes you feel like James Bond,” he enthuses. “Women are rolling up in their Rolls Royces. The nicest, shiniest and cleanest cars you've ever seen are parked outside these hotels.”
For something slightly more budget-friendly (and remember, that's a very relative term in Monaco -- you'll still pay upward of $200 per night here), the Columbus is a more affordable option. Located near Fontvieille Park and Princess Grace Rose Garden, as well as to grocery stores and shopping, it's only a roughly half-hour walk to the casino, old town and Larvotto Beach.