A visit to Monaco

F1 Rejects co-author Jamie McGregor at Virage St Devote

All photos taken by Jamie McGregor or Thomas Jarvis.
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With the 2001 Monaco Grand Prix coming up this weekend, I thought I would take this opportunity to post some details of my own visit to Monaco from mid-January this year. Thanks to work I had done during the Olympics with NBC, I was able to afford a 2 and a half month trip around Europe. Together with a friend of mine from high school, Tom Jarvis, we started in Frankfurt and visited along the way Hamburg, Copenhagen, Berlin, Munich, Innsbruck, Rome, Capri, Venice, Florence, Nice, Paris, London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Vienna.

The highlight for me was, of course, my day trip to Monte Carlo! I start our story as we arrive in France from Italy - first stop the scenic and utterly in vogue Nice - home of the wealthy, and those more wealthy than them!!

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Beautiful Monaco Harbour (left) and Casino Square (right).

We quickly found some budget accommodation in Nice, and soon had a good look around. The royal gardens were amazing, perched as they were high on a cliff overlooking the whole city; at least, they made a nice change from the excrement-lined footpaths below. Apparently every retired affluent female (and they are well past plague proportions in Nice) has her own Lilliputian toy dog to accompany her wherever she goes - this particular Cote d'Azur convention creates something of a mess on the pavements!

On the plus side, compared to the chilly winds of Florence and the ice-age hitting northern Europe, the weather was simply terrific. For an hour or so over lunch we lay in the sun on the beach (a huge several kilometre long expanse with the Promenade des Anglais, a lively footpath, spanning its entire distance) digesting lunch. What with the opulent hotels surrounding us, the ocean breeze, the animated esplanade - oh, it was practically heaven!

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Jamie standing at Mirabeau (left) and looking toward Loews Hotel (right).

Heaven, incidentally, was our destination for the following day - that is, motor racing heaven. Monaco - the glamour capital of the universe, and a mecca for problem gamblers, tax evaders and James Bonds the world over. While I wouldn't really want to live there, it was an amazing plac eto visit. First on my list, naturally, was walking the length of the Grand Prix track, and this we did.

We started from Casino Square, which was all decorated in red and white flags for the Rallye de Monte-Carlo, which happened just so happened to be on at the time. The whole place had more colour than what we'd previously seen of a wintery Europe! From there we wandered down the surprisingly steep incline to Mirabeau, where I stopped at the FNAC entertainment superstore in the Metropole shopping centre.

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The view over Loews (left) and Jamie on the Portier (right).

As you round Mirabeau, you proceed further down the hill - it was simply awesome wandering past the places that have seen some of the mythologically pivotal moments in F1 history. And so we came to the most famous corner on the track, the hairpin at the Loews Hotel, which was quite busy - no doubt thanks to the Rally. Climbing the old sandstone steps gives you a great view over the well-known palm tree and out to the ocean.

And so we continued, down under the overpass, past the tunnel entry to Nice, and you arrive at the right hander Virage du Portier. With the waves crashing beneath the bridge, it's the perfect spot for a photo and a gaze out to sea, the rest of the Monaco coastline, and beyond.

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The famous tunnel (left) and the Nouvelle Chicane (right).

The entry to the legendary tunnel lay directly ahead, the fortified Loews Hotel directly above. The tunnel isn't entirely enclosed, as I'd suspected, but is open air on the left hand side (I should have paid more attention to GP2). The gentle right sweeper continues past the fastest point on the track if you're in an F1 car, and the Loews Hotel valet parking!

Eventually it opens you out onto the breathtaking harbour - where one can imagine come race day the glitz is virtually palpable. Even in the middle of winter, luxury oozes from every square inch of yacht-deck space. We stopped for a while at a harbourside café that operates where the Nouvelle Chicane is, and then continued walking along past the left-hander Tabac to the entry of the swimming pool complex, where nearby there is a tribute to Louis Chiron.

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La frozen Piscine (left) and Sainte Devote (right).

We ventured past the swimming pool, and noticed that (not surprisingly since it was winter) the Piscine had been converted into an ice-rink instead, and a local school children could use it for free! We continued around La Rascasse (which was being redeveloped) and we were soon onto the start finish straight. We then walked along where we assumed the pits must be on race day - and it really was amazing how little space they have.

From where the pitlane joins the straight, there are a flight of steps and within 20 metres you are right at the swimming pool complex again. During F1 weekends the noise must me even more deafening than usual, concentrated in such a minute space. Not finished yet, we turned right past the little St. Devote Church hidden away in a corner, and started the long climb back up hill (more staggering views) along Beau Rivage.

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The Oceanographic Museum (left) and the Monaco night skyline (right).

Finally you round Massenet with the splendiferous Hotel de Paris on your left and you are back at Casino Square. Our walk in the wheel-tracks of F1 history's greatest names was complete. Being under 21 we could not get into the Casino proper, but Tom did manage to see the plush interior of the bathroom, though - automatic revolving toilet-seat cleaners and all!

Before the day was over, we also managed to visit the cliff-top Oceanographic Museum; the views on the way up were yet again phenominal. The Museum, although fiendishly expensive, was full of both the most kaleidoscopic and the most bizarrely shaped creatures in the sea; it also has the world's only living coral reef aquarium. As we descended toward dinner and our train home, we got a final look over the Monaco skyline, this time by night. It was a great finish to a great day on a great trip!

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