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Monaco for The Fast and The Furious

Of all the sporting events in the world, none can match the glamour and excitement of the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix. More than just a car race, it transcends sport to become Europe's premier sporting and social event. Even just the name conjures up images of sun-soaked celebrities, expensive yachts and even more expensive living. But this image is somewhat misleading. Monaco is far more accessible and affordable than it appears.

F1 Grand Prix weekend is definitely the best time to visit Monaco. This may go against all the advice you've ever heard about travelling in the off-season to avoid crowds. But it is the crowds - the spectators - who lend this event the carnival atmosphere it's so famous for.

Everyone from self-made millionaires to budget backpackers is there for the pivotal race on the Formula 1 calendar. Even if you have no interest in motor sports, you can't help but get swept up in the atmosphere. The Monaco F1 Grand Prix has been held on the first Sunday after Ascension Day since its modern inception in 1950. It determines the staging of the races for the entire Grands Prix season. There are three real options for viewing the race. You can watch it from the grandstands; this offers the best views of the race, the yachts and the giant screen televising those parts of the track you can't see.

The stands situated opposite the harbour, which run from Tabac Corner to the Swimming Pool, offer the most encompassing view. While the stands at the chicane, facing towards Tabac Corner, provide a different picture altogether and give a clearer view of how hard the drivers really work. Depending on the Grandstand, tickets can be expensive, so you may care for the next option.

You can buy a General Admission ticket offering access to Old Monaco, which is situated on The Rock and provides a bird's eye view of the track. Your best bet is to wedge yourself firmly against the parapet and stay there for the rest of the day. It helps to be part of a larger group, because if you move from your spot for any reason, it will soon be occupied. It also helps if you get there early as all the best spots are snapped up quickly.

An easier option with General Admission tickets is to find a shady tree on The Rock hillside, just below the parapets of Old Monaco, and enjoy the race among the Tifosi. These Italian fanatics follow Ferrari to all the European Grands Prix and are as remarkable to watch as the race itself. You can always tell how well or badly Ferrari is doing by the expression on their faces. Watching the race from the leafy hillside requires the surefootedness of a mountain goat. However, it does offer some of the best views of the race.

Just remember, no matter how strenuous it may seem climbing up, it's getting back down that's the challenge. The most civilized option for watching the race requires a little planning. It involves booking a table at one of the many restaurants overlooking the track. Only, be sure to book the best table! The meal may be a little extravagant, but considering you get grandstand views, a great meal - including service, and you save on the cost of admission, it's hard to beat.

So why not organize a group and book a table? Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the spectacle. Race day in Monaco is best described as LOUD! From the roar of the engines to the cheers of the crowd, your senses are on full alert. That's the kind of excitement this race generates. Fortunately, Monaco is rich in natural beauty and quiet, out of the way places where your senses can escape - even if only temporarily.

Old Monaco is one of the most interesting places to explore. Here you will find the cathedral in which Prince Rainier married Grace Kelly. In front of the cathedral, on the rocky coastline of Old Monaco, the Exotic Garden offers wonderful views of the azure Mediterranean, and the newest of Monaco's districts - Fontvielle.

It's the most tranquil and manicured example of horticulture you are ever likely to see. And, the sculptures within the Garden are as exquisite as their surroundings. The Exotic Garden is an oasis of peace while, just below, the harbour area is shaking with the force of Formula 1. The only 'unpalatable' aspect of Grand Prix weekend is the peculiar practice of 'Grand Prix Prices'.

Many taxis, restaurants, hotels, bars, tobacconists, and roadside fruit sellers raise their prices. The higher prices are also usually matched with lower quality. Vendors who charge 'Grand Prix Prices' figure most of the trade isn't regular and won't be coming back anyway.

The trick is to find establishments that don't try to rip off tourists. This is easy - either go with someone who knows what to avoid, or look for places inhabited solely by the locals. This year's race weekend is from Thursday, 25 May to Sunday, 28 May. The independent traveller will have an impossible time finding accommodation in Monaco for the race weekend. And nearby towns like Menton, and even Nice and Cannes are usually booked out well in advance. The alternative is to book onto a dedicated tour.

These tours vary from four to 14 days and cater to all standards. The best advice when looking for a tour is to go with a specialist Motor Sport tour company like Page & Moy in the United Kingdom, or Australia's Temple Grand Prix that offers a fully escorted tour from Australia, which incorporates a land content only package for travellers from the USA and Asia who wish to make their own way to the Riviera. .

By: Tom Matosevic

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