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Magical Monaco
Graham Read, Formula 1 Correspondent
Monaco from above. Photo by Graham Read
With Christmas fast approaching you may be wondering what extra special gift you could buy for someone close to you whose passion is Formula 1 motor racing or perhaps you are looking to treat yourself to something truly memorable for 2018.

Well, let me suggest considering a visit to Monaco, a place I have been fortunate enough to head to many times both for the annual F1 Grand Prix and away from the big race weekend too.

What springs to mind when you think of Monaco - the Formula 1 Grand Prix, Grace Kelly, the Casino and Hotel de Paris or perhaps the Monte Carlo Rally?

All these and more no doubt as this small country, surrounded on three sides by France and on the other by the blue Mediterranean Sea, hosts the jewel in F1's crown every year, but the place has a fascinating history too.

Monaco's main Port Hercules harbour. Photo by Graham Read
Let's start back in 1297 when the Italian Francois Grimaldi and some of his followers, dressed as monks and hiding swords beneath their habits, attacked the fortress at Monaco and gained control. So began the Grimaldi family dynasty.

Over the ensuing centuries Monaco flourished as a major sea port and naval base, but come the French Revolution in the late 18th century Monaco was annexed by France and the Monegasque Royal family were imprisoned. However, following the abdication of Napoleon in 1814, the Grimaldis were freed and returned to power in the Principality.

A major development followed in 1861 when Monaco relinquished half of its land to France in return for money and a guarantee of independence. The then ruling Prince Charles III realised that new revenue streams were required and turned to gambling and tourism, with the world famous Casino and Hotel de Paris opening in 1863.

The famous Monte Carlo Casino. Photo by Graham Read
Prince Rainier III ascended to the throne in 1949 and in 1956 married the famous American actress Grace Kelly after meeting her when she had attended the Cannes Film Festival the year before. They had three children, Caroline, Albert and Stephanie, but sadly Princess Grace was killed in a road accident near Monaco in 1982.

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Following the death of Prince Rainier in 2005, Prince Albert II succeeded him and after his marriage to South African Charlene Wittstock in 2011 Princess Charlene gave birth to twins Gabriella and Jacques in December 2014.

To this day the renowned Casino and luxurious Hotel de Paris continue to attract the rich and famous as well as lesser mortals and are iconic landmarks just a short walk up the hill from the main Port Hercules harbour area.

The Monte Carlo Rally has also helped to put Monaco on the world map, having first been held back in 1911. Originally competitors would set off from all four corners of Europe and 'rally' in Monaco, but for many years the annual event has been held in the Principality and the surrounding hills in south-east France.

Monaco is probably most renowned though for its Grand Prix, having been introduced in 1929 when William Grover-Williams claimed victory in a Bugatti. The annual race was included in the inaugural Formula 1 championship in 1950 and has been ever present on the F1 calendar since 1955.

The Monaco Grand Prix ranks as arguably one of the three greatest motorsport events in the world, alongside the USA's Indianapolis 500 race (which is usually held on the same late May date as the Grand Prix) and France's 24 Heures classic every June.

The sheer excitement of the start of a Monaco Grand Prix
Some may question the wisdom of having high-powered racing cars compete around the narrow streets of the Principality where overtaking opportunities are limited, but most would agree that it represents the ultimate test of a racing driver's skill, where the difference between being quickest and crashing into the barriers is down to fine judgment and mere millimetres.

It’s never cheap to attend any world-class sporting event and this is definitely the case regarding the Monaco Grand Prix unless you opt to buy access to the Rocher hillside standing area near the end of the lap. However, if you have a visit to the Monaco Grand Prix on your bucket list I would really recommend saving up and investing in a seat in one of the many grandstands as your Monaco experience will be much better.

On the subject of costs, I would also suggest that staying in nearby Nice is far more cost-effective than seeking accommodation in Monaco itself and there is an excellent cheap train service between the two with amazing views of the beautiful Mediterranean coastline along the way. Try to sit on the righthand side of the train on the way to Monaco and the left on the return journey for the best sea views.

In conclusion, Monaco is a truly magical place to visit at any time of year and especially so on Grand Prix race day every May. If you are keen on F1 or want to treat someone close to you who is, I can so recommend considering a trip to the Principality.

Magical Monaco, 11th December 2017, 9:27 AM