Monte Carlo Guide - Spectator Guide

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Information will be accurate at the time of writing, so some information in older rally spectator guides should be checked. However, most information will still be relevant so we hope you enjoy this service.

Monte Carlo Guide by Rowena Harding - Thu June 14, 2001


The Monte Carlo is my second favourite rally, and it's one I've been lucky enough to attend three times - once from Australia and twice from the UK. Despite the images of inaccessible glamour the name "Monte Carlo" conjures up, it's actually very a cheap and easy rally to attend.

It's an ideal break from the UK winter gloom, as the south of France in January is still pleasant and despite the cold temperature in the mountain regions, the altitude ensures blue sky and sunshine. Its also a good event to bring the wife / girlfriend for all the glamour and shopping of the Cote D'Azur. For visitors from Downunder who come via the UK, it's a relief from the crippling expense of touring Blighty, and UK visitors can take advantage of the good exchange rate (approx 1 to 10 at time of writing).

Getting there:

From Australia and New Zealand, there are a number of airline choices flying to London Heathrow, which is probably the cheapest and most flexible option. The rally is not at peak time (it's winter in the northern hemisphere) so fares should be competitive. Its worth getting an airline that adds to your domestic frequent flier program. I've flown on Lauda, Malaysian, Royal Brunei, Virgin many times and they're all fine but I would not recommend Garuda.

From New Zealand, I recommend taking Air New Zealand. Actually from Australia, I recommend taking Air New Zealand. Their slogan "the most comfortable seats in economy" is no empty boast. They are. I've flown standby from Melbourne to Sydney to Auckland to Los Angeles to London, more enjoyably than I have flown on "the world's favourite airline" and "the spirit of Australia" on a direct route. Qantas and BA often throw in side trips to Continental Europe when flying to the UK so enquire if a flight to Nice is possible.If not, then fly into London Heathrow to take advantage of cheap flight deals.
As Ben mentioned, booking Easyjet (a no frills airline) via the net is the best option. At the time of the Monte they have great specials - I've not paid more than £50 return including taxes for my Monte trips and their regular fares at this time are about £80. Easyjet fly from Luton which is a one hour coach trip or 20 min train ride away from London or Heathrow. Expect a modest airport and to pay for your food and drinks on the plane.

Virgin Express also fly to Nice via Brussels and while their fares are cheap I've found that by booking early you could be setting yourself up for inconvenience later. The schedules can change change, leaving you with a 4 hour stop over in Brussels (how much beer can you drink) or a different departure date altogether.

By shopping around you should be able to get a "posh" airline eg Air France or British Midland from London Heathrow, for around £100. But why?

Getting around and away:

Hire cars: There are a number of cheap hire car deals which again can be organized via the internet, including Holiday Autos and easyjet's hire car company. £150-200 should be fine. I opt for a small car, diesel, and manual. Depending on weather conditions, ask for snow chains, make sure there's a safety triangle, and remember to get in on the correct side of the car!

I'd like to point out that Holiday Autos / Europcar once supplied me a Peugeot with a spare wheel for an Opel (GM) car. The wheel nuts are nothing alike, as I found out whilst stranded on a mountainside, with snow and night falling, and my tyre in shreds. Check this before you leave and check you have a number to call for assistance where someone speaks English - if you're going to curse at someone you might as well be understood!

Be prepared to have change to pay for tolls almost as soon as you depart from Nice to Monte - or avoid the freeway signs marked péage

Coach and Taxi: You can get from the airport to Monte Carlo and Nice by coach. Note that the French word for coach is car, which can be confusing. I've never been rich enough to justify a taxi anywhere unless I was drunk and in desperate need of home or a curry house. However, I did scam a ride in a limousine, by making friends on the plane. I can thoroughly endorse this means of communication, but can't guarantee that you'll get some nice man owning a limo company sitting next to you on the plane. Shame.

Train: The train is the cheapest option and will take you basically anywhere along the coast to Cannes or even Italy! The last train is around 11pm. The train station at Monte has been recently refurbished (which is really something of an understatement). What used to be a quaint little platform is now a massive labyrinth of marble, and as of last year's rally was lacking in signposts. You can stumble your way out of two exits. If you come out quickly and easily then you're just above the Place de Ste Devote / Cnr Ste Devote for GP fans! If you seem to walk forever down those marble corridors then you've made it to the old entrance of the station and are only metres away from both McDonalds and the youth hostel.

Helicopter: If you're on your way to Monte itself this is a must! It's relatively cheap £40 and it's a breathtaking start or finish to your holiday. Information for Heli Air Monaco and Heli Inter Riviera is on the net. .

Hitch Hikers Guide: Yes it is possible! I've done the event twice like this, in "the old days" when the overnight stop was Valence (accessible by train) and recently now that it is based around Gap. You can take a coach to Tallard and walk to the aerodrome which turns into the rally's main service park. The aerodrome is about 2 kms by road and less if you want to walk in a straight line across the fields and runway! If you ask the coach driver nicely, he might drop you off before the junction to Tallard town which is virtually at the aerodrome. From there you can hitch with spectators or hope there's someone you know with room in the service truck. Alternatively you can catch a train from Nice to Gap though I found this a lot more drawn out than the bus. The scenery is stunning on both routes. You can also take a train to Entrevaux and walk in to the end of the stage.

Where to Stay:

If I arrive at night I prefer to stay in Nice at Hotel Felix (41 rue Massena). Its located in the zone pietonne (pedestrian zone) and the little moustached man who works there speaks a multitude of language, will tell you where to park your car and even to wear a jumper when its cold! Its small and cosy, has functional bathrooms and shutter windows from which you can spot the sea from between the apartments. There's a bakery next door and a heap of boutiques in the vicinity to keep the missus happy. Charges around £20 per night.

Other hotels I can recommend are Hotel Paris Rome in Menton - a small, beautiful hotel on the Coast near the Italian border.

If you're bringing family or coming with mates and want a cheap but comfortable stay at the beginning and end of the rally then hotels around the airport such as the appropriately named Etape are the best bet. They charge per room - about £30-$40 and sleep 2 to 3 in separate or bunk beds.

If you want to stay in Monte, there is one cheap hotel on Rue Cosmopolite, and a youth hostel, Centre de la Jeunesse Princess Stephanie. Details of both can be found on the net. The hostel is clean and well organized and very cheap.

Accommodation for overnight halts (in the last few years this has been Gap) should be booked well in advance. Even then your luck might be out as the teams will book virtually the year before. If you have a hire car, and a map then contact the Gap tourist information for a list of gites (rural B and B stays )or basically tell them you need accommodation for the rally. They get updated lists of cancellations and can help you out. Speaking some French at this stage helps. I stayed in a wonderful A frame chalet, procured by the tourist information. It was some 15 miles out of Gap up a snow-covered mountain in a town called Manteyer. Skies were blue, the air was crisp, I woke up each morning to field of the crispy white stuff and a multitude of friendly farmyard cats and dogs. The hostess cooked filling hot meals for us and as she had so many rally teams and spectators she worked to rally hours (e.g. brekkie at 4am!) It was also a great way to meet other fans and middle of the field teams.

Inside Tips

The best place to get a good map is from the Michelin promotion truck, down at the harbour of Monte Carlo before the rally. If they're not handing any out then ask for them they're invaluable as they cover the whole region with the each day's stages and servicing marked out. Magazines like Rallyes and Echappment will have excellent spectator guides. Even though they will be in French they are worth if for the maps. The Automobile Club puts itineraries and some maps on the site so you can plan your travels in advance.

Write to the Monte Carlo tourist board before you go. They are so helpful and will send you little booklets with car parks, accommodation, restaurant guides etc.

Try to make it to scrutineering at the harbour, as well as the start in front of the Casino. There is a prize giving in front of the Palace where you can bump into the rally winners. Keep your eye out for any other presentations or 'meet the driver' opportunities that may be taking place in nearby hotels and car dealerships.

What else?

If the rally isn't enough itself there's always:

Shopping: In the Nice streets, the Monte Carlo shopping Centre Commercial near McDonalds, and window shopping in the posh arcade near the casino. There are plenty of markets in Nice and the small villages that the rally winds through.

Sight Seeing: Monte and Nice can keep you busy enough. Nice old town / vieux ville, the hill le Chateau, and the weekend market are highlights, as are people watching on the Prom des Anglaise. Villages along the coast are beautiful but the best are those in Provence that the rally goes through. On your way back from the rally consider taking in Sisteron and its citadel, or driving through the Gorges du Verdon and checking out the village of Moustiers.

The novelty of going to Italy for dinner is also pretty cool, especially if you're from downunder. You can simply drive from France to Italy no problem, no visa. There are cash machines on both sides thought I've found a lot of places in Ventimille / Ventimiglia take francs. Make sure your car insurance covers you in Italy as they drive even more aggressively than the French. Alternatively take the train from Nice or Monte to Vente. And yes you really can tell the difference when you cross the border.

Cars cars cars: On top of Ben's suggestions (the Ferrari workshop / dealer is a must), hang out in front of Loews Hotel to watch the Ferraris park! Walk the GP track at Monte. And keep an eye out for the historic cars that travel a similar route.

Happy Travels!

Handy Phrases:

Aeroplane Avion
Airport Aeroport
Bus / Coach Bus / Car
Car Voiture
Careful Attention
Doctor Medicin
Driver / Co-Driver Pilote / Co-Pilote
Entrance Forbidden Access Interdit
Go Straight On Allez tout droit
Help! Au Secours
I'm Lost Je suis perdu
Left Gauche
Petrol Gaz
Right Droite
Stage Etape
Stop Arretez
Team Equipe
Toll Peage
Train Train
Turn on your lights Allumez Vos Feux
Weather / Time Temps
Where is ...? Ou Est?
You drive like a madman! Vous conduisez comme un homme Francais!

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