Monaco’s winning formula

Monaco harbour

Monaco harbour

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This weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix is a time when the rich and famous mingle with Formula 1 fans in the streets of Monte Carlo. Richard Hercock reports.

Holidays for a self-confessed sports fanatic like myself have thrown up some mouth-watering moments, from the US Open tennis at Flushing Meadows in New York to Formula 1’s Canada Grand Prix in Montreal.

But it is not just high-profile events that requires my long-suffering wife Jen has to forgo a few hours of a trip so that I can indulge my sporting habit such as nipping out to watch the NY Yankees’ spring training during a holiday in Florida, or re-tuning the TV in our apartment so I can watch the FA Cup final complete with Mexican commentary.

I can’t help being always on the look-out for back-page news. Two years ago on a trip to Greece, I even managed to spend an afternoon at Olympia, the original home of the Olympics.

But there’s another contender for the gold medal spot in my sport wanderings, Monte Carlo. This home of the rich and famous is also the venue for one of sport’s most glamorous sporting events, the Monaco Grand Prix.

Go to most F1 circuits, like Silverstone, on a non-race day and the place is not that inspiring. But the Monaco circuit takes over the narrow winding streets of this chic neighbourhood and the racing cars are pictured against a stunning backdrop of multi-million pound yachts. Just a saunter along the pavement here conjures up memories of F1 triumphs from yesteryear.

Who can forget Lewis Hamilton’s amazing win in the wet of 2008 which set him on the way to the world championship? Or Sebastien Vettel last year as he demolished the field in the Red Bull-Renault.

Walk along the sea front, and the markings on the road are still clearly visible of the starting grid for this annual May race. As I look, there’s an open-top tour bus showing a crowd of Japanese tourists the must-see haunts, where before there would have been the revving of F1 engines.

Each street corner evokes images. Even the famous tunnel seems interesting somehow, and for a principality which is quite shallow in terms of lifestyle and finesse, it does suck you in to its glitzy ways.

I have to say that Monaco was not on my must-see wishlist, but since I had the pleasure of spending 10 days aboard the Crystal Serenity cruise ship in the Mediterranean it would have been a shame to miss it..

I am becoming something of a cruising fan. What better way to be pampered, enjoy five-star accommodation and dining, yet embark on a different adventure at each port of call? My wife, three-year-old son Thomas and myself joined the stunning vessel in Venice, a couple of hours flight from England. A swift taxi ride and we were soon sipping cocktails on the upper deck watching the Venetian skyline against a blood-red sunset. It was real postcard stuff.

Travel writers often suspect they get preferential treatment. But life on board here was VIP standard for everyone.

Our cabin had everything a young family needed. A DVD player for my son, a balcony for my wife to soak up the sun and read her latest novel. And a butler. Yes, our very own butler on call 24/7.

He had spent his entire adult life at sea, having grown up in Hornsea, and had travelled the world several times. So he was able to enrich our voyage with tales from foreign lands, tips of where to go and what to see, while at the same time spoiling us rotten with luxurious mid-afternoon snacks. These were offered just in case we had developed an appetite between a sumptuous lunch and a five-course dinner awaiting a few short hours away.

The Serenity is like a floating hotel complex – tennis courts, swimming pools, casino and an array of evening entertainments including a full-size theatre. From cinema to cabaret, workshops to cookery lessons, you could not fail to find something to interest you and help recharge the batteries after your adventures in port.

It gave me a crash course in Italy’s history and culture, from the enchanting island of Sicily, the beauty of Rome, the architecture of Florence, the bustle of Naples.

My favourite was Rome, although trying to pack everything into a day’s visit was impossible. We had to skip tours of the Vatican and the Coliseum and plan to return for a long weekend sometime soon.

The same can be said for another of our daily destinations, Dubrovnik. Perched on the Adriatic Sea, this Croatian port has seen its fair share of troubles in the Balkan wars that saw the break-up of Yugoslavia.

It still carries the scars today, inside the walled city, of the intense shelling that was carried out, yet that fails to hide the beauty and charm of the local people who welcome visitors with open arms.

Narrow streets offer cafes and shops, crammed with all types of offerings, yet only a five-minute stroll away and we discovered a beautiful beach.

Several hours later, we were back on board our floating hotel and sailing away to Monaco. The Serenity is scheduled to be in Monaco for the actual F1 weekend next year, but that is maybe one sporting trip too many for my long-suffering wife.

Gettting there

Crystal Cruises 2012 voyages are offered with free return flights on all sailings.

Prices start from £2,141 per person based on a seven-night cruise from Barcelona to Rome.

Price includes free return flights from the UK, transfers, seven nights in a deluxe stateroom with picture window on an all inclusive basis to include all meals, drinks and gratuities.

For further information or reservations please call Crystal Cruises on 020 7287 9040 or visit www.crystalcruises.co.uk

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