When to go to Monaco

Monaco never really lets up. Of course, the place goes into over-drive in spring and summer. That’s when the whole world packs in, first for the Grand Prix, then for the sunny spin-off glamour generated by the rich, the famous and the tax-avoiders.

But autumn’s balmy and pretty busy – and the pace drops only a little in winter. Monaco is a business; it’s got to keep the wealthy occupied and the hotels working. There are, thus, always reasons for taking a trip there.

Among them is the eye-catching calendar of events which the principality puts on, to keep itself at the forefront of the world’s attention. These are intended to show that wealth can be glamorous and cultured, that it can roar around in Formula 1 cars – or soar with Puccini. The record shows that the approach works wonderfully.

Here are a few things to look out for over coming weeks

I'm afraid you've missed the Monte Carlo opera season and the Monte Carlo Tennis Masters, where young Nadal wiped out his compatriot Verdasco in the final. But the racing's still to some, and there's always the fish and sheep at Monaco's stately Oceanographic Museum (Avenue St Martin; +377 93153600; www.oceano.mc). The palce celebrates its centenary this year, and has always been considerably more interesting than aquariums (‘aquaria’?) tend to be. To mark the 100th birthday they’re slotting Damien Hirst’s 'Cornucopia' retrospective in among the fish and maritime exhibits. The 60 works include the sheep in formaldehyde. I think this a superb idea. So, predictably, does Hirst. “It’s a fantastic way to combine art and science, two subjects which fascinate me,” he says. The exhibition runs through to September 30.

A couple of weeks before the main Grand Prix, veteran racing cars – from 1934-1984 – blast round the track in the Historic Grand Prix. The weekend of May 1-2 will see eight races for the different categories. The whole thing is less frantic, less expensive, more laidback and, in some people’s view, more fun than the real thing. Details and tickets on the website. www.acm.mc.

Another for the road

And so to the busiest, noisiest, most crowded and mediatised event in the Monaco calendar - the proper Grand Prix. Practice is from Thursday, March 13 to Saturday, with Formula 1’s only street race at 2pm on Sunday, May 16.

If you’ve not already booked a hotel in Monaco, you’ve got no chance – so seek further afield. (See my Nice or Cannes sections for ideas. But be warned: even there, prices shoot up for the GP weekend.)

And you need to apply for race day tickets – on the website or telephone number below - right now. Even so, you may be disappointed. Tribune places run from 270 to 450 euros or you can stand for from 70 to 100 euros.

Two other points. Don’t attempt to arrive by car: the principality is effectively blocked off. And, unless you’re loaded, take sandwiches. Food prices – especially for sit-down meals overlooking the track – head for the stratosphere during the GP weekend. One restaurant, admittedly with good race views, has a race-day buffet lunch at 950 euros. Details + 377 93152624; www.formula1monaco.com.

Tim Heidfeld tells us about his memorable weekend watching the Grand Prix in his guide The inside track on Monaco.

Fame and Elton John

If you haven’t yet seen Fame: The Musical, and regret the omission, then you may make amends at the Grimaldi Forum from June 15-June 20. Tickets are from 39 euros. Details +377 99992000; www.grimaldiforum.com.

Or you may prefer to hold out for Elton John – hold out, and save up. Backed by his veteran chum Ray Cooper, Sir Elton is giving five concerts at the Sporting Club from August 2 to August 6 this year (www.sportingmontecarlo.com). Ticket prices – granted, including dinner – are 420 euros a throw. Crikey. I guess that's why they call it the blues.

For further expert advice, see my pages on Cannes, Marseille, Nice, Provence and St-Tropez.