The Tennis Tourist: A different side to Monte Carlo
Staying in nearby Menton is a great way to enjoy the traditional start of the European outdoor season
Despite its glamour and history, Monte Carlo has never appealed much to me as a place to visit. The Rolex Monte Carlo Masters, however, is a different matter. To my mind the tournament represents one of the most enjoyable weeks of the tennis year.
Perhaps one of the reasons I love it is the fact that the Monte Carlo Country Club, which hosts this traditional start to the European outdoor season (this year’s tournament runs from April 15 to 22), is not actually in Monte Carlo. The club sits just beyond Monte Carlo’s eastern boundary in the commune of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, which is in the Alpes-Maritimes department of France.
The club almost defies its geography. The land here climbs steeply out of the sea up towards the high hills which tower over the coastline. The courts, which are on a number of different levels, have been carved into the hillside. It is quite a climb from the lowermost courts to the practice courts at the highest point.
The further up you go the more spectacular the view as you look down to the Mediterranean and across to Monte Carlo. The contrast of the courts’ rust-red clay and the blue sea sparkling in the sunshine is a glorious sight. Bring some binoculars and you might play “spot the billionaire” by focusing on some of the spectacular yachts moored in the bay or the port. If you have shivered through a north European winter, the week usually provides a welcome burst of warmth and sunshine.
Monte Carlo is no longer a mandatory Masters 1000 tournament, even though it offers the same ranking points as the likes of Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Rome. There were fears that losing its mandatory status might weaken the fields, but for the most part nearly all the top players still come here.
Tickets are available through the tournament’s official website (montecarlotennismasters.com). Prices on Court Rainier-III, the main show court, start at €26 (about £23), while a week-long pass in one of the best seats there will set you back €1,295 (£1,150). The top daily price on the second court, the Court des Princes, is just €42 (£37).
There are plenty of places to eat and drink, though you could also try the shops and cafes in the Avenue de France just above the club’s highest point. You might have to wait 10 minutes for your freshly-made sandwich at Le Fournil de Lulu, but it will be worth it.
An increasing number of tournaments are scheduling evening matches under lights, but Monte Carlo is a welcome exception. The main programme here can sometimes finish by 6pm. This is France, after all, and everyone needs time for the serious matter of dinner.
There are plenty of hotels and apartments in Monte Carlo where you can stay, but increasing numbers of visitors are choosing instead to base themselves in Menton, a few kilometres to the east and just before the border with Italy. If you’re flying into Nice, the No.110 bus can take you direct to Menton in an hour and a quarter.
Menton has many hotels to choose from and there are also plenty of apartments to rent. Because the tennis is so early in the summer, prices are generally very reasonable.
Commuting to the tennis from Menton is easy: you can either take the train (Menton station is in the centre of the town) to the stop at the Monte Carlo Country Club, which is just 600 metres from one of the tournament entrances, or hop on the No.100 bus, which winds its way around one of the corniche roads. The journey might take 45 minutes or more because of the heavy traffic, but the wonderful views are more than adequate compensation.
Menton is a delight. The long seafront is dotted with hotels, restaurants and cafes and the town is full of beautiful gardens and buildings. The warm pastel colours of the old town, where the magnificent Basilique Saint-Michel and Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs dominate the skyline, make this one of the most photographed towns in all of southern France.
If you have a morning free the Jean Cocteau Museum is well worth a visit, or you might just prefer to stroll through the delightful streets or along the seafront. If you’re staying in rented accommodation and fancy cooking at home, try buying some of the superb produce on offer at the covered market near the seafront.
There is certainly no shortage of good restaurants. Being so close to the border, there is a strong Italian influence in the local cuisine. Two of my favourite eateries are Al Vecchio Forno, one of a number of restaurants along the Quai Bonaparte next to the marina, and Le P’tit Resto, a tiny establishment on the Avenue de la Madone.
If you fancy travelling further afield as a break from the tennis, try taking the train into Italy. The grandeur of San Remo is only an hour away or you might prefer the smaller-scale attractions of Bordighera, which is even closer.
Watching the tennis might inspire you to get on the court yourself. There are courts available for hire at Tennis de la Madone, which is a quarter of an hour’s walk from Menton’s town centre, but the setting cannot match that of the delightful Tennis Club de Menton, which is situated just around the corner from the railway station. Courts can be hired for 40 euros an hour, though it is always best to check availability in advance.
The club was founded more than a century ago by the British community that has long been established in Menton. However, with its seven clay courts and stylish surroundings, there can be no mistaking here that you are in France.