On Track in Monaco; the Monaco Grand Prix Is the Curtain-Raiser for the Cute d'Azur Summer Season. Rory Ross, an Annual Visitor, Sets the Scene and Gives Some Insider Tips on Where to Go, What to Wear and What Not to Say

Article excerpt

Byline: RORY ROSS

WHITE- KNUCKLE fever hits the Cute d'Azur this weekend as the 63rd Monaco Grand Prix blasts off on Sunday. This thrill-a-minute spectacle of fast cars, fast women and fast bucks, held in what seems to be a giant wedding cake, is a social "must" for the glitterati, some of whom will be doing back-to-backs with the Cannes Film Festival. It is one of the most vulgarly garish, refreshingly politically incorrect, environmentally unfriendly and philistine fixtures on the calendar, and it's marvellous.

The hotels are chock-a-block. Flats overlooking the tiniest patches of indentured Tarmac have been rented out for vast sums - up to E4,000 per guest depending on the view (the Monegasque authorities allow two guests per linear metre of balcony).

Grandstand seats have sold out. Bikini wax and Botox parlours are heaving.

Meanwhile, the air is already reverberating with the bass throb of marine engines as yacht owners vie for the top berths.

The Monaco Grand Prix is so much more than a motor race. It is a chance to give the summer wardrobe a spin, spot yachts, watch people pretend to be rich and immerse yourself in the glamour, both real and faux, of the Cute d'Azur.

This is the Cute d'Azur at its finest - before the summer grockles take over.

Curiously, despite the clamour to watch, Monaco is one of the most crashable of grands prix - provided you walk the walk, talk the talk and, most importantly, look the look: for men, this means Italian chic, ie, jeans, white shirt, light brown leather shoes (no socks) teamed with a jumper thrown over the shoulders or a brown or navy jacket; for women, low-waist trousers and trainers, flashy colours, Hollywood lips and big Dior or Chanel sunglasses, or, if you want to pass for a Monegasque, an eye-catchingly smartcasual ensemble by Vuitton, Dior, Celine or Lanvin accessorised by a small rococo dog and large Art Deco rocks. Remember that as an interloper, you have on your side one of the great unwritten rules of the Cute d'Azur: no one asks who you are or what you do, in case you ask the same back.

The glitziest shops are on rue Monte Carlo and rue des Beaux Arts. More accessibly priced is the Metropole shopping centre beneath the Metropole hotel, among whose three floors of boutiques is Espace Mirage, which sifts the best high fashion from Paris, London, Milan and New York.

Once you've got your wardrobe nailed, you are ready to take on the sparkling all-night social scene.

Monaco is the easiest place to get invited. Every yacht and apartment will be jumping. The Amber Lounge, a three-nights-a-year-only fixture at the Grimaldi Forum, which Sonia Irvine (sister of retired F1 driver Eddie) founded three years ago, will be pulling in 800 VIPs. …