Monte Carlo Grand Prix

Ages 6 & up
Destination: Monte Carlo, Monaco

Nowhere in Europe is driving more exciting, even for the ordinary motorist, than along the French Riviera, with its precipitous climbs, breathless curves, and mountain- piercing tunnels. In such movies as Casino Royale and The Bourne Identity, jet-setters whipping around those twisty roads in low-slung sports cars are part of the Riviera mystique: It was chillingly apt that Monaco's beloved Princess Grace would die in 1982 in a crash on the same hairpin turn she took at top speed in the 1956 Hitchcock film To Catch a Thief.

Perhaps the most famous road race of all is driven in Monaco every May -- the Monte Carlo Grand Prix.

First held in1929, the Grand Prix covers a 3.3km (2-mile) route that daringly runs right through town, hurtling up a hill to the Monte Carlo casino, plunging back downhill, whooshing through a waterfront tunnel, then slicing around the quays. Formula 1 race cars whir around this hair-raising route for 78 laps, negotiating turns and jockeying fiercely for position, with the possibility of a spectacular crash always imminent.

Grandstands are set up for spectators along the quays, though viewing spots are hard to secure. This densely built-up Riviera town -- congested even in the slow season -- becomes a madhouse at race time. You may opt to visit Monaco another time of year and simply drive the route, imagining the race cars and protective barriers and cheering crowds for yourselves. Stop in the Formula 1 shop, 15 rue Grimaldi (tel. 377/93-15-92-44), where everything from racing helmets to specialty key chains and T-shirts celebrates the roaring racing machines; then visit the Collection des Voitures Anciennes de S.A.S. le Prince de Monaco, Les Terrasses de Fontvieille (tel. 377/92-05-28-56), which displays more than 100 vintage autos belonging to Prince Rainier III, including the 1925 Bugatti 35B that won the Monaco Grand Prix in 1929 and the 1956 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud that carried Rainier and Princess Grace on their wedding day.

Information: Automobile Club de Monaco, 23 bd. Albert 1er (tel. 377/93-15-26-00).

Nearest Airport: Nice.

Accommodations: Le Monte Carlo Grand Hotel, 12 av. des Spélugues (tel. 377/93-50-65-00;