My wife and I took a cross-country walk through a Mediterranean tax haven in October, an aspirational journey among white collar criminals and aging financiers with balding Euromullets and unbuttoned shirts exposing too much greying chest hair at the baccarat table.
Monaco didn’t strike me as glamorous, sophisticated or elegant. It seemed frozen in time, the concept of luxury envisioned by social strivers in the 1960s; the people who saw ‘Goldfinger’ in theaters, still fantasize about Bond girls instead of Instagram models and think bored rich people driving fast cars against other bored rich people is the pinnacle of human achievement.
The soccer stadium is pretty cool though and, as in a lot of cities, the best part of any sightseeing tour.
We arrived exactly a week after former academy graduate and Red Bulls legend Thierry Henry took over AS Monaco amid a self-inflicted relegation battle. Two years ago, the club won Ligue 1 and reached the Champions League semifinals. They sold almost the entire squad for €350 million and now sit in 19th place, one point above Guingamp (?) and three behind Dijon FCO. But they’ll soon spend that transfer money and be back among the elites.
Their home ground Stade Louis II is an understated, tan structure tucked into a terra cotta neighborhood beneath the mountains. From a distance, the stadium blends in to the cityscape, distinguished only by nine slender arches:
We walked to the stadium from the royal castle, which sits on a peak overlooking the city/country. It’s fun to imagine players driving through the suburban streets to get to the low-key park, which holds just 18,000 people.
It’s also fun to see fans walking from their homes and local bars to matches in stadiums like that. That’s the coolest thing about parks that are part of a neighborhood instead of ugly monuments surrounded by acres of parking lots in whatever town forced residents to fund the entire construction.
Monaco doesn’t attract many fans, though. Unless you were one of the vey few people born in Monaco, what would make you support them? Especially when they suck.
It was a Wednesday when we visited and the stadium was mostly empty except for us taking photos, a guy buying tickets and a young man driving out of the parking garage in a fancy car. We’ll pretend it was 17-year-old star William Geubbels.
We spent several minutes watching the youth academy players practice at Stade Didier Deschamps next door, trying to figure out who was the next Kylian Mbappe or Abdou Diallo.
The practice field is named for Deschamps, captain of the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro Cup champions and manager of the 2018 World Cup champions. He also managed Monaco from 2001 to 2005 and took the club to the 2004 Champions League Final, where they lost to Porto.
I thought Monaco was extremely overrated, but I would recommend visiting the stadium. It is much cooler than the famous casino and way better than the gaudy gold, subterranean mall nearby.