January may seem like an odd time of year to visit Monte Carlo, or even the south of France in general, but for those of you who hate massive tourist crowds or who prefer to travel slow and appreciate the quieter side of popular destinations it makes complete sense.

Most of the world knows about the famous Grand Prix which is held in Monaco in May every year, but did you know about the Rallye Monte-Carlo?

The Monte Carlo Rally is the oldest car race in the World Rally Championships calendar and considered one of the best WRC races. The very first Rallye Monte-Carlo was in 1911 and was designed to promote Monte-Carlo towards tourists within Europe. While the race starts in different European countries each year it always ends in Monte-Carlo.

What makes this race even more challenging is that parts of the race are through the French Alps, which in January are usually covered in snow and more than a little treacherous! There are 14 stages and the races generally takes place over four days.

Monte Carlo Rally
Bildagentur Kräling, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Drivers are expected to be prepared for every condition the roads throw at them – whether it is snow, ice or dry asphalt – as winter weather in the alps can be unpredictable. If anything, this race is much more difficult then a normal car race as there are no ‘pit stops’ for drivers to stop at for tyre changes while the race is on. It is up to the drivers to carefully select their tyres for optimum performance and to carry their own spares (along with anything else they may need).

Something to keep in mind is these are not your standard high performance race cars – instead the types of cars racing include Toyoto Yaris, Skoda Fabia Evo, Ford Fiesta and Citroen C3. Cars that are smaller, easier to manoeuvre and dare I say more suited to this style of race?

As much as I love the spectacle of a Grand Prix or Formula 1, this race is certainly more interesting, if only because this is a true test of a driver’s ability to drive and also because the cars are significantly more affordable to own. In fact, it was a Toyota Yaris which won the January 2021 race!

Monte Carlo Rally through the Alps
McKlein / M-Sport, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

In between race stages, or even after the race is finished in Monte Carlo, it is worth visiting the Private Collection of Antique Cars of H.S.H Prince Rainer III.

It is a private gallery owned by the Royal Family of Monaco, which houses over 100 vintage cars (and some modern ones too). Prince Rainer III loved to collect automobiles, and the more unique the better.

From horse-drawn carriages to vintage Cadillac’s, Alfa Romeos, Ferraris and Lamborghinis to Formula One racing cars, this is a truly remarkable and eclectic personal collection of vehicles that anyone can appreciate.

the Private Collection of Antique Cars of H.S.H. Prince Rainer III
Inside the Private Collection of Antique Cars of H.S.H. Prince Rainer III

Monaco in January may not be snow covered, but it is still chilly so dress warm – average weather tends to sit around 11°c/52°f. While accommodation will be slightly cheaper than peak season, it is Monaco so don’t expect a big change in prices.

Consider staying in nearby Nice which is an easy train or bus ride in, or look at Airbnb options in Beausoleil which by being ‘across the border’ in France is an easy few steps away from Monaco.

So if you want to experience a car rally while adding a touch of glamour and avoiding summer crowds, then Monaco in January is a fantastic option to add to your travel to-do list.

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