By: Stefanie Heath
When I was in 4th grade, my teacher assigned us to write about a country. She picked the country and the student would research the culture, food, government and other interesting facts about it. I was assigned the country of Monaco. I was excited to learn about a country that I had never even heard of before, so I dove headfirst into reading everything I could about this fascinating place.
I recall telling my mom about my project and she immediately began to gush about Princess Grace, the “American Princess.” I quickly learned that Monaco was so much more than Princess Grace. Never in my wildest imagination, would I believe that one day I would have the opportunity to travel to this captivating country.
This past November, I had the pleasure of visiting Monaco for a work trip. Monaco is the second smallest city behind the Vatican, so it’s no surprise that it doesn’t house an international airport of its own, but this hidden gem is a destination for tourists from around the world. Our 30-minute drive from the airport in Nice, France along the stunning shoreline to Monaco only adds to the allure of this beautiful country.
Monaco is the home to 37,000 people with some of the most valuable real estate in the world. It also happens to be home to a vibrant night life and world-class restaurants. There’s a harbor that lines the entire country’s shore with massive yachts and impressive boats.
After my work commitments, I was thrilled to explore this robust country and luckily our friends were able to show us a few of the ‘must see’ spots. Although gambling is not my cup of tea, it was fascinating to see the famous Monte Carlo casino with Lamborghini’s and other expensive cars lining the front of the casino. From there, we took a drive up a hill to see the castle. One guardsman stood out front while tourists like me snapped photos right at the front door of the royal family’s home.
Let’s face it – I’m a self-proclaimed foodie. Wherever I visit, I like to connect with the local culinarians to see what’s trending. My most notable stop was for dinner at Eqvita Restaurant. This intimate restaurant was adorned with books and greenery. For a moment, I felt like I was in a hip café on NYC’s Upper West Side.
I was immediately drawn to Eqvita’s philosophy of creating food that was “as close to nature as you could get.” Since we were straddling the border of Italy, I knew we had to give the saffron arancini some attention. The creaminess paired with the saffron was heavenly. Next, the nachos were calling my name. The homemade bell pepper crackers topped with spring onion salsa, guacamole, hummus, black beans and tangy cashew sour cream was a delightful protein-packed powerhouse dish. Who knew nachos could be this delicious AND good for you?
For my entrée, I stayed within the Italian theme by enjoying a polenta and Mediterranean chickpea salad. My Italian grandma used chickpeas often, which is how I discovered my love for them. Polenta was known as the Italian “poor man’s food” because it was inexpensive and could feed an entire family. Now, polenta has made a comeback and is making its way into mainstream dishes. My salad was lightly tossed in a citrus dressing with just the right portion size to leave me feeling satisfied, but with plenty of room for dessert. The strawberry, mint and mango cheesecake melted in my mouth. As I took the last bite, I contemplated that flavors and textures wondering how I could recreate it at home.
I love coffee but in Monaco, they really love coffee. Throughout our workday and into the evening, I drank more espressos than I could count. Unlike traditional American culture, residents of Monaco and other European countries find a true balance between work and pleasure. I must admit that I appreciated the priority that is placed on taking small moments to break throughout the day. Pleasure comes in the form of conversation, enjoying good food, and, of course, spending time with loved ones.
The sea, architecture, food, and especially, the people made this trip to Europe a special one. Little did I know when I was nine years old, and writing my school project, that one day my career would bring me halfway around the globe to that small country of Monaco. They may be small in geography, but they more than make up for it with their hospitality and beauty.