When you hear the word “Monaco,” images of white dinner jackets, baccarat tables and exotic cars jump to mind. The reality doesn’t exactly match that vision, but it doesn’t make Monaco any less spectacular.
Monaco serves as a wonderful day trip while touring the French Riveria. Unless you have access to one of those wonderful yachts, a single day should be plenty to see how the other half lives before returning to reality.
What Monte Carlo is really like
Think of Beverly Hills. I enjoyed spending a day in Beverly Hills. I walked up and down Rodeo Drive. I lunched on a patio and people-watched a Euro-trash hipster grind through the gears on a brand new, fire engine red Ferrari. I saw neighborhoods straight out of “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” I stopped in the Beverly Hills Hotel for a drink. That was plenty.
Same goes for Monaco.
The Royal Palace and changing of the guard are a must-see. I’m not a huge palace/mansion tour guy, and even I found this worthwhile. Near the entry to the palace sits a geode sculpture of an eagle which may be the most extraordinary stone carving I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, the piece has no provenance, just another of the many baubles gifted to the royal family over the years.
What the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco lacks in modern, interactive displays, it makes up for in mystique. It serves as a museum of museums in a sense. Antique cases filled with deep-sea oddities are a feast for the eyes. Jacques Cousteau served as the museum’s director for almost 30 years.
The marina knows no peer when it comes to floating, breath-taking, opulence. The yachts docked in Monaco simply have to be seen to be believed. The scale, the deck-hands busily cleaning the water-going mansions, the everything about them defies description. I could share the details and doubt you would believe me. Sadly, the yachts stay at arm’s length and you can only investigate them from a distance.
What Monte Carlo is known for
Kristi and I were fortunate enough to visit Monaco a week before the annual Grand Prix race. The city was fixed up for the event with the course laid out through town. If possible, I’d recommend planning your trip similarly. The buzz in town was palpable and the various course markers, seating stands and billboards displayed in town added extra sizzle. The weather at this time of year, May, is also exceptional with sunny, mild days and little chance of rain.
It may not be what you think…
The Casino of Monte-Carlo was a disappointment. No one who’s been to Las Vegas will be overly impressed. The façade is spectacular. You’re sure to see a handful of dream cars drive up and drive away. It’s worth taking a picture of from the outside, but the lobby is tiny, you have to pay to get on the casino floor, NO ONE WAS DRESSED UP (this was a major disappointment), there’s no shop or restaurant or bar, and there’s not much to do there.
Kristi and I made the easy train ride to Monaco from Nice and enjoyed a full day walking the town. Monaco (the principality) and Monte-Carlo (the town) are tiny. While hilly, a reasonably fit person can walk the entire town in a day without excessive strain. Prices are surprisingly reasonable as long as you’re not shopping in the boutiques for clothes or jewelry. Our lunch was no more expensive than other places we ate.
We are not night-clubbers so we didn’t seek out that kind of entertainment, but I’m sure it’s there to be found if you’re looking for it.
Everyone in Monaco speaks English so don’t worry about that. Monaco uses the Euro as currency although it has its own postal system. If you want to mail a postcard and have it marked “Monaco,” you’ll need to buy your stamps there.
Our honeymoon on the French Riviera was not made by our visit to Monaco. At the same time, we would have never forgiven ourselves if we didn’t go. The outstanding rail system in France makes a trip to Monaco simple and cheap and if you’re anywhere near the area with even a few hours to spare, it’s well worth your time.