Part Two of the French Riviera Travel Guide: Monte Carlo, Monaco
“Ritzy” is an adjective perfectly suited for describing Monte Carlo – that glitzy city studding Monaco’s coast with its famous casinos, restaurants and shops. Often featured in novels and films (think the James Bond film, GoldenEye), Monte Carlo evokes a sense of attainable luxury –luxury that also seems as fleeting.
We woke up early to catch the commuter bus from Nice to Monte Carlo on the second day of our trip. I usually shy away from buses, but this ride was like no other. The 40-minute long bus route trailed along the coastline, providing panoramic views of the Riviera’s picturesque villas and deep blue sea. Excitement rushed over me as we traveled closer and closer to Monaco.
After several stops, we arrived in the Principality of Monaco. A quick hike led us to the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, where the Grimaldi family resides. Originally built as a Genoese fortress in 1191, the palace reminds locals and visitors of the principality’s history.
Renovations and impeccable maintenance made the palace and surrounding areas seem fairytale-like (or, Disneyland-esque). Every shade of paint complemented neighboring buildings. Litter and graffiti were nowhere to be found. Was I in heaven? No, I was just in Monaco.
While exploring the old city’s finely paved streets, we stumbled upon the Saint Nicholas Cathedral. Several Grimaldis are buried here, including Grace Kelly, former Princess of Monaco. Heaps of marble, impressive stained glass windows and a stunning art collection make the cathedral a must-see.
We refueled ourselves with quiches and salads from a little café, and walked nearly a mile along the coast toward Port Hercule. What stunning vistas! And the weather? Simply sublime (60 degrees Fahrenheit and sunshine in December? Yes, please).
A Christmas market happened to be taking place upon reaching the port, so we enjoyed the Russian-themed kiosks and music while million-dollar yachts rested nearby.
Exhausted from walking, we hopped on a bus toward the Monte Carlo Casino to salvage our feet from more hiking. At last, we arrived at the top of the hill and I could already smell fortune in the air. What a luxurious scent! I could even hear colorful poker chips exchanging from one diamond-encrusted hand to another.
A walk through the lovely Jardins de la Petite Afrique brought us closer to the casino, palm trees and exotic flowers guiding us toward extravagance. A brief detour to Place du Casino made way for unparalleled window shopping at Celine, Chanel, Saint Laurent and more.
Fleets of Maseratis, Porsches and Lamborghinis passed by gallantly, and there it was: the Monte Carlo Casino. A remnant of the Belle Èpoque, the sea-facing palace commanded attention with its ornate turrets and Grecian statues. Albeit not as expansive as I imagined, the energy surrounding the attraction transported me straight into a spy novel.
Men in tuxedos and women in silky dresses (and diamonds!) stepped out of their gleaming carriages and into the casino. Tourists posed in front of the main entrance and guests’ parked cars for photos. Despite the buzzing atmosphere, the delicate ruffle of palm leaves above and soft rush of waves nearby balanced the excitement with natural finesse. After a few minutes of taking photos, I was anxious to return to the coast and gaze at the sea.
We walked around a shopping center for a bit and enjoyed more café crèmes before heading back to Nice for dinner. Monte Carlo already seemed like a blur when departing Monaco – another dream to be savored forever.
À plus tard,