It has been a while since I returned from Monaco and the French Riviera and I think now is the perfect time to share how incredible the experience of exploring Monaco was for me. My time in this part of the world remains one of my fondest travel memories. I chose Nice as my base city during my time in this region due to its proximity to other cities along the Riviera.
Monaco is only about thirty minutes (by bus or train) from Nice and round trip bus ride from the le port bus station in Nice will cost you less than five euros (about $6). I knew three things about Monaco before my visit: Monte Carlo casino; the Grand Prix race; and Monaco football club. I had been in Nice less than two hours before deciding to head to Monaco.
The number 100 bus arrived in Monaco around noon. I got off at the Monaco-Ville stop. Just off to the side from the stop, there was a sign directing tourist uphill to the Prince's palace. I followed the sign and other tourists up the stairs not knowing what to expect. It was a bit of a hike, but the spectacular views of Monaco and the Mediterranean outweighed the throbbing in my quads.
I arrived at the square outside the Palace about half an hour after arriving in Monaco. I discovered I missed the changing of the guide ceremony. They only happen during certain months of the year. If this is something of interest to you, I recommend confirming the days and time before heading out. The breathtaking views from the courtyard made up for the long trek up and missing the changing of the guard's ceremony. There was guard marching back and forth across the front entrance of the palace; a few shops line the square along with some statues and monuments honoring Monaco history. There were several narrow cobblestone roads leading off from the palace including one that led to the Oceanography Museum; the Monaco Cathedral and the resting place of Princess Grace.
I did not have a lot of time left to see Monaco. I was traveling in December and the sun tended to set earlier in the day. Just as I was deciding how to map out my short time in Monaco - one of those tour buses pulled up to its stop on the square and I chose that as my best option for seeing Monaco in a short amount of time. Next Stop - Monte Carlo.
I always thought Monte Carlo was another city. Apparently not. It is a district in Monaco like mid-town in NYC or Notting Hill in London. The tour bus stopped across the street from the famed casino. The first thing I saw was the fountain flora lawn and sculpture lights outside the casino. I have seen pictures for years but never imagined I will see it in person. On either side of the casino was the Hotel de Paris and Cafe Paris. I found a spot on the terrace at Cafe de Paris, ordered a pastry and the most expensive hot chocolate and settled in for an afternoon of people watching.
If you want to see the opulence of Monaco on display; there is no better place than the terrace of the cafe. Two hours of people watching and I was ready to see what else Monaco had to offer. Do yourself a favor and walk around the casino - the architectural details are unbelievable. I went on a lengthy stroll around the surrounding area of the Casino. Starting with the luxury shops flanking the side of the casino and the across from it. There is a small garden/fountain area across the street from the casino that is worth a stop. The walking past the Hotel Paris behind the casino and along the shoreline passing yachts docked at the harbor, Princess Grace movie theater and some of the prettiest homes before ending up at the city center.
Every step, a breathtaking sight, I must have taken over 500 pictures on my stroll from the Casino to Monaco city center and then to the Fonteville district to visit the car museum.The museum houses the personal car collection of Prince Rainer III assembled over a thirty year period. The collection included more than forty vintage and modern luxury cars including the Lexus L S 600h L Landaulet that was used by Prince Albert and his bride during their 2011 wedding. After the car museum, I spent some time walking around the Fonteville area before heading back to Nice.
Monaco is one of those walkable cities and it is easy to lose track of time admiring pretty alleyways and homes if you don't have a thought out itinerary.