In addition to the extensive ferry schedule to Corsica and Sardinia, the port of Nice offers regularly scheduled day trips by boat from Nice to St. Tropez, Cannes and Monaco. The boat takes you there early in the morning and returns late in the afternoon, leaving you a full day of leisurely touring at your destination. Getting to Monaco along the coast on the no 100 bus (which runs very frequently) would have been a very scenic way to do it, taking the train would have been highly speedy, comfortable and efficient but lackluster, using a car would have been unnecessarily stressful, and finally taking the helicopter would have been extravagant and probably would have ruined me. So we decided to take the boat to Monaco and make an entrance through the Mediterranean sea. As the boat captain later humbly admitted on the loudspeaker system, we made the only intelligent choice.
The boat trip takes only 45 minutes, and during virtually all that time, the boat hugs the shore and the captain points out noteworthy points of interest, which include a lot of summer villas of the rich and famous, such as Sean Connery, Paul Allen, Bill Gates, Givenchy, Bono, etc… It also includes other interesting sights, such as the nudist beaches, the Grand Hotel Cap Ferrat, the Hotel Cap Estel (referred to as the hotel of presidents, because you pretty much have to be the president of a country to stay there), and the list goes on and on.
I had thought that I was simply buying a return boat ride to Monaco, but we ended up receiving comprehensive tours of the coastline as a bonus. This is so well organized that the points of interest on the return trip at the end of the day are totally different than in the morning, although along the very same coast.
Our arrival into Monaco provided us with splendid views of the country from the water. The first thing I learnt anew was that the country (principality) of Monaco is divided into five districts (towns): Monaco Ville also referred to as Le Rocher (The Rock), Monte Carlo, La Condamine (the port area), Larvotto (where the super rich live), and Fontvieille (the western area reclaimed from the sea during the past ten years).
Except for the world famous casino of Monte Carlo, most of the sights in Monaco are up the cliff in Monaco Ville. We had no idea how to get around the town when we landed, but it did not take us long to realize that walking up the cliff to Monaco Ville was not in the cards. Fortunately, a nearby bus stop provided us with all the information we needed to board the right bus, whose next stop was up the cliff at the Musee Oceanographique de Monaco, made famous by one of its previous long time directors, Jacques Cousteau.
We could easily have spent the whole day in the museum, which has a huge amount of aquariums with very instructive presentations in several languages. I certainly am not aware of a better aquarium than this one in the world, and we felt a bit sorry that we could not give it all the time it deserved.
We strolled through the very narrow streets of the old town of Monaco Ville, walking by the Cathedrale of Monaco (where Princess Grace was married), and inched our way towards the Palace.
The Palace Square was abuzz with people and activity. The whole square had been taken over by the world championship of petanques. Competitive matches were in full swing on a dozen or so fields of petanques on the square. Dancers came to entertain the onlookers.
It was now time for lunch and we had opted for the Cafe de Paris at the Casino in Monte Carlo. Given the huge number of tourists, even the buses were full, so we took a taxi to Monte Carlo, enjoying some more phenomenal views of Monaco along the way.
We had an excellent meal at the Cafe de Paris, so good in fact that afterwards I swore that I would never again travel to places like France, Italy or Montreal, where I adore the food and end up having these fabulous meals which add inches to my waistline. In reality, I know that as soon as I lose that extra weight, I will be eager to do it all again! Today’s daube de boeuf a la provencale was just so exquisite!
After lunch, we decided to take the hop-on hop-off 11-stops open bus tour of Monaco. This gave us an opportunity to tour less frequented areas such as Larvotto, with its new National Museum (currently showing a Picasso exhibition) and the Monte Carlo Sporting Club (you’re nobody in Monaco if you don’t belong to that club!).
We then headed up the cliff to the Jardin Exotique de Monaco (Exotic Garden), not so much for all of the marvelous plants but for the incredible views one gets from the scenic viewpoints inside the garden.
Unfortunately, it was then time to find our way back to the port for the boat ride back to Nice. Monaco has a number of public (meaning free) elevators to get up and down those cliffs and there was one right next to the Exotic Garden which we took to shorten our journey back to the port.
The world renowned Grand Prix de Monaco is I think the only time traffic really moves in Monaco. The large number of cars and buses mean that traffic is permanently in crawl mode. The number of tourists, particularly up in Monaco Ville and near the Casino of Monte Carlo, is irritating. Monaco is very clean, very luxurious, very safe (we saw several intersections during the day where policemen were watching closely every car that drove by and street cameras are everywhere). We enjoyed visiting Monaco, but we were very happy to leave it for Nice at the end of the day!
Stay tuned to BonVoyageurs.com for more Countries of the World as we share our joie de vivre from around the world. Luxury escapes and city breaks to Quebec City, New York, Washington, Buenos Aires. In Europe, places like Paris France, Nice France, Provence and the Cote d’Azur (French Riviera), Tuscany and Florence in Italy, Rome, Napoli and the Amalfi Coast. In Asia, countries like China, India, Nepal and so much more!