Monaco, Monte Carlo

Monaco, Monte Carlo Casino facade, Place du Casino

Monaco, Monte Carlo Casino and Place du Casino mysteriously laid out as a vineyard in 2013. The Mirror art thing is by famous – and expensive – sculptor Anish Kapoor. Look lower down for a more traditional Casino exterior experience!

“Alcatraz for the rich”: Jack Nicholson

“A sunny place for shady people”: W. Somerset Maugham

Why visit Monte Carlo, Monaco?

Monaco overview with major districts (wards) named

Most of Monaco’s tourist attractions are in the wards (districts) of Monaco-Ville, Monte Carlo, Port Hercule (Port de Monaco), and a couple in Fontvieille, by far the biggest sight being Le Jardin Exotique.

Monaco is mainly known for its monarchy – the longest ruling autocracy in Europe – the Monte Carlo casino and zero income-tax.

The Monaco city-state also has narrow streets, CCTV cameras in excess, 1 policeman for every 62 residents and a hugely expensive marina and shops. However, it is possible to eat and drink for a reasonable price in many places – around the port, Condamine, Larvotto and even up in Monaco-Ville you can pay an acceptable amount for modest foods and drinks (€3 for a beer, €12 for a pizza).

Monaco is the second smallest country in the world after the Vatican in Rome, and officially has the highest population density in the world (depending on how you calculate it).  With about 35, 000 people in about 3/4 of a square mile (1. 2 sq kms) it may seem like it’s going to be choc-a-bloc packed, but take into account that most residents are exceptionally wealthy and simply have a base in Monaco for tax reasons.  They are more likely to be found actually working/playing in Paris, London, New York or Beijing, or taking lengthy vacations just about anywhere more beautiful and less crowded than Monaco!

Monaco attractions apart from Monte Carlo

Monaco-Ville old street, Monaco

Monaco’s old town, Monaco-Ville (aka The Rock), adjacent to the palace.

Also known as The Rock/La Rocher to see the Palace, panoramic views, the Cathedral and several museums, especially the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium. It’s also a good place from which to watch the annual F1 Grand Prix.

An exotic garden in Fontvieille for under €8, with awesome cliff-hanging collection of cacti from differing environments scattered along zig-zag walkways.
But the best bit is 65m underground, if you can handle 365 steps and get to the entrance on time. On the hour through most of the day a guide takes tourists down to a stunning and totally unexpected cave system full of stalactites and stalagmites. Under Monaco? What? And free? !
But a trip to Jardin Exotique will require a long walk or a short bus ride to get there from other sightseeing hot-spots. e. g. the #2 from most bus stops, costing €2. Buses are frequent, punctual and all stops offer clear information.

Casino Square and Monte Carlo Casino

Expensive cars in front of Monte Carlo Casino, Monaco

Three Rolls-Royces and a Lamborghini is a typical selection of motors in front of the Casino that the tourists just love to snap.

Great place to see luxury cars. Enter the Casino if you are permitted or wander round the rear of the block to see the large and ornate Opera House, then walk along the sea front on top of the Fairmont Hotel and enjoy the statues as well as the panoramas.

Checking out the expensive cars in Monte-Carlo square is a popular thing to do in Monaco. On my day there the white Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupé (German registration) on the right was the most unusual motor in Monaco that day as someone had installed massively oversize wheels and tyres on the beast. Isn’t that a criminal offence for the attention of the style police? !
The same vehicle was spotted earlier ‘parked’ in the middle of a small road in the port, completely oblivious to the traffic havoc he was causing. Funny how many German supercars are cruising Monaco, but NO French, Italian or British cars are visible at all! How do you say nouveau riche in German anyway?

Tourists who wish to enter the Grand Casino to gamble or just wander around will have to bring a passport as residents are not allowed to gamble, must wear formal clothing such as jackets and ties and have to pay for the pleasure of entry. The price depends on the activity chosen, but for just looking it’s just a few euros and worthwhile as the rooms inside are superbly ornate and decorated with stunning art.

Port Hercule view across to Monaco-Ville, Monaco map

The view from Monte-Carlo across Port Hercule to the original rocky and easily defended settlement of Monaco-Ville.

Stroll around the port area to window shop for luxury yachts, see different views of Monte-Carlo and Monaco-Ville and check out the lovely little Sainte-Dévote chapel and a couple of excellent, solid bronze F1 racing cars (you can sit in the one race-car replica near the Monaco-Ville end of the port).

Monaco beach statue, Larvotto beaches.

Larvotto public beach.

Walk along to the shore path from Casino Square to the beach, taking in the gorgeous little traditional Japanese Garden on the way. It’s free to enter.

The public walkway on top of the Fairmont Monte Carlo (hotel)

extraordinary statues on The Fairmont walkway, Chemin des Statues, Monaco

The Fairmont walkway is not like any hotel roof we’ve ever seen before. And it’s kind of traditional to rub the diminuitive gentleman’s sausage over on the right as you pass by!

Beside the sea it’s officially known as Chemin des Sculptures and does host some odd and interesting – and undoubtedly expensive sculptures.

L’Eglise de Sainte Dévote

Port Hercule chapel of Sainte-Dévote, with bronze racing car, Monaco

Beside the port is the Roman Catholic chapel of Sainte-Dévote, the patron saint of this little principality.

Built before 1070 but much restored and ‘improved’ since, tourists can enter Sainte Dévote and enjoy the elaborate décor and stained glass windows.
Nearby is a solid bronze, early F1 race car beside one of the corners of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit, but more usually seen dividing lanes used by busy port traffic including many fine cars and a good number of supercars driven by excessively self-conscious individuals. OK, I’m just jealous.

Monaco Weather

Similar to the Côte d’Azur in general but even more moderate due to its immediate proximity to the sea and the vast rocky backdrop so frost is very rare as is extreme heat, though humidity can be oppressive in the summer.

The best months to visit are May – September for high sun and low humidity, with average high temperatures of 23C (73F) and lows of 19C (66F), but even in July and August temperatures are not too bad with highs under 30C (86F) and lows around 21C (70F).
The wettest months are October and November. Wintertime brings in about 6 days of rain a month, highs of about 13C (55F) and lows of 8C (46F).

A Day in Monaco

Monaco Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden, a free-to-enter oasis, small but perfectly formed.

These photos show the fairly limited range of sightseeing in this tiny principality embedded in France as they were all taken one September day between 11am and 7pm. Admittedly I didn’t visit any museums and there are plenty of interest. The Oceanographic Museum, the Museum of Napoleonic Souvenirs in Monaco-Ville, the National Museum of Automatons and Dolls of Yesteryear in Monte-Carlo, the Museum of Antique Automobiles in Fontvieille (Prince Albert’s personal collection).

I also didn’t spend any time gambling, lying around on Monaco beach, visiting the zoo, watching an outdoor movie, riding the hop-on, hop-off bus or lazing in a mega-yacht’s jacuzzi smoking dope with a crew of spectacular ladies (mainly because no one invited me).

I did however spend longer in Jardin Exotique than I should have, traveled on the superb buses a fair bit for little cost and stopped for a short lunch and drinks later in the afternoon.

So. . . bottom line is a tourist on France’s Côte d’Azur could visit for a day and have a fun time, though budgeting two or three days would cover some museum time and a lot more relaxation.

For easy sightseeing take the little Azur Express tourist train if your ego can handle the embarrassing vehicle for a 30 minute ride around the main sights, with multi-lingual commentary. Alternatively go for very efficient €2 public buses or use the Hop-On, Hop-Off, Open-Air-Tour bus service. And that’s quite enough hyphens for one sentence.

F1 Grand Prix time

And don’t even think about staying here during the Grand Prix time in May unless you have a big budget, though you could find good value accommodation in a nearby city such as Ventemiglia (Italy), Menton or even Nice and travel in by train along the coast.
Grand Prix fans can easily walk the race route with the help of a Tourist Office map.

The famous Grnd Prix tunnel runs nearby. I thought about taking a photo of the tunnel but it was both dark and dull, though livened up by foreigners hammering their hyper-sports cars through it. Great sound effects. The car that I would love to have photographed (I was too stunned to react in time) was a chopped and slammed, matt black, race-tuned Bentley Continental with German plates and straight-thru silencers who really put his foot to the metal and went past shrieking and smoking! Donner und Blitzen!