Our first stop was in Monaco. Although it is less than one square mile in size, Monaco is a sovereign state with Monte Carlo taking its place as the eastern gateway to the Riviera. French is the official language however most signs are in English too. The majority of residents speak English so communicating was never a problem. The average net worth of Monte Carlo’s 33,000 residents is $4.5M and in order to be considered for full time residency, at least half of that net worth must be in liquid assets. That clearly explains the number of exotic cars we saw throughout the city. Monaco is a tax free haven for the world’s rich and famous.
Our self guided itinerary for the day included taking the train to Nice and returning to Monte Carlo in the afternoon. We were eager to check out the famous Monte Carlo Casino and the lush grounds that surround it. To assist us we downloaded a map from www.visitmonaco.com. It proved to be much better than the one that Princess gave us. We had considered going to Cannes, but we had read that unless the Film Festival was on Cannes, Nice would be a better destination.
We awoke early and captured a fiery sunrise as we approached Monaco. What a great way to jump start our day! After a leisurely breakfast on board, we left the ship around 8:30 am and headed for the train station. The Monte Carlo harbour is filled with large yachts and like the rest of the city – is exceptionally clean. The train station was a 15 minute walk that was mostly uphill – due north from the centre of the harbour. Monte Carlo is built on a cliff and may be difficult to walk for some. On our way to the train station we passed through a bright outdoor market that glowed in the warm rays of the morning sun.
Arriving at the train station, you will need to go up the main escalator to buy your train tickets to Nice. The automated machines are one of the few things that were not in English and we learned afterward that they were for only for monthly pass holders. The Monte Carlo train station was spotless just like the rest of the city. It was very modern and impressive. A round trip ticket for to Nice is only 6.60 Euros per person. There is a train that departs west for Nice every 15 minutes on Track C. The train cars are clean and very comfortable. If you sit on the left (facing the front of the train) you will have fantastic views of the coastline as you approach Nice. The one way trip is less than a half hour and there are 3-4 stops along the way.
When you arrive in Nice, be sure to go to the Tourism Office that is just to the left as you exit the train station. You can go to the counter and get a free map of the town. With your map in hand, continue walking past the Tourism Office and turn right at the first set of lights. This street is Avenue Jean Medecin and it will take you to the beach and the impressive Promenade. You will pass the main shopping area of Nice so you will be able to quench your thirst for retail as you walk towards the magnificent colors of the Riviera. With a moderate amount of stopping it took us 45 minutes to reach the beach. If you are able to avoid the lure of retail it will only take you half that time to get there. Make sure that you take along a couple of Euros in change with you as most public restrooms charge a nominal usage fee.
Upon reaching the beach, you will be impressed with just how large the Promenade is. All morning it was busy with joggers, cyclists, rollerbladers and pedestrians with ample room for all. Our goal was to get up high enough to get a picture of the Baie des Anges. To achieve this, we went left (east) to the end of the Promenade (10 minutes), and crossed the street at the Ascenseur du Chateau Hotel (picture uploaded) as we heard that there was a great lookout area there. You will immediately see the stairs that lead up the hill. There is also an elevator available for a small charge if you do not want to scale the stairs. The stairs are shaded and provide many vantage points of the Promenade and coastline. There are also lots of benches and sitting areas along the route to enjoy a snack or simply to rest. We elected to pack some muffins and fruit from the ship as our snack and enjoyed it as we looked out across the Riviera from one of the benches along that stairway. I am certain that the view made the food taste better!
The views we experienced along the winding stairs were spectacular! Nice’s climate is arid, and you will see a variety of cacti as you walk up the stairs to the lookout area. We chose to go right to the top of the stairs and discovered a park that provided us with views to the east as well. The park has a small restaurant and lots of playground space for children and plenty of shaded areas for those wanting to beat the heat of a hot summer’s day.
As we walked back along the Promenade, we took time to check out some of the private beaches and restaurants that were adjacent to them. The cost for a bed and umbrella for the day is 12-15 Euros and should you wish to stop for lunch, I would recommend a budget of at least 60 Euros for two people. The beach is very rocky and although some local residents were quiet comfortable lying on them, I consider the comfort of a padded chair to be worth the expense. The water on the Riviera is shallow and has a rich turquoise color that is as inviting as it is beautiful.
We retraced our steps and took the train back to Monte Carlo at 2:30 pm. We left the train station and walked to the famous Monte Carlo Casino enjoying the view of the harbour and the distinctive roar of Ferraris and other exotic vehicles that you could hear shifting as they negotiated the winding streets of Monte Carlo.
The Casino does have a dress code. You may enter the casino as long as you are not wearing swimming attire or tank tops although any cameras and camera bags must be checked at the door. Not being a gambler and not wanting to pay 10 Euros to check my camera gear, we decided to walk the beautiful grounds of the casino and admire the number of exotic cars that were everywhere.
As we walked back to the ship, we noticed some stairs at the end of the dock that went to the road well above the dock area. At the top of the stairs we discovered a wide walkway that wound around the shoreline and decided to follow it. After a 10 minute walk, we ended up at the Oceanographie Museum founded by Jacques Cousteau. It is a spectacular museum that is built down from the street level into the cliff side and down into the water. Its profile was so large that I was unable to get a photo of it in a single shot from our vantage point. As we walked back along the paved pathway, we noticed an amphitheatre where swimmers could enter the water. It even had showers available to rinse off the sea water. There are some private beaches east of the Casino however these are near the harbour and the water isn’t as inviting. I would highly recommend that you travel to Nice or Eze by train to experience the tranquil waters of the Cote d’Azur.
We made a point to return to the ship 45 minutes before they wanted everyone back on board to avoid the lines and the disappointment and panic of being late due to a wrong turn or unexpected traffic. Princess left 3 people behind in Nice and would repeat this in each port, stranding the latecomers. If you do miss the departure, it is your responsibility to catch up when you can. Princess Cruises requires that you hand over your passport your first night, so negotiating travel to a different country can be a challenge. It’s a good idea to make a copy of your passport and keep with you. We also scanned ours and kept it in an email folder that we could access from the internet. We also entered the Canadian Consulate offices into my Blackberry for each one of our ports – just to be safe.
Our taste of the French Riviera was amazing. This port was one of our favourites.
Next stop – Pisa!